Irked by NSW claims they were paid to be in Melbourne, Queensland captain Cameron Smith believes the Maroons have helped draw a potential record State of Origin crowd on Wednesday night because they promoted the game.
Smith also believes they will enjoy the crowd advantage from the expected 90,000-plus MCG attendance at Origin II after NSW opted not to push their “home” game.
NSW mentor Laurie Daley raised eyebrows – and the Maroons’ hackles – at Monday’s coaches’ press conference when he claimed Queensland only held their Origin II camp in Melbourne because they were paid by the Victorian government.
Queensland Rugby League chairman Peter Betros has angrily denied the claim.
NSW kept to their usual routine and prepared at Coffs Harbour and did not arrive in Melbourne until Sunday – six days after Queensland.
Asked if he felt like they were the only team pushing Origin II in AFL-mad Melbourne, Smith said on Tuesday: “A little bit, yeah.
“I think this is considered a NSW home game but they have chosen not to come down here to promote it – that’s their prerogative.
“We have done everything we can to promote the game and the sport down here.”
Smith believed the perceived NSW snub and the fact three Melbourne Storm players would run out for Queensland would gift the Maroons the homeground advantage in front of a packed MCG.
“I think there has always been a strong connection with the Maroons with the Storm players in the side – they tend to favour the Maroons a bit,” he said.
Melbourne-based Smith was pleased that Origin II looked set to eclipse the current crowd record of 88,336 set in Sydney in 1999.
He appeared chuffed at how far the game had come in Melbourne since he first ran out for the Storm back in 2002.
“It’s a bit ironic that potentially we will have the biggest Origin crowd in Melbourne,” Smith said.
“It shows the work that the Storm, everyone who works in development here and the work the QRL has done down here, to grow the sport.
“We (Storm) were quite unknown in the city.
“But now we have 20,000 members.
“We have good crowds at home games, you are having World Cups, Four Nations games here and an Origin record crowd. I think that speaks volumes about where the sport is at, at the moment.”
Still it seems plenty of work needs to be done.
Smith laughed when told Hawthorn AFL great Robert DiPierdomenico’s response when quizzed on his league knowledge while doing promotional work outside the MCG on Monday.
Asked what a 40-20 was, DiPierdomenico said: “It’s a pie”.
AFL fan Smith quipped: “He’s had a few of those in his time.”