Outgoing NSW skipper Paul Gallen says his opposing captain Cameron Smith is the best player he's seen or played with or against, hands down.
The lofty praise was delivered at Gallen's final pre-Origin press conference in response to Smith's comments that Gallen was up there with the best forwards he'd played with.
‘I can admit that now … they've had a once-in-a-generation team’
The pair are long-term rivals at club and Origin level while also being long-term Kangaroos teammates but asked for his view on Smith Gallen said there was no doubt that even someone as great as Johnathan Thurston takes a back seat compared to the influence Smith has had on the game.
"Cam Smith's the best player I've ever seen. Ever played with, ever played against," Gallen said.
"In all parts of the game, the way he controls the speed of the game, what he gets away with with referees. He's just a special player, he's the best player I've ever seen. A terrific leader.
"Johnathan Thurston is one of the best, he'll be an immortal too but Cam Smith's the best player I've ever seen."
Galaxy of stars
To have the likes of Smith and Thurston entering the Origin arena at around the same time as a galaxy of stars including the likes of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Justin Hodges, Greg Inglis, Sam Thaiday and Nate Myles – and overlapping with the likes of Darren Lockyer and Petero Civoniceva – made the Maroons of the past decade a once-in-a-generation side, according to Gallen.
"I can admit that now that it's coming to an end that they've had a once-in-a-generation team," he said.
"They've been very lucky to have all these guys come through at the same time. As individuals they're some of the best players to play the game.
"I've got to give them some credit now that I'm finishing up, they put it together as a team which makes them even harder to beat."
‘They had to play their best’
Despite that, Queensland's 10 series wins over the past 11 years haven't come easily, according to Gallen, who believes that even with a team of stars they had to play well and consistently as a team to get the edge over NSW – including in this series.
"In saying that they've got to play their best football to beat us, they're not just running out there and running through us," Gallen said.
"We've seen a couple of decisions that could have gone our way in both the games and we could be in a different situation right now. We're pushing them to the nth degree.
"They are playing their best football as the best players in the world and that's what gives me confidence in this side going forward and these young guys coming through.
"I think they can get on top of them over the next couple of years and hopefully have a dynasty of their own going forward. I'll be sitting in the stands cheering them on."