Queensland's loss of Cameron Smith is Melbourne's gain

Cameron Smith celebrates with fans after leading the Melbourne Storm to a win. Scott Barbour/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Cameron Smith's decision to call time on his illustrious State of Origin career was always going to leave a significant void in Queensland's make-up.

The former Maroons skipper -- whose 42 caps is the most in Origin history -- has featured in every series since 2003, remarkably only missing one game in fifteen years. It's not just his appearance record which should be marvelled at, but also his unparallelled on-field ability which saw him play a monumental role in helping Queensland to 26 wins as well as 11 of the past 13 series victories.

However, 2018 is the beginning of a new era for the Maroons, one not featuring Smith or fellow Queensland stalwarts Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk. The star trio's absence, particularly the composed and level-headed Smith, was telling in the first two games.

The series opener in Melbourne saw 11 New South Wales debutants come from behind to win 22-12 while in game II, Queensland's lack of composure in the dying minutes proved costly as the Blues hung on to record a narrow 18-14 victory and take an unassailable 2-0 series lead.

Welcome to the new era, Queenslanders.

However, there's an old adage that says from every loss comes a greater gain and on Thursday night at AAMI Park it was clear the Melbourne Storm were the big winners in Smith's Origin departure.

Fresh from his field goal heroics last week in Adelaide, a refreshed and energised Smith once again pulled the strings for the Storm, inspiring them to a hugely important 52-30 win over the ladder-leading Dragons with some jaw-dropping and at times magical football.

After a first half that went try-for-try and with the score locked at 24-24, the Melbourne skipper lifted a gear and once again delivered.

Smith first fed Young Tonumaipea on the 40m line for a dashing try before minutes later dishing off three passes in the build-up to a Jahrome Hughes four pointer. By the time he had sent Ryley Jacks over the line to bring up a 14 point lead with six minutes on the clock it was curtains for the Dragons.

"Not having that extra workload and commitments away from the Storm has certainly been great," Smith said after the game. "It's quite a draining time, Origin, you can see it with the boys when they come back from their representation.

"I've now had an opportunity to refresh both physically and mentally. It's been great for myself, great for my family and I'd like to think it's benefited the club and players."

Smith's sublime kicking game was also on full display, particularly in the first half when he played a magical 40m ball into space to set up an early Brodie Croft try. He also finished up with 16 points to his name with the try-fest offering him nine attempts at conversion as well as a penalty goal.

However, it wasn't a perfect game from Smith. In the first half he was responsible for a Dragons try when he bizarrely decided to kick a loose ball towards the in-goal. After some scrambling it eventually fell to Euan Aitken who briefly put the Dragons ahead.

But overall his addition -- which was the first time in 15 years he had played club rugby in the week leading up to an Origin Game III -- was much welcomed for Melbourne who in the past have struggled with players vacating the squad for Origin duties.

"It was always going to be hard for us with nine guys out so in attack I think we did a really good job," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said. "Nearly all our players with the footy had really good games and overall, really happy to get the two points."

Thursday night's win moves Melbourne to 11-5 on the season, just two points behind the Dragons. Perhaps there's a new premiership favourite.