MAROONS team manager Steve Walters has hailed coach Mal Meninga’s influence on Origin football as being “just like Wayne Bennett” as Queensland goes into camp ahead of their quest for a sixth straight State of Origin series win.
Meninga is the most successful coach in Origin history after winning five series in a row (2006-2010). Bennett won five series of the seven (1986-1988, 1998 and 2001-2003) that he coached with Queensland retaining the 2002 shield after a drawn 1-all result.
Walters, one of Ipswich’s favourite rugby league sons, has been a Maroons official since 2001 and has seen both coaches in action. Walters said Bennett is “the greatest NRL coach ever” and noted the differences in the two men’s personalities. But both have similar methods that have produced results.
“Mal has got a lot of strong points. He is very good at communicating with players and building relationships with them -just like Wayne was,” Walters said.
“I started in camp in 2001 when Wayne was the coach and they have got a lot of things in common to be honest.
“Mal is more casual than Wayne, but both of them are intense when the team is training.
“I don’t think Mal tries to over complicate things- and that is like Wayne too.
“Mal has got a real presence when you consider his football record and his sheer size. So when he talks to the players collectively or individually, they listen.
“He is always trying to improve himself and listen. It is not my way or the highway with him.”
Walters, who played 13 Origin games for the Maroons - and was a teammate of Meninga’s for Canberra, Queensland and Australia - has seen plenty of changes in Origin camp since his own career finished.
“We had a few more nights out in those days,” Walters grinned.
“You wouldn’t get away with that now. Even if you wanted to - you wouldn’t be able to physically compete on the Wednesday night.
“The whole game was more casual back when I played. Not just Origin, but first grade footy as well. The training techniques and preparation have improved a lot.
“The players are paid a lot more now and they are prepared to put a lot more time and effort into getting things right for the game.”
Walters said he would still rather be pulling the Maroons jersey on, but being involved in camp and watching the boys win is the next best thing.
““I really enjoy it,” Walters said.
“It is not as much fun as playing. I’d still rather play, but I get a buzz watching the boys do well because they are really good fellas.
“It is a small role that I have off the field as the manager of the team. I try and look after the players off the field so Mal can look after the coaching side of things.”
Walters, who works for Former Origin Greats (FOGS), has been at the forefront of helping Indigenous students at schools in the Ipswich area through the ARTIE program at Redbank Plains, where school attendances have gone through the roof
“I’ve got my own kids so I like to see the students at the schools make the most of their opportunities,” he said.
“We are trying some new things out there and they seem to be working.”
As an ambassador for the Western Corridor NRL bid, Walters is also looking forward to the day Ipswich has a side in the NRL.
“(Bid chairman) Steve Johnson rang me this morning to keep me up to speed with what is happening,” Walters said.
“It is very exciting for the region and I am very supportive of it.
“Everyone you talk to knows the Mayor (Paul Pisasale) and understands the passion he has for the bid and the city. If they can pull this off, then it is going to be a real good feather in their cap.”
272 NRL games
3 Premierships (1989, 1990, 1994 – all with Canberra)
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