Thurston didn’t get his Origin farewell last year. (Alix Sweeney)
Thurston didn’t get his Origin farewell last year. (Alix Sweeney)

JT, what are you up to on June 6?

AS desperately hard as it seems to replace Cameron Smith, the solution can be easier than Queensland believe.

Maroons coach Kevin Walters should pick up the phone today and ask Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston to return for one last hurrah to captain the Maroons for the 2018 Origin series.

Queensland's problem with losing Smith is that the departure has multifaceted repercussions.

Smith not only provided playmaking genius. He also delivered leadership, a cool-head in a crisis and a rare quality for a hooker - the ability to kick goals.

 

Smith with Cronk, Thurston and Slater. (Adam Head)
Smith with Cronk, Thurston and Slater. (Adam Head)

 

By recalling Thurston, all the empty boxes created by the Smith Origin bombshell few saw coming can be ticked by one man.

Rugby league's rich tapestry is littered with State of Origin comeback stories in hours of need and right now, Queensland are crying out for a talismanic saviour like Thurston.

In 2001, Allan Langer was famously recalled by Wayne Bennett when the Maroons were on the brink of another devastating series loss to NSW.

Langer went on to engineer an epic 40-14 thumping of the Blues to snatch a series victory in one of the most compelling chapters in Origin history.

Langer was a month shy of his 35th birthday. Thurston has just turned 35.

In 2004, NSW master coach Phil Gould coaxed Brad Fittler out of retirement. The champion five-eighth helped the Blues to a 36-14 defeat of the Maroons in the series decider.

The following year, NSW halfback great Andrew Johns was recalled for Game Two after the Blues were beaten 24-20 in the series opener. Johns produced a man-of-the-match display before leading NSW to a 32-10 demolition of Queensland in the Origin decider.

History, and more saliently, Origin history, shows fairytales can be conjured in a time of crisis.

If Langer can fly 16,000km from England to play for Queensland, Thurston can surely fly from Townsville to give the Maroons direction and inspiration in the post-Smith era unfolding before our eyes.

Walters chose his words carefully on Tuesday when asked at Smith's farewell press conference about his leadership succession plan.

The crafty coach said he would not taint the celebration of Smith's record 42-game Origin career with a forensic analysis of Queensland's captaincy options.

The stark reality is there is no-one perfectly positioned, nor adequately groomed, to step into the Smith throne.

When Darren Lockyer retired from Queensland and Australia at the end of 2011, the red carpet was comfortably rolled out for Smith because he was the uncontested standout candidate for the leadership roles.

But there is no one in the current Queensland set-up better qualified to captain the Maroons than Thurston.

GI has the status to lead Queensland. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
GI has the status to lead Queensland. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

 

Greg Inglis is a champion player who has unquestionably matured as a leader at South Sydney. But after a year out of State of Origin due to a knee reconstruction, Inglis should be left to focus on his comeback series.

Matt Scott is a front-row warhorse who would command the respect of every teammate. But at age 32, this may well be his last Origin series at a time when there are huge concerns over his capacity to recover from a knee reconstruction.

Fullback Billy Slater will be one of the first players picked by the Maroons but the presence of Smith has at the Storm has denied him the opportunity of NRL captaincy experience.

 

GI has the status to lead Queensland. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
GI has the status to lead Queensland. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

 

Darius Boyd has captained the Broncos for the past two seasons but there is no guarantee he will win a recall to the Maroons given the form of wing rivals Valentine Holmes and Corey Oates.

Michael Morgan, rated a future Cowboys captain, will be lucky to claim a bench spot, while Daly Cherry-Evans, labelled Queensland's next captain two years ago by Smith himself, has had his leadership reputation sullied by the Gladstone saga.

That leaves Thurston. Granted, his form isn't great in a struggling Cowboys team.

But it would be foolish to write off a champion. Thurston revels the Origin stage.

If Smith's departure wouldn't stoke the competitive embers that drive Thurston, nothing would.



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