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Wayne Bennett's return to the Queensland coaching throne has shades of his last stint as Maroons mentor 17 years ago, with a spate of injuries and a NSW juggernaut facing the most experienced coach in NRL history.

Throw in the COVID-19 restrictions and Bennett is staring down the barrel of a seemingly insurmountable task.

Not that he cares.

Bennett's coaching comeback for the rescheduled 2020 series was confirmed by the QRL on Friday, with the Rabbitohs boss taking charge following Kevin Walters move to lead up Brisbane's rebuild.

Walters will stay involved with Maroons planning until Bennett is available, with South Sydney's finals campaign potentially tying him up until the October 25 grand final, just 10 days before Origin I kicks off in Adelaide.

Bennett declared Origin as "the toughest coaching jobs I've ever had" and his return looms as no different with Michael Morgan, Valentine Holmes, Ethan Lowe and Kyle Feldt out for the series, and David Fifita's ankle surgery limiting him to the later games, if any at all, as the Blues aim for a third straight series win.

The 70-year-old has not coached the Maroons since his last stint ended in 2003, which included famously bringing Allan Langer back from England two years earlier for an upset series triumph when Queensland were yet again considered rank underdogs.

Full Match Replay: Maroons v Blues - Game 3, 2001

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"I wouldn't come if I didn't think I could win," Bennett told the QRL website on Friday.

"The toughest coaching jobs I've ever had have been coaching Origin. I'm not delusional, I don't think it won't be hard and won't be difficult.

"It's been a difficult year and been topsy turvy for all of us, whether you're playing football or working in the mines, wherever you are, everyone's been affected by the pandemic. So [I want] to give something back if I can."

Bennett trumped current Australian coach Mal Meninga and ex-Cowboys mentor Paul Green in landing the Queensland role.

It's understood while the lack of Test football would have made Meninga available for duty earlier than Bennett's Rabbitohs commitments, the fact he has coached in 2020 under the new six-again rule was a significant factor in Bennett's appointment.

His return will bring him to the same selection table as Broncos champion Darren Lockyer - the pair fell out with each other over the coach's exit from Brisbane two years ago.

Queensland officials believe there will be no issue with them working together for the first time since their relationship fractured.

QRL managing director Rob Moore confirmed Bennett's appointment is just for 2020 as his organisation explores reducing the Maroons coaching job to a part-time one beyond this year.

"That was a deliberate decision," Moore said of Bennett's short-term appointment.

"We want to go through due process and that probably influenced our decision, that it is only this campaign.

Every Try of the Week winner from 2020 season

"It's a great challenge that he sees, coming back after a period of time but he's been there before, he's won those series.

"I think it probably plays into his hands, the things that have gone on this year, the lateness of it, the underdog and all the rest of it."

As well as a mounting injury toll and NSW being early $1.40 favourites to claim the series, this year's interstate clashes will be played across three straight weeks, with both sides planning game day fly-in, fly-out arrangements for games not played on home soil.

Bennett has long campaigned for such a condensed format, albeit as a mid-season standalone Origin period to reduce the representative period's impact on the NRL season.

"I'm a bit of a fan of it. I'll need to see how it operates," Bennett said of the series being played in a three-week window.

"It'll be tough on the players but it'll be good on the players too with the physicality of the games.

"But we do it in the playoff series too, when the Cowboys won the 2015 premiership for example, they played the Broncos, the Sharks, they went to Melbourne and played and they played the grand final in that four-week period.

"I think it's doable. It's challenging but I think it's doable. I like the format, I like the smaller breaks between the games."

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Walters said it was great to be reuniting with his long-term mentor at Origin level, after previously winning five premierships as a player when Bennett was Broncos coach and then working closely with  him as an assistant coach in two stints at Brisbane.

"Wayne has been there and done it at State of Origin level," Walters told

"He coached me with Queensland in 1998, in the series that we won, and the old fella has a pretty good record at that level.

"To be back with Wayne will be fantastic. I am heavily invested in the Broncos now but also still heavily invested in this year's State of Origin series, and when it comes to Queensland I always have been.

"That Maroons spirit is part of me and part of my DNA."

Origin I will be Bennett’s 23rd game in charge of the Maroons. He has won five of seven series.




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