Justin Hodges says Mal Meninga can help make international rugby league the pinnacle of the game again.

Mal the man to revitalise 'Roos: Hodges

As much as you love and respect the Australian jersey I can tell you that as a player personally I always saw Origin as the pinnacle of our game.

If that is to change, rather than playing more Tests and putting greater pressure on the players it's about having a coach who will instil that pride back in the jersey – and I have no doubt Mal Meninga is the man to do just that.

When Mal took over the Queensland Origin team in 2006 we were staring down the barrel of losing four series in succession but he took a gamble by bringing a lot of new, younger faces into the squad.

The first thing Mal instilled in us was an appreciation of the history of Origin and the Queensland players that came before us. He spoke about the amount of pride and respect you should have in the jersey and the fact that he wanted people that wanted to be there for the right reasons and wanted to perform.

Because all of Mal's great achievements as a player he commanded that instant respect and from listening to 'Cozza' and Sammy this week it sounds as though he is already having a similar influence on the Australian team.

He will be telling the guys that he picked for Friday's Test against New Zealand that this is their opportunity and that their spot in the Australian team is theirs to have or theirs to lose.

It's making sure that they know that unless the players represent the jersey properly then they're not going to be selected. That's something I know that he'll do because he did that in Origin too.

 


The other reason I believe Mal's appointment is a great one for the Kangaroos is that he understands what a representative team needs to prepare in a short space of time.

Rather than the intensity of a full-time NRL coach, a rep coach needs to have more of a relaxed approach and be a master of man management.

When you are dealing with so many talented players the most important thing is to manage them so that they are relaxed, happy and healthy, and Mal did a wonderful job at that during his 10 years as coach of Queensland.

In terms of what happens on the training paddock – whether it is an Origin game or a Test – the major focus is simply getting familiar with the play calls. Everyone uses the same plays but it's just getting used to the calls and the names of them.

I'm not 100 per cent sure but the Kangaroos would most likely have play calls this week that they have used in the past that 'Thursto', 'Smithy' and all the ball-players came up with so they might continue to use those same names or they might change them.

With only five days to prepare for the Test on Friday night, there wouldn't be a lot going on. It will mainly be around Mal setting the standard of what he wants and how he expects an Australian team to prepare and perform.

The rivalry of Origin was reborn again because of what Mal brought to it in his 10 years as Queensland coach. I know he would be very proud to now be coach of Australia and determined to take them back to No.1 in the world.

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Having done my Achilles twice I know the ups and downs that my former Broncos teammate Josh McGuire has gone through over the past 12 months and I am really pleased to see him rewarded with his first Test jersey in Newcastle on Friday night.

It was the worst injury I suffered in my career and it can be a very lonely place when you're stuck on the bike while the rest of the boys are out on the training paddock.

It does get lonely, it does get hard because sometimes you want to be out on the footy field and you know you can't. That's when it becomes more mentally challenging because you know you can get out there and do it but your body just won't let you.

Josh was fortunate to have the medical staff around him at the Broncos that we have and our physio Luke who had been through it with myself and Darius before but he also deserves a lot of credit for the work we all saw him put in.

I hope when he runs out onto the field he realises that it was the hard work that got him there. That's a good lesson for all players.

He's got some Broncos teammates in that Australian team and I've got no doubt that when he runs out on Friday he will do himself, his family and his country proud.

 

Broncos and Maroons legend Justin Hodges is host of League Nation Live every Tuesday night on NITV at 7.30pm.