'Next year there could be half the side gone and we've got a new team'

A decade ago he declared that Cameron Smith would become the first player to appear in 40 State of Origin matches and as the Queensland skipper prepares to reach that milestone tonight (May 31), Petero Civoniceva says it is a feat unlikely to be repeated.

A debutant in Game III of the 2003 series, Smith's run of featuring in 39 of the past 40 Origin matches played was interrupted only by an elbow injury that prevented him from playing in the opening game of the 2010 series.

Given that Johnathan Thurston will step down from representative football at the end of the year with a maximum of 38 games for Queensland and Jarryd Hayne has the most appearances of active NSW players with 20, only Greg Inglis (30) and Darius Boyd (26) could conceivably match Smith's achievement in the next five years.

Hard to repeat

Civoniceva, who played 33 matches for Queensland, believes it will be a long time before we see any other player reach such a number and paid tribute to Smith's longevity in becoming the first to 40.

"You could tell from day one that he had this huge future in the game," Civoniceva said.

"He was a bit of a freak in terms of his fitness and in being calm under pressure and all those champion qualities that he possesses.

"You can't play in the middle without some level of toughness but not just physically also mentally.

'I do understand it's a fairly significant milestone'

"We've seen the way he can control a game and the way he can slow things down and that overall resilience that he possesses, that's what's most impressive.

"He just seems to be able to play at a different speed to everyone else, seeing things differently and reading the game like no other.

"I think it's going to be a long while before we see a champion of his calibre come through again.

"You're talking about someone starting at quite a young age and then being able to be consistent enough to retain their position for over a decade; that's a big expectation to put on a player.

"When you break down the number of games he's played in club, state and national rep honours and you compare that to the average player and the fact that he has been captain at all those levels as well, it's pretty amazing what he's been able to achieve."

Clearer picture

When new records of longevity are being established it is only natural to look forward to where they may potentially end.

If the Storm skipper completes his 15th Origin series this year he will have 42 games to his name along with the 50 Tests he has played for his country and 346 games in the NRL, with Darren Lockyer's mark for all-time premiership appearances on track to fall in Round 25.

Smith's performances at all levels give no indication of a player who is eyeing off the end and with a year still to run on his contract with Melbourne the soon-to-be 34-year-old says a decision on his representative future won't be made until after the World Cup at the end of the year.

"At this stage I feel really good, both physically and mentally," Smith said.

"I love playing representative football. I'll have a clearer picture at the end of the year about what I want to do... I'm contracted to Melbourne so I'm playing again.

"I'm 35 next year. There's a lot of footy if you are playing all the rep stuff.

"I'm not saying (I'll stand down) and I am really keen to play on. But I think I'll have a clearer idea at the end of the season. It's a big year, close to 40 matches."

Next generation

He need only look around this week in camp to know that the make-up of the Queensland team is undergoing a generational change.

Smith will captain Queensland for the 19th time tonight without the likes of Thurston, Greg Inglis and Matt Scott by his side and with Cooper Cronk's playing future undecided it could be a dramatically different-looking Maroons line-up in 12 months.

Despite the generational change Smith says he doesn't feel any extra pressure to play on if he doesn't believe he can continue to compete in the game's toughest arenas.

"None of us know how long we've got left, really," said Smith, who will take on the goal-kicking duties in Thurston's absence.

"Only Johnathan has put an end date on it. Cooper's future is up in the air as well. Next year there could be half the side gone and we've got a new team.

"I don't feel any pressure to stay around and help those guys through. I like to think in my past 39 matches I've put the team in a good position to move forward.

"Every player knows when it's time to finish. I'm yet to make that decision."

‌Still nervous at 40

Even after 39 Origin matches for Queensland and six man-of-the-match awards Smith says there will be still butterflies in the stomach when he boards the bus to make the trip into Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday evening but that once the whistle goes game No.40 will be just like all the ones that have preceded it.

"When you walk out of the hotel and get on to the bus, you get a bit nervous and everyone is going mad waving out of their car windows. But once we get to the ground, it is business as usual," he said.

"I'm not sitting here and patting myself on the back but I do understand it's a fairly significant milestone.

"I remember Petero Civoniceva telling me after 10 games that I could be the first bloke to play 40 Origins. I just laughed and shook my head and said, 'Nobody will ever do that'.

"It's a really nice achievement to have. Without playing it down, I'm very proud of being able to play that amount of games. My family are proud as well.

"Let's just hope I can go out and play well."

* This article first appeared at NRL.com

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