They are two of the greatest players to grace a rugby league field. One is an immortal, the other a triple premiership winner who captained his state at just 22 years of age. They were part of a golden era in the nation’s capital, with three premierships from four grand finals in six years.
After clashing only at Origin level on the field, they will meet for the first time as coaches on Wednesday night. It will be Laurie Daley’s first game as NSW coach, and having only coached Country and the Indigenous All Stars prior, it’s arguably his first major test as a senior coach. Plotting his downfall is the Immortal Mal Meninga.
That’s not to say the best of mates haven’t coached each other at Origin before. For the past two years, another of their Canberra Raiders teammates Ricky Stuart held the reins for NSW, and prior to that another of the Raiders’ 90s super-group Craig Bellamy tried, and ultimately failed, to take Meninga and his mighty Maroons down.
But according to Stuart, who many believe to have been NSW’s best weapon for the past two seasons, Daley is the man to take Meninga down. At the Brad Fittler Medal night last season, he gave Daley a ringing endorsement. “Let me tell you, I’ve played Origin footy, I’ve coached Origin footy. This guy, he owned it,” Stuart said of his successor. The most successful NSW coach in Origin history, Phil Gould, wrote of Daley last week that he “is expecting something great to happen.”
Standing in the way of this ‘greatness’ however, is THE most successful coach in Origin history. Say what you will of Mal Meninga’s tactical nous as a coach, his record speaks for itself. He’s never lost an Origin series as coach. 21 games, 15 victories and six losses. Of those six losses, only four have come in ‘live’ games and he’s never lost a ‘live’ game at Suncorp Stadium. This is the record of a guy who ‘can’t coach’.
As players, they met on 14 occasions, with Meninga holding a slender 8-6 head to head advantage. As opposing captains however, Daley won three straight series between 1992-1994, not even allowing Mal a happy send-off from Lang Park in 1994. It is that drive and relentlessness of Daley’s that many believe could see NSW lift the Origin shield finally after seven years on the losing side.
Daley and Meninga were competitors on the field, but great mates off it. Should Queensland continue their Origin dominance, or NSW finally break the streak, one thing's for certain. At the end of the series, when all the dust has settled, they will shake hands and still remain the best of mates.
Jim Beam Smooth Move of the Week
At 25-8 with only seven minutes remaining the game may well have effectively been over for the Gold Coast Titans, but livewire half Albert Kelly put it beyond doubt, scooping up a loose pass and running the length of the field untouched to score next to the posts.