Lockyer: Walters decision will boost Maroons
Kevin Walters has stepped down as Brisbane Broncos assistant coach to focus solely on his role as Queensland coach, a move Maroons selector Darren Lockyer says will only boost the side's chance in this year's State of Origin series.
Walters is a selector as well as a coach of the Maroons side and said in a statement that the "perception of my impartiality" was one of the reasons why he decided to remove himself from a club role.
Walters attended the launch of the 2018 Holden State of Origin Series in Melbourne on Tuesday where he said: "the level of interest at the media conference reinforced how privileged I am to be the head coach of a Maroons team which means so much to the people of Queensland."
"It also reinforced Origin's immense standing in the game, and the importance of having a clear-minded approach to all aspects of the Queensland team's preparations," Walters said.
"I felt that my direct link to the Broncos may influence the perception of my impartiality and, as a result, I have made the decision to step away from the club to focus solely on our State of Origin campaign."
Lockyer is in a unique position to assess Walters' decision as both a Brisbane Broncos board member and Queensland selector.
The former Maroons captain told NRL.com that Mal Meninga's record as a stand-alone coach of Queensland set a template for success that suggested Walters' move would reap dividends.
"It can only be a positive for Queensland," Lockyer said.
"Kevvie can now solely focus, aside from his media commitments, on getting the Origin team ready for not just this series but moving forward as well.
"People might see that there are only three games and three camps but there is a lot of work behind the scenes whether it be in the development program, the Emerging Origin squad, planning or getting in touch with all the players.
"Mal Meninga's success as a full-time Origin coach indicates that if you want to be a success at that level then that is the best way to go about it.
"That allowed him to plan, create pathways and programs. He obviously did the role of coach well but that extra level of commitment to create and articulate that stuff obviously had a really positive impact."
Lockyer said he was "a little bit surprised, but not shocked" at Walters' decision.
"I think as Origin has got closer he has realised how important it is to everyone, and holding dual roles and doing some media stuff means that at that coaching level it is a juggling act and one that he probably felt was too hard," Lockyer said.
Lockyer said Walters' statement on the perception of impartiality was understandable but added he had always found him to make selection decisions that were for the best interests of Queensland.
"Kevvie has come through the Broncos system under Wayne [Bennett] where every decision made has been the for the benefit of the team," Lockyer said.
"Even in that role as Queensland coach he has made decisions that were best for Queensland."
Walters has held assistant roles under Wayne Bennett on two previous occasions and this is the third time he has moved away from the role, the last two times of his own volition and the first when Bennett famously sacked him.
Walters, who won five premierships with the Brisbane Broncos and one with Canberra, said he wished everyone involved with the Broncos "every success for the remainder of the 2018 season".
Lockyer said Walters would be missed at the Broncos but expected that he would be back one day, perhaps as head coach.
"When you have won six premierships and had that level of success, you can't put a value on that," he said.
"There are young halves at the Broncos that need mentoring and no doubt there will be a loss of talent in the coaching ranks, but I don't think it is the last time Kevvie will be involved at the Broncos.
''The door is not closed there. He's just made a decision to focus on Queensland and down the track who knows what will happen.
"Kevvie has always held out a bit of ambition to coach at NRL level but his perspective might change after a couple of Origin series."
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett, who coached the Maroons in 22 matches from 1986 until 2003, said he respected Walters' decision and his honesty in making the Broncos' aware of his position as soon as possible.
"I know personally the amount of work it takes to be a successful coach at Origin level and I can understand why Kevin has come to this decision," Bennett said.
"It takes a huge commitment to coach Queensland and while we have really valued Kevin's input this year as an assistant coach, we wish him all the best."
Witness Australia’s greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday June 6. Tickets available at NRL.com/tickets