Is Origin III Mal's last stand?
Wednesday night's series-deciding State of Origin III could be Mal Meninga's last as Queensland coach. In an exclusive interview with NRL.com, Meninga refused to guarantee he would coach the Maroons again next year, saying a decision would be worked out in the wake of the game.
Meninga is clearly the most successful Origin coach in history, with seven series wins in seven years and an eighth within his grasp. He is in the second year of a four-year, fulltime contract with the Queensland Rugby League, but coaching the Maroons is just a part of his role.
Darren Lockyer and Kevin Walters have each been mentioned as a potential successor when Meninga does finish up as coach. There has also been recent speculation Meninga could be approached to coach Brisbane or North Queensland next year, if either job became available.
NRL.com: Queensland have a great record in series-deciding Game Threes, going right back to when you played. Why is that?
Mal Meninga: We prepare well, and backs against the wall we like the underdogs tag. When it's one-all and you need to win, we play to our ability, to our potential. We play to our potential when under pressure.
Queensland are obviously favourites for this game, though. Do you still consider yourselves underdogs?
I don't think there are any favourites in Origin anyway. We always sort of go on about it, the underdogs tag, but in reality it's a 50:50 chance. Both teams are great sides and you've got to perform on the night, and we've probably done a little bit better than NSW have in the past.
You're away from home this time. Does that make it hard enough?
Well, it does, you know? There's a challenge there. We've got to combat the environment, with the crowd, and the ground itself is a challenge. We like to throw the ball around a fair bit – that's the people we've got in our footy team – and it's a bit of a grind at ANZ Stadium. NSW have done it really well there in recent times.
You and Laurie Daley haven't been sticking it to each other. Is there an enormous amount of respect between you two?
There's no need to, the game itself speaks volumes – and you guys (the media) have been about finding and picking punches, and referees and stuff, so we're in the background at the moment. It's pretty good.
How thorough an exam can James McManus expect as the Blues' latest right winger?
We'll focus on our own performance, and we like to play to both sides of the field, to be honest with you. But it's won in the middle, so our forwards, who played extremely well in Game Two, and their forwards, who played extremely well in Game One, will hold the key.
Are you super confident... confident... quietly confident? What are you?
We're positive about our chances. We're not arrogant. We've worked really hard, and our preparation's been really good. We need to transpose that onto the footy field. We've got a great sense of belief in the team that we can come up for these big games, so that's where we're at at the moment.
Plenty of people in NSW think the Blues are in all sorts of trouble without Jarryd Hayne, Paul Gallen and Blake Ferguson, but you wouldn't be buying any of that would you?
No. I feel that it gives them more impetus, more determination, more commitment, with those guys out, because there will be some other guys there who want to prove themselves in this arena. The best way to do that is to go out and play to the best of your ability, so we're very wary of that. We won't be complacent or seeing it as an easier prospect because those three players are out.
NSW were more intense to start Game One. Queensland were more intense to start Game Two. Who's going to start strongest this time?
It will be pretty equal I would imagine. It will be a bit of a grind, a field position battle, and when you get into those sorts of battles it's usually going to be won at the end of halves. So whoever's going best at the back end of the first half and the back end of the second half will probably be the victors.
Are you going around as coach again next year – win, lose, or draw on Wednesday night?
We'll see how it pans out. I don't know. It depends on the result, I guess, and whether the players think we need some new direction. So we'll just see how it all pans out afterwards.