MAL Meninga has lauded Kevin Walters for producing one of the great coaching performances of the modern era after his Maroons successor steered Queensland to a magical against-the-odds State of Origin series win.
The Maroons wrapped up their 11th series win in 12 years with a stunning 22-6 win over the Blues in Game 3 at Suncorp Stadium, a performance that left Meninga in awe of what the Queenslanders achieved.
And the Kangaroos coach laid much of the credit at the feet of Walters, who had to endure more than his fair share of scrutiny and pressure during the series before banking his second shield in two years as Queensland coach.
Few others know more about the theatre of Origin than Meninga, who has been a colossus for the Maroons as a player, captain and coach.
No one in the history of Origin has had more success as a coach, with Meninga delivering nine series wins in 10 years, including the incredible eight in a row from 2006.
But Meninga hailed Walters’ coaching performance as a defining moment in Origin history as the Maroons somehow found another level even when the challenges in front of them seemed insurmountable.
“The amount of adversity that Kevin had to deal with this year would have been a challenge for any coach,” Meninga told fogs.com.au.
“The fact that he still got the job done shows what a special person he is, and what a terrific coach he is. It was one of the greatest performances from a coach that we are ever likely to see.
“If someone had told you at the start of the year Queensland would have to win the series without Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd, you would just think it is too big a hurdle to overcome.
“On top of that, Kevin had to pick them up after the disaster in Game 1 at Suncorp and keep them believing they could still win.
“He not only did that, but they just kept getting better as the series went along. And that was with an incredible number of rookie players who had to step up straight away and do the job, because Queensland needed them to.
“It really was a special performance, and indicative of a team that was truly playing for their coach and each other.”
Meninga said the 2017 win would forever bury criticism from south of the border that Walters did not have what it takes to be a top-level coach.
“Anyone who thought that knows nothing about coaching,” Meninga said. “No one in Queensland thought that. No one who has been involved with the team ever thought that.
“I recommended Kevin get the job when I stepped aside. Do you think I would recommend someone who wasn’t up to the job? It’s ridiculous.
“What Kevin has done since taking over the Queensland job has been nothing short of fantastic, and it goes well beyond getting the right number of ticks in the win column.
“He has had to make so many tough calls since he became Queensland coach, but he has always been prepared to make them and then stand by them because he thought they were the right decisions for Queensland.
“When he first came in, he overhauled his staff and moved on a lot of guys who had been a big part of a successful program for a long time. It was a tough call, but he needed to do it to make the team his own, and to reinvigorate the way Queensland prepares for Origin.
“Then there were the misdemeanours in the Emerging Origin camp two years ago. He made tough calls on banning a number of players for a year, even though as coach, he was the one who stood to suffer the most if they lost the series without them.
“But he made the calls anyway, because it was more important to uphold the standards and values the Queensland team is built on rather than trying to make life easier for himself.
“And then this year, he had to make a number of tough calls on players who had been terrific servants for Queensland, and put his faith in a number of new players he hoped to carry the Maroons into the future.
“Once again, he got the calls absolutely right, and Queensland had come out the other side a better and stronger team because of it.”