MAL Meninga insists his job as Australian coach has only just begun despite the Kangaroos’ crushing win over New Zealand in the Four Nations final at Anfield.
The Kangaroos were never really challenged on their way to their 34-8 victory, the Australians producing their best form in the final game of an arduous 11-month season.
The victory not only saw Australia take their first Four Nations title since 2011, but also re-claim the world No.1 mantle as well.
The Kangaroos were undefeated throughout the tournament, have now won four Tests against the Kiwis this year and are unbeaten in six starts with Meninga as coach.
While all the numbers are impressive, Meninga remains focused on the bigger picture.
“Internally you don’t talk about wanting to be No.1. It’s nice to be back No.1,” Meninga said.
“I’m extremely happy for the players. The effort they put in and the effort throughout the whole campaign. The ownership we are trying to achieve.
“I thought we developed our performances really well to build up to what was a great performance.
“Sitting back and watching these guys was a real pleasure.
“But for us, this game was just the next step in the journey, not the final destination.
“Obviously we have the World Cup next year, which will be our primary focus on the field. But we still have a lot to achieve off the field as well.
“To win the Four Nations was fantastic, but I am just as proud of the way the players responded to the challenge of buying into what we want to achieve with the Kangaroos, and what it means to play for your country.
“Right from the word go we made it clear that playing for Australia is about more than winning games. It is about re-establishing a culture of success that begins by picking not just the best players, but the best people as well.
“We have a responsibility to the game and to the country we are representing with the way that we conduct ourselves, and I could not have been happier with how the players invested in that over the past month.
“We are building something special here, and I am very pleased that the players understand that and want to be a part of it.”
No one can question that Meninga’s magic is working.
The same wizardry he used to take Queensland to the top of State of Origin for a decade is already starting to bear fruit as Test coach, as the Kangaroos’ clinical display in the final proved.
Rather than looking weary after a long year, the Roos looked relaxed and refreshed.
A big part of that was Meninga’s strategy of resting key players and having faith in the entire squad, and also ensuring the players enjoyed enough free time to keep mentally fresh.
“Managing the welfare of the players and keeping them fit and fresh is a big part of what we do,” Meninga said.
“We have a responsibility to the clubs to look after their athletes. There is that relationship of trust that we won’t run them into the ground or send them back to their employers broken.
“It is a juggling act, but that is the challenge. For high-performing athletes like these, maintaining motivation and enthusiasm after a hard year requires a lot of planning and active engagement. Nothing happens from luck.”
Meninga and the players will enjoy a short break over the summer before the record-breaking former Australian captain begins Phase II of his Kangaroos rebuild.
“The players have answered every challenge put in front of them so far, but as a game there is still a lot of work to do,” Meninga said.
“The performance of the team will be ongoing of course, but we still have work to do in areas like re-establishing the Kangaroos brand and all of the commercial aspects that go along with that.
“The ultimate aim is to use the success of the Kangaroos on and off the field to drive a rejuvenation of international rugby league. It will be a long road, but we have made a good start.”