McCullough has the consistency Queensland need. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
McCullough has the consistency Queensland need. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Big Mac the man to replace a legend

WAYNE Bennett - the supercoach who launched Cameron Smith's Queensland career - says Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough is the man to replace the most-capped player in Origin history.

As the Maroons come to terms with Smith's representative-retirement bombshell, Bennett is adamant McCullough is ready for the Queensland No.9 jumper that has eluded him for a decade.

Bennett's last great legacy to the Maroons came in 2003, when he handed Smith his Origin debut in the final game of that year's series before quitting as Queensland coach.

Now, as Maroons mentor Kevin Walters begins a desperate search for Smith's successor, Bennett believes the Queensland Origin hooking baton should be passed to the 28-year-old Broncos ironman.

"Andrew is ready for Origin," Bennett told The Courier-Mail. "I hope he gets his chance - he would do it easily.

"He would give Queensland 100 per cent.

"All the greatest sportsman set such a high standard and that's Andrew, he sets such a high standard every week.

"Cameron Smith has held the position for so long, he's had that No.9 jumper since 2003, so Andrew has had to bide his time.

"But 'Macca' is a better player now than he's ever been. He has continued to grow and develop his game. No one at the Broncos works harder than Darius Boyd and Andrew McCullough.

"Cam's retirement has opened up a real opportunity for someone. There's a lot of good hookers going around but Andrew wouldn't let Queensland down."

The narrative involving McCullough and Smith is as intertwining as it is compelling.

As an 18-year-old in the Broncos' system, McCullough, a precocious talent from Dalby, was rated the next Cameron Smith.

In 2014, under former Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin, the Broncos attempted to poach Smith in a move that would have seen McCullough traded to Melbourne as part of a direct swap.

But after Smith inked a four-year deal with the Storm, McCullough survived at the Broncos and has now become an indispensable force in Brisbane's engine room.

McCullough plays his 224th first-grade game against the Roosters on Friday night and Queensland icon Wally Lewis believes the inspirational rake would relish an Origin debut at the MCG on June 6.

Bennett with Cam Smith ahead of his Origin debut in 2004. (Glenn Barnes)
Bennett with Cam Smith ahead of his Origin debut in 2004. (Glenn Barnes)

"I think Queensland will go for McCullough or Jake Granville (Cowboys hooker)," Lewis said.

"What you see is what you get with Macca. He has guts and determination and he would rack up 50 tackles in an Origin game.

"Granville's ability in attack can't be underestimated, but McCullough's game is tailor-made for Origin."

In an interview with The Courier-Mail last year, McCullough said he no longer stressed about playing State of Origin, but would be ready if the Maroons asked him to succeed Smith.

"In the past, I've put too much pressure on myself and overplayed my hand and probably gone backwards," he said.

"The rewards like Origin would be great but there's a process you have to follow.

"I'd be lying to say I don't want to play Origin, but it's not easy cracking the Queensland team in my position.

"There's a lot of good hookers going around (like Jake Friend and Jake Granville) and moving forward someone is going to put their hand up.

"Hopefully that is me."

 

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