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When Kevin Walters bottom lip started to quiver and his eyes began to water while speaking about his passion for everything associated with the Maroons on Monday it was as though he was channelling Queensland legend Chris "Choppy" Close.

Walters's open displays of emotion when expressing his innermost thoughts about the Maroons have become a recurring theme of his four-year tenure as Queensland coach.

It took one question to Walters at Monday’s media conference at QRL headquarters to set him off. It was about whether Queensland, after a humiliating 38-6 loss in game two and without their star fullback Kalyn Ponga, would embrace the "underdog" tag in the Holden State of Origin series decider at ANZ Stadium. The question brought out the deep feeling that resides within Walters.

"It has been a big part of Queensland’s history ... the underdog, backs to the wall [narrative]. It doesn’t bother me. I know where this team is at and I know the performance that is in them,” Walters said as his eyes became misty.

"It is there and it is my job to bring it out, and I will bring it out. The exciting thing for all Queenslanders is that we are part of a decider. It is going to be the biggest game in Origin’s history and I am so excited to be part of it all."

It is when all seems lost that the Maroons have often thrived. No-one much gives them a chance in Sydney next Wednesday.

Chris Close during his time as Maroons team manager in the 1990s with Gary Larson and Andrew Gee.
Chris Close during his time as Maroons team manager in the 1990s with Gary Larson and Andrew Gee. ©NRL Photos

No one did in 1995 either when Close, the team manager after a stellar career as a player, was asked by coach Paul Vautin to speak to the biggest of all underdogs. called Close, who was about to pull up in Albany in Western Australia for breakfast, about the speech that he was unable to give.

"Fatty put me on the spot a little bit and asked me to speak about what it was like to play for Queensland and what it meant to me. Right at that moment it was a really emotional thing for me to do," Close told

"I lost the ability to speak and my bottom lip turned into a sausage and I couldn’t talk, so I had to sit down again."

Players from that era have spoken about how inspired they were by Close’s passion for the Maroons at that very moment. They went on to famously win that series 3-0.

That Walters has won two series out of three in what has been Queensland’s greatest transition period of the modern era is due in part to his players wanting to play for a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and bleeds maroon.

When told of the coach's emotion on Monday, Close said it was just what the players needed to reinforce what it meant to play for Queensland.

"When that emotion manifests itself you can’t hide it. It is genuine and authentic. That is how it is and how you feel,” Close said.

Queensland - Origin III team announcement

"For Kevvie, he wants to win this series and that is what we want him to do. We want him to be in that [passionate] mindset and the team to be in that mindset.

"Kevvie comes from an amazing rugby league family and he and his brothers have played for their state and country. He is a deadset Queenslander and he went through a period where Queensland wasn't so successful, like a lot of us did. He wants to win."

John F Kennedy once said that "all men are mortal … and we all breathe the same air". For the 200 men who have worn the Maroons jersey it is a different beast.

For them, Origin has a sense of immortality about it and those that have played it and embraced it, like Walters and Close, inhale an intoxicating air that colours their every breath.

Walters has often spoken about how moved he was when he attended the inaugural Origin at Lang Park in 1980 as a 12-year-old with his late father, Kevin snr, and his brothers.

Each time he relates that experience, it is with misty eyes and a shaky voice. The moment that stood out to Walters was when Maroons captain Arthur Beetson entered the playing arena to a deafening roar that reverberated around the ground and shook the old Frank Burke Stand to its foundations.

Close was on the field that night in the centres. He was awarded man of the match in Queensland’s 20-10 win after a rampaging display. 

"When the crowd saw Arthur come out of the tunnel and lead the team out there was an enormous roar that lit a fire that has never gone out," Close said.

"The roar was deafening and you couldn’t hear each other … so loud it was reverberating through your body. That is one of the moments that has always sat in my heart. It was such an important moment for me, my family and for Queensland."

From that moment on the Maroons had won over the Queensland public.

It is why Walters bristled, and then became emotional again, when asked whether the 2019 side needed to win over the fans again after the Perth debacle.

It is going to be the biggest game in Origin’s history.

Kevin Walters

"No, we have won the Queensland fans over with our performances throughout the series. It wasn’t so great in some areas [in game two] but I genuinely believe this team has the support of Queensland right behind them for game three," he said.

"I can feel it when I walk around the streets of Queensland. They want this team to do well and they will do well.

"I believe in myself and I believe in this team. Hundred per cent I believe. I look back on my coaching and playing career and I look at all of our players that are participating. We have picked a team that is expected to win. The belief is there and the trust is there. We will get it right."

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