QUEENSLAND coach Kevin Walters has vowed to bring the Origin shield back to the Sunshine State after clinching a contract upgrade with the mighty Maroons.
The Queensland Rugby League last week handed Walters, FOG No.63, a 12-month extension until the end of 2021 in recognition of his work bringing through the next generation of Maroons players in the wake of Mal Meninga’s record-breaking dynasty.
Succeeding Meninga was akin to batting after Bradman, but since taking charge of the Maroons in 2016, Walters won his first two series before back-to-back losses to the Blues in 2018-19.
Despite NSW having won the last two series, the QRL has unwavering faith in Walters to restore Queensland’s supremacy this year and the former Origin captain is adamant he has more to give the Maroons family.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have another year,” Walters said.
“I love coaching Queensland, and I have more to give the team and the state.
“I love everything about the job and what it means, not only to myself, but also the players and the state of Queensland.
“We have a great side, and I don’t see it as a rebuilding period at all. We have some great players in key positions like Cameron Munster, Kalyn Ponga and Daly Cherry-Evans.
“Origin will be at the end of the year (in November) for the first time this year, and I’m excited to see the new calendar and how we handle that.”
Walters’ new deal will see him become one of the longest-serving coaches in Queensland’s Origin history.
Meninga is the most-capped Maroons coach with 30 games across 10 series, followed by Wayne Bennett (22 games) and Immortal Arthur Beetson (20 games).
Walters, Queensland’s 11th coach, is the only other Maroons mentor to reach double figures.
Kevvie has currently served for 12 games, and will have chalked up 18 matches when his contract extension expires.
Since Walters took the job in 2016, he has blooded a staggering 21 debutants, while farewelling some of the Maroons’ greatest players, including Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis.
Some of those debutants include Munster, Ponga, Anthony Milford, Valentine Holmes, Jai Arrow, Ben Hunt, Corey Norman, Moses Mbye, Jarrod Wallace and David Fifita.
“I’m really proud of the great young men we have brought through,” Walters said.
“While I am pleased to get the contract talks finalised for next year, my focus has always been on the 2020 series and making sure we get our preparation spot on.”
Queensland pivot Munster said the key to Walters’ success was his understanding of Origin football, having played 20 matches himself in a decorated career.
“Kevvie is loved by all the Queensland boys,” he said.
“He has a relaxed approach and all the boys respect him because he has been there and done it in the Origin arena.
“We’ve had a tough few seasons, but I’m confident Kevvie is the right coach to lead the way and get the trophy back.”
QRL managing director Robert Moore said the extension would provide further stability ahead of the Maroons’ 2020 campaign as Walters looks to put Queensland back in the winner’s circle.
“Kevvie is an immensely popular and respected figure amongst the playing group and support staff, and he understands Origin and what makes the players tick,” Moore said.
“Loyalty and respect have been cornerstones of the Maroons’ success, and the opportunity to extend his time with our Origin and representative program is certainly in line with these values.”