Renouf: Walters deserves credit for Maroons work
Queensland have laid the platform for renewed State of Origin success in 2019 and one man who should take a lot of the credit for that is coach Kevin Walters.
This year's series was deservedly won by NSW but the Maroons will get a lot out of their 18-12 win on Wednesday night and can look to the future with a new spring in their step.
It was always going to be a massive challenge without Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, but when Cameron Smith retired from rep footy on the eve of the series it gave Queensland a real problem. I can't remember the Maroons losing three greats of that stature all at the one time.
Then Billy Slater missed game one.
You could tell Kevin had the weight of the world on his shoulders at that point. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he is as passionate a Queenslander as I have ever met.
Through all of this, I think a lot of people forget what the team has lost and how close they went to winning games one and two. Kevin has done an amazing job to hold the side together. It could have fallen apart but he made sure it didn't.
He's won two series from three now, and last year's come-from-behind victory was one of Queensland's most courageous fightbacks. That is a credit to the players but that only happens when the coach has their total support.
They all want to play for him.
The only way you can shut the critics up is to win and I was fortunate to see Kevin and the boys after the win on Wednesday night and they were elated. The coach had copped a lot of flak but he made some really good selection decisions and had the players in the right frame of mind to send Slater out a winner.
Bringing Daly Cherry-Evans in was a masterstroke. He was great. The way he kept NSW at their own end for set after set with his deft kicks was unbelievable, and then he scored that crucial try.
He has put his stamp on that position now because he showed he is a No.7 who can lead the team around. He's the perfect foil for Cameron Munster.
Promoting Josh Papalii and Jai Arrow was another big call but I can see them starting in the front row well into the future.
Ben Hunt fired off the bench and you have to admire his character and class. Kevin instilled in him the belief that he has a valuable place in the 17 if he plays to his strengths and only a good coach can do that. Hunt showed having three playmakers on the field at the same time can work.
He picked his marks and didn't overplay his hand. Smith used to play 80 minutes but I think having Andrew McCullough start and do the tough stuff for 30 minutes is the way to go. Then Hunt can come on and add creativity to the attack.
Slater will be missed next year but Kalyn Ponga will slot in at fullback with ease.
Greg Inglis will be back and there are some up and coming forwards at the Broncos like Joe Ofahengaue and Jaydn Su'A who will keep the heat on.
Kevin has learned some lessons through this series. He admitted they could have been smarter before game one when they had some busted players in camp. If you don't put a full team of fit players on the field in Origin, you get found out.
That Origin III win was a great result for Queensland's future. We saw a few of the NSW boys afterward and they were shattered they didn't get the clean sweep. They went back home with their tails between their legs and took the shine off their celebrations
In the second half, I was sitting with JT and Cameron and they were so passionate and happy the boys got a win. They were cheering and yahooing - it was great to see. They know how big that win can be in the context of what is to come.
I firmly believe that with the players the Maroons have they can turn it around next year, and having Kevin on board for the next few years should give Queensland fans plenty of hope.