Mal Meninga says he is grateful for the opportunity to once again represent Queensland as a coach, 40 years after his stunning State of Origin debut as a player.
With so much going on in this year’s unforgettable, compressed, 2-1 series win to the Maroons, the fabulous story around Meninga’s fairytale Origin return never really got the airplay it deserved.
Meninga joined the Queensland coaching staff as Wayne Bennett’s assistant, ensuring that Big Mal’s Origin story would continue into a remarkable fifth decade, and give him the perfect set of 10 series wins as coach or assistant coach.
It also meant that Meninga would be the only man involved in Origin’s first game in 1980 to be involved in its most recent episode 40 years later.
Meninga kicked seven goals from seven attempts on his 20th birthday in Queensland’s famous win over the Blues at Lang Park to kick start the most remarkable of all Origin careers in 1980.
From 1980 to 1994, he played 32 Origin games for Queensland. In the 1990s, he was promoted to captain, leading the Maroons in three series between 1992 and 1994.
Then, of course, in the 2000s, he famously answered the call from Queensland again as coach – taking the reins in the Maroons’ darkest hour in 2006 and lifting them to their greatest hour with nine series wins in 10 years before calling time as coach at the end of 2015.
In 2020, with the Origin series pushed into November because of COVID-19, and Maroons coach Kevin Walters departing on the eve of the series to take the reins at the Broncos, Meninga joined Bennett in answering Queensland’s SOS to take charge of the inexperienced Maroons, and says he is grateful to his long-term mentor for the chance to reunite one more time for the cause.
“It was a really enjoyable experience being back involved with Queensland again. I loved every minute of it,” Meninga said.
“Obviously I thought that chance was gone now that I am the Australian coach. But with no international footy this year because of the coronavirus, and a few other factors as well, the opportunity came up.
“I told Wayne that I wanted to help however I could, and it was great to be involved again.
“Wayne was excellent. He certainly knows his football, and for me, I used it as an opportunity to keep learning and finding new ways to improve how I coach my teams.
“I am grateful to Wayne, the QRL and the Australian Rugby League for letting me be a part of it.”
While there is no international rugby league this year, there will be plenty next year – with the 2021 Rugby League World Cup scheduled to be held in England in October next year.
And Meninga is already heavily involved in planning for the event, with the Kangaroos out to defend the title they won in 2017.