Meninga sets sights on generation next
Queensland coach Mal Meninga has set his sights on the implementation of a Maroons succession plan after it was announced on Tuesday that he had agreed to a three-year extension of his tenure as state coach.
Although conscious that his longevity as Maroons head coach will be determined by how the team performs over the next 12 months, should Meninga see out his additional three years by the completion of the 2018 Series he will have been in charge for 39 Origin matches, the equivalent of five more years than legendary Blues coach Phil Gould.
Given his 32 matches for Queensland as a player starting from the very first Origin encounter in 1980, no person has cast a greater shadow than Meninga but he says his greatest legacy will be to ensure that success continues after he steps aside.
Along with Wayne Bennett, Meninga was an integral figure in the establishment of the Emerging Origin camps that have ushered in so many great Queensland players over the past decade and with the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk on the wrong side of 30, Meninga is focused on ushering in the next generation.
Broncos prop Josh McGuire has been named to make his Origin debut next Wednesday while Michael Morgan and Dylan Napa are both in camp as possible replacements for Daly Cherry-Evans who remains in doubt with a shoulder injury, four players who have many years in the Origin arena ahead of them.
"To keep that transition going, to keep the players motivated, to provide an environment where they are stimulated and they can thrive and play to their potential," Meninga said of his challenges beyond 2015.
"At the same time talent identification, get the next players from 16s, 18s, 20s to try and get them through and give them an education in what it means to be a Queenslander.
"Part of my role is to develop a program along with other people – such as Wayne as an example – that is going to be sustainable over a long period of time.
"It's been recorded in recent times the percentage of Queenslanders playing in the National Rugby League competition. We're third at the moment behind the Pacific Islands and New South Wales, so we've got a lot of quality but not a lot of quantity.
"We want to make sure we do the right thing by that quality and get them through playing Origin to their potential."
The extension of Meninga's appointment as coach was met by unanimous approval by senior Queensland players, who only learned of the development when it was revealed at the announcement of the team for Game One.
Greg Inglis has played his entire Origin career under Meninga and said he has been someone who has had a significant impact on him both personally and professionally.
"Mal is a guy who I really admired growing up as a kid and he's someone that I turn to, give him a call every now and then about different things," said Inglis. "Things away from footy and life he's a great mentor of mine and just an all round nice guy. I can't speak highly enough of him.
"All the players respect him and hold him in high regard in everything he does. He's obviously one of the former greats of our game and to be coached by him I'm truly blessed and really fortunate to be coached by a guy like him."
With 33 Origin games Queensland skipper Cameron Smith has moved one game past Meninga on the list of Origin appearances and said that his greatest attribute is creating the right environment to prepare for the most intense rugby league on the planet.
"His passion for the state and being able to have everyone prepared mentally and emotionally for such a big occasion," Smith said of Meninga's great strength as Queensland coach.
"In these games technical coaching sort of goes out the window. The team that always goes out with the best attitude and the strongest attitude and the most belief is the team that normally wins in State of Origin and that's what Mal's instilled in this group.
"He was the man that turned around our fortunes on the field, given his experience at Origin level and the passion that he instilled in the group that we have at the moment and the group that we did have in 2006.
"I believe it's the reason that we went on the run we went on so it's great news for Queensland Rugby League and the State of Origin team."