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Meninga to join Maroons on Bennett's coaching team

Mal Meninga will join Maroons coach Wayne Bennett in camp for this year’s State of Origin series in what has been described as Queensland’s "A-team" of coaching and mentoring acumen.

The Kangaroos coach wants to help the young Queensland Maroons any way he can and his presence in camp for this year’s series in a coaching capacity alongside assistant coach Neil Henry has Bennett’s full blessing.

A series of calls between Bennett, Meninga, the NRL, ARLC and the QRL hierarchy got the appointment over the line and QRL chairmain Bruce Hatcher said it would be "a match made in heaven".

The pair have 14 Origin series wins to their credit with Bennett’s teams lifting the Origin shield on five occasions and Meninga winning a record nine series as head coach, including a stunning eight in a row.

"Just as in life, no one has all the skills, and I think Wayne and Mal’s skills are complementary more than anything with their combined years of experience and success," Hatcher told NRL.com.

Then there were four …

"They go back a very long way. As far as coaching goes they have all we could ever want. Young blokes are going to make up the majority of our side and from a mentoring sense you couldn’t have better leadership.

"The collaboration between two outstanding leaders of men in Wayne and Mal is a match made in heaven. It is absolutely the A-team.

"This is going to be an environment where people like Wayne, Mal and Neil - all with the relevant coaching experience - will get the best out of their charges for the series."

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Hatcher said with no Tests scheduled it made sense for Meninga to provide his knowledge and stature to what will be an historic end-of-season State of Origin series, which kicks off on November 4 in Adelaide.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys said Meninga would step down from his Kangaroos duties and forgo his remuneration during his involvement with Queensland.

"This year is an exceptional year,'' he said. 

"Under normal circumstances you can't be head coach of the Kangaroos and be involved in an Origin squad. But given there are no Test matches because of COVID we have granted Mal permission to assist Queensland.

"Mal is an Origin legend and his presence in the series will add an additional layer of excitement for our fans and players."

Meninga and Bennett have a long association dating back to their time together in the Queensland Police Service.

Bennett was Meninga’s coach at Souths when the Magpies won the 1985 BRL title and then again at Canberra in 1987 before coaching him at Maroons level.

Much of Queensland’s success in the 40-year history of Origin can be slated to the Bennett-Meninga influence with Immortal Meninga also playing in 32 games for his state in a stellar playing career.

"The hallmarks of Wayne’s coaching are that he keeps it simple and he picks players who are disciplined and give one hundred per cent," Hatcher said.

"There is a lot about our current Origin systems and process that Wayne and Mal have set up. Mal is the one who consulted his senior playing group and they formulated why they liked playing for Queensland and why they wanted success for Queensland.

"When Wayne came back last time [in 2001] it was because there was a crying need for a strong coach and strong leadership, and he provided it."

Henry worked closely with Meninga in the early stages of the Maroons dynasty on team tactics and strategies. Former Queensland captain Darren Lockyer has hailed Henry as one of the unsung heroes of Queensland’s success in that period.

Bennett has long preferred to have sage heads around him and throughout his own coaching rise had mentors such as the late Bobby Bax and Ron Massey as valued sounding boards.

Maroons coach Wayne Bennett.
Maroons coach Wayne Bennett. ©qrl.com.au

"Wayne is not only a mentor himself, but he has used mentors on his way to the top," Hatcher said.

"I knew him from the time he decided to become a coach and whenever he had issues he always had someone to talk them through with, as someone that has always enjoyed acquiring knowledge.

"He has applied it in a way that has been both beneficial  to his own coaching and the teams he coaches, and that will be the case again."