A defining moment of our lifetime

Cameron Smith was the first Queensland State of Origin captain to be born after the concept began in 1980.

He subsequently marks the first Maroons leader whose birth, interstate career and Origin retirement have all fallen within the parameters of the competition's existence.

The 34-year-old has been a vital link between the humble foundations of one of the world's great sporting contests and the modern behemoth it has become.

His retirement from the Origin arena – after 15 years representing Queensland - is a reminder of the importance of preserving history and embedding a culture deep within the Maroons squad.

It's also cause for a reflective pause.

Smith was born in 1983 when Origin was only learning to crawl.

He at least lived through the overwhelming majority of its existence.

The next captain will edge us closer to 1990. The captain after that may have never heard of the USSR.

Already the evidence is that the general public has a diminishing awareness and memory for some of the greats to have worn Maroon.

Imagine the day when the team has not a single player who was alive when Wally Lewis retired from Origin in 1991.

Stories about legends such as Trevor Gillmeister, who heroically crawled out of his hospital bed to skipper the underdog Maroons to victory, no longer garner the instant recognition with the wider population they used to.

With State of Origin set to turn 40 in coming years, the series is at a juncture.

The overwhelming majority of the journalists and photographers who covered the opening match in 1980 have now died or retired.

Those who are presently at the multimedia forefront are certainly not guaranteed to have seen, listened to, or even watched replays of large swathes of Origin history.

One day the team will have a head coach who wasn't alive when Arthur Beetson trotted on to Lang Park, now Suncorp Stadium.

Of course, this is the way of all things. Everything ages. New heroes emerge.

It's not something that should be bemoaned or can be halted, but it does represent an important chapter in Origin's evolution.

Australian society is accustomed to Origin being something that could be captured entirely by living memory.

We are presently at a point where the age of Origin is passing the nation's median age of between 37 and 38 years.

That means more people will have been born after Origin commenced, than were born before.

An appreciation of the personalities, the relationships and nuances that have made the event so remarkable becomes a responsibility of those who were present for its early years.

They become guardians, entrusted with handing that knowledge to the next generation of aspiring young players and avid supporters.

Cameron Smith was a Queensland skipper who took pride in being educated and imbued with the Maroon Spirit.

He will become one of the immovable monoliths around which future Origin folklore is based.

Passing on the essence of that Maroon Spirit now becomes of the utmost importance.