Smith’s brainpower key as Blues unleash gun Panthers

Queensland coach Paul Green should tap into the expertise of former Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith as the Maroons steel themselves for a State of Origin opener against a Blues side packed with Panthers stars.

So says 36-game Queensland legend Darren Lockyer ahead of next Wednesday’s Origin opener in Townsville, which will see six Panthers suit up for NSW.

Lockyer says Smith looms as a source of invaluable knowledge for the Maroons given the 430-game Storm icon led Melbourne to victory over Penrith in the 2020 NRL grand final.

When halfback Nathan Cleary, five-eighth Jarome Luai, lock Isaah Yeo, winger Brian To’o and bench back-rower Liam Martin run out at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Penrith will set a club record for most NSW representatives in a match.

The current record stretches back 32 years, when Greg Alexander, Chris Mortimer, Peter Kelly and John Cartwright turned out for the Blues in Game II of the 1989 series.

QLDER: Origin Special

“You consult Cameron Smith if you can find him,” Lockyer said on Wide World of Sports’ QLDER.

“Obviously the difference between that game (the 2020 NRL decider) and this game (the Origin opener) is there’s no Cameron Smith.

“But the Storm, knowing Craig (Bellamy) – they study the opposition more than any other team. So they’d have some things there that they’d be able to give to Paul and say, ‘Look, let’s put these into play’.”

Cleary will combine with his fourth Origin halves partner when he joins forces with Panthers teammate Jarome Luai in the series-opener, having already played with James Maloney, Cody Walker and Luke Keary.

The 23-year-old has been in scintillating touch during Penrith’s unbeaten start to the season, so much so that he was leading the Dally M Medal count as it was hidden at the completion of Round 12.

Cleary is leading the league in points and kick metres and is trailing only Luai in try assists.

The gun No.7 is now set to make his ninth Origin appearance in the best form of his career.

“If you’re the coach of Queensland … you want to take time off the key players. And to do that you have to win the battle in the middle,” Lockyer said.

“If we’re going to do a good job on Nathan Cleary next Wednesday, then the big boys are going to have to do their job up front for that to happen. If that doesn’t happen then Cleary with time and space in front of him – you can see what he’s done at NRL level and he’ll be a challenge for us.”

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