CAMERON Smith has opened up about how deep losing last year's State of Origin series cut him and his Queensland teammates, admitting he played below expectations in the first two games of the 2014 interstate series.
He said it would be that personal pain and still-fresh memories of letting down the Queensland jumper that will drive him to lead the Maroons to victory in this year's series - one in which he will equal Darren Lockyer's record 36 caps if he plays all three games.
Tomorrow night's series opener in Sydney will also be Smith's 13th game as captain since taking over from Lockyer in 2012.
Already left feeling bad about the Kangaroos loss to New Zealand earlier this month, which cost Australia its No.1 international ranking, Smith said the onus was on him to make sure Queensland was on its game against a New South Wales outfit already talking up the prospect of starting its own Origin dynasty after last year's triumph.
"I have had a fair few lows in my career, I wouldn't say it was the lowest, but it was definitely very hard to swallow given we had such a great football side," Smith admitted.
What hurt Smith and the Queensland players the most was knowing they didn't deliver, even though they won game three in a canter.
"I don't think we really reached our capabilities last year through the series, although we played extremely well in game three," he said.
"But in reviewing the first two games we looked at certain stats in our game and our numbers were considerably down. In Origin that's not acceptable.
"We know where we need to improve and we know how crucial winning the first game is."
Smith admitted Queensland's preparation, in which star centre Greg Inglis was hospitalised for three days on an antibiotic drip while being treated for severe tonsillitis and Justin Hodges required several stitches in a cut foot suffered riding his bike in thongs, had flipped the camp on its head.
"Greg was feeling pretty ordinary at the start of the week but he looks as good as new now," Smith said.
"He's had a few days rest. He is going to be pretty fresh - there is not going to be any issue at all.
"Hodgo trained on Sunday and there were no issues - he moved quite well."
Smith said Hodges, who turned 33 yesterday, deserved a winning farewell for what he had done during a long career in the Queensland jumper.
"Absolutely, everyone wants to win (for Hodgo)," he said.
"No doubt (for) the service he has given the Maroon jumper, it would be a fitting way to finish."
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