Johnathan Thurston has thrown hiss support behind Maroons great Cameron Smith after the NRL legend decided to walk away from his coaching role with the Queensland State of Origin side. Smith shocked the league world this week after deciding that he would no longer be part of Queensland head coach Billy Slater's backroom staff.
Smith had been an assistant alongside Thurston in Slater's Maroons squad and worked with the head coach for the past two State of Origin series, resulting in back-to-back series victories for Queensland. However, the Queensland Rugby League announced on Wednesday night that Smith was leaving the role to focus on grassroots footy and his media commitments with Channel 9.
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"I'm very grateful to Billy and the QRL for the opportunity to be a part of the Queensland coaching team," Smith said in a statement. "It's been a fantastic two series working with quality players. They're quality people to work with and they've certainly helped me as a rookie assistant coach.
"I was lucky enough to represent the jersey many times but to experience it from a different lens as a coach, and being able to watch this new generation play the way they did and represent the state in the manner in which they did, was highly rewarding. This year I've decided to coach at grassroots level at the Currumbin Eagles. I feel it's really important to get back to grassroots level because that's where our next generation of players come from."
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Speaking to Wide World of Sports about the situation, Thurston says he "totally understands" the decision from his long-time former Maroons teammate and captain. Thurston says Smith called him to inform the legendary Maroons playmaker about the decision and is excited what it means for the next generation of young footy talent in Queensland.
Thurston says you'd be hard-pressed finding anyone that's done more for footy in the state than Smith and the 40-year-old will leave with the blessing of his peers. The North Queensland Cowboys great is adamant Smith will still make himself available to Slater, his coaching staff and the players. "He'll still be around and involved, he's got an open line on his phone so hopefully he answers it," Thurston laughed.
The Maroons great says it's hard put into words what sort of impact Smith can have on the next generation of footy talent and how much those young players can learn from an 11-time Origin series winner. "Imagine your 13-year-old son getting trained by the GOAT (Greatest of All Time)," Thurston added. "All your Christmases have come at once... He's comfortable in every setting, whether it's the CEOs or young kids... It's huge for Currumbin and junior rugby league.
Smith will be replaced by Manly great Matt Ballin, who will join Thurston and Josh Hannay as Slater's assistants in 2024. A two-time premiership winner with the Sea Eagles, Ballin has previously worked with the Queensland team on game day under Slater, and coached the Maroons' Under-19s team last year.
Slater won two premierships and numerous State of Origin series alongside Smith, and paid tribute to his former teammate. "I don't know if there's anyone who has contributed more to the Queensland Origin team than Cam Smith," Slater said. "I'm extremely grateful for his contribution over the last two series. He's done an incredible job which I've seen first hand inside the camp with all the players and coaching staff."
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