IF rugby league has an equivalent of following Don Bradman in the batting order, it may well be succeeding Mal Meninga as coach of the Queensland State of Origin team.
With an unsurpassed record of nine series wins from 10 years as coach, Meninga’s reign was one of the greatest coaching dynasties seen in Australian sport.
But now, with Big Mal moving on to take over as coach of the Australian Test team, Kevin Walters stands ready to make his own mark as Maroons coach.
Far from daunted at the prospect of succeeding Meninga, Walters just can’t wait for the challenge to begin.
Walters was handed a three-year assignment as coach on December 28 – the best late Christmas present the former Queensland captain and Maroons star has ever received.
Talking to him about the job ahead, the emotions are easy to hear in Walters’ voice: enormous pride, tremendous respect for the deeds of his predecessor, and unbridled excitement about the job ahead.
“We have started to do a few things already as far as planning for the camp and things like that,” Walters told fogs.com.au.
“The structures are in place there, so it is not going to be a huge job by any stretch. But it is very exciting to be starting to plan for the 2016 Origin series that is for sure.
“It is a job that I am obviously very thrilled and very honoured to have.
“Following on from what Mal left behind, I am looking to continue on because there is not a lot there that needs to be changed in my opinion.
“I have the advantage of being involved for five of the 10 years that Mal was coach, so that has put me in a good position of knowing where the players are at, where the schedules are at, and that can only be a huge advantage really.”
Despite inheriting a Maroons team and Queensland system at the peak of their powers after Meninga’s 10 years in charge, Walters has no doubt he can create his own mark as coach.
“I am certainly not Mal Meninga, and nor am I any of the other coaches that have been in charge of Queensland,” he said.
“I will be doing things my own way. And they won’t be big things that change, there are just little things where I will do things a bit differently to how Mal does it, the same way that he did things a little differently to other coaches before him.
“I have been coaching now for 15 years, and with that comes a lot of experiences. What I am looking for is to continue on the environment that Mal has left for us.
“It is a good environment, and it is a winning environment. That will be my biggest challenge – to continue with that, rather than trying to tinker with it too much.
“Managing the pressure and the players is a big part of the successes that Mal enjoyed and we will be looking to continue that. It is a great environment to work in, and a great environment to flourish in.”
Walters said he was getting close to announcing his support staff as the build-up to this year’s Origin series begins in earnest.
“I still have to get around to talking to a few people, but we will be looking to make some announcements shortly,” he said. “Obviously given the time of the year it has been difficult to track people down, with Christmas holidays and what have you. “But now everyone is back in the real world, we will be able to make those appointments pretty soon.”
One of Walters’ first tasks as Queensland coach was to select the QAS Emerging Origin squad, which will gather for a camp in Brisbane from January 29-31.
This year’s squad, which will train at the Queensland Sport & Athletics Centre (QSAC), contains a number of new faces, and underlines the Maroons’ growing talent pool at Walters’ disposal as he looks to continue Queensland’s decade of dominance.
The 20 players have been sourced from 10 different NRL clubs, and Walters said the learning experience was as much for him as the players.
“It’s always good to bring young blood through pathway programs like these,” Walters said.
“Identifying that talent early, getting them in together and getting them around the camp environment is the main objective. Introducing them to the Origin staff in some capacity is another major benefit as well.
“It’s good for the coaches as well, and for myself personally to meet them all and see their different personalities and different traits because at the end of the day we’d like to see them come through and eventually play Origin.”
2016 QAS Emerging Origin Squad:
Jayson Bukuya (Cronulla Sharks), Dale Copley (Brisbane Broncos), Tim Glasby (Melbourne Storm), Jake Granville (North Queensland Cowboys), Chris Grevsmuhl (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Valentine Holmes (Cronulla Sharks), Ben Hunt (Brisbane Broncos), Edrick Lee (Canberra Raiders), Ethan Lowe (North Queensland Cowboys), Nene MacDonald (Gold Coast Titans), Moses Mbye (Canterbury Bulldogs), Anthony Milford (Brisbane Broncos), Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm), Dylan Napa (Sydney Roosters), Joe Ofahengaue (Brisbane Broncos), Justin O’Neill (North Queensland Cowboys), Corey Oates (Brisbane Broncos), Lloyd Perrett (Canterbury Bulldogs), Korbin Sims (Newcastle Knights), Jarrod Wallace (Brisbane Broncos)