State of shock: Fittler and NSW deputies in Melbourne for Smith bombshell

Brad Fittler just happened to be in Melbourne on Tuesday when Cameron Smith dropped his Origin bombshell.

Fittler, his two trusty Blues assistants Greg Alexander and Danny Buderus, as well as NSW Rugby League boss Dave Trodden were on a hit-and-run trip to watch the Melbourne Storm train.

So imagine the shock when Queensland coach Kevin Walters arrived.

Coincidence: NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler was in Melbourne when Cameron Smith revealed his big news.

Photo: AAP

When they asked what Walters he was doing, the Maroons coach cheekily replied: "I heard you blokes were going to be here.''

Walters was decked out in a flash suit, and when they asked him what the go was with his formal threads, Walters quipped: "This is just how us Queenslanders role.''


Walters never let slip his most experienced player, skipper, goal-kicker, commander-in-chief and Queensland's greatest export since Margot Robbie was about to pull the pin.

At one point during training, Smith gathered the Storm players into a huddle to address them. They assumed he was apologising for the one-match suspension for his 'wishbone' tackle on former teammate Kevin Proctor.

It was only when Fittler and his gang were enjoying a coffee across the road from the MCG later in the morning that news filtered through about Smith.

Bloody Queenslanders. There was some disbelief. There were no cartwheels.

"My first thought was not one of relief, but that I now had to work harder,'' Fittler told Fairfax Media.

Any team without Smith is much worse off. But with no Smith at the MCG in just three weeks time for the Origin opener, Fittler's NSW will have even fewer excuses for not winning.

Calling time: Cameron Smith announces his retirement from representative football.

Photo: AAP

With Smith now a famous spectator along with good mates and fellow Queensland retirees Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston – together the trio played a whopping 101 Origins between them – the Blues deserve to be even shorter-priced favourites.

Fittler and the Blues hierarchy want to make sure complacency does not creep in.

This can often be a problem with younger players, and depending on who you listen to, plenty of fresh faces will be included this year at the expense of some experienced big-game players, including James Maloney.

Alexander told Fairfax Media on Tuesday night: "The announcement from Cameron stunned me. He's played a lot of football, so there was always going to be a time, but because he's still playing so well, nobody expected it this year. This doesn't make our job easier. It makes it different.''

Surely this is NSW's series to win, right?

"We all thought that last year with no Greg [Inglis] and a couple of others [for Queensland],'' said South Sydney enforcer Sam Burgess. "It will probably strengthen NSW's chances, but Origin is a different beast. We've seen games won that shouldn't be won, and games lost that shouldn't be lost.''

Leadership material: Greg Inglis is ready-made to be the next Queensland skipper.

Photo: AAP

Burgess's Souths teammate Adam Reynolds, who has not given up his own dream of pulling on the NSW No. 7 jersey again, said: "There are no easy games in Origin, and whoever Queensland put in they will have the belief they can win it.

"I'm sure Freddy will sit down and talk to the players about that. It won't be an easy game, regardless of who is in the side. They just have to prepare well and be ready to play.''

Steve ''Blocker'' Roach has been around long enough to know Queensland continue to produce players who have a knack of breaking Blues hearts.

"I'd expect Freddy to be working hard, and I know he's working hard, and to look at the last 12 series, you know Queensland won't drop away at any stage,'' Roach said.

For the record, Roach would start Penrith's Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Aaron Woods up front, with David Klemmer and Jack de Belin, who can play front-row and lock, off the bench.

When news of Smith's representative retirement hit Redfern, Greg Inglis was stunned and had no idea. He looms as a potential Queensland captain – Billy Slater is another obvious option – and had the backing of his Souths mates.

"This year he has been unbelievable influential across our group, he's been a real joy and he's growing every week,'' Burgess said. "The Greg I'm seeing at a personal level is the best version of Greg I've seen. He'd be a great fit. He's a big-game player and I've seen him do amazing things on the football field I've never seen other players come close to doing on the football field.''

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Christian Nicolussi

Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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