I can just see Wayne Bennett partying like it is 1998 when this year’s State of Origin series is done and dusted.
In game one of that '98 series there were nine Broncos in the Maroons team, but only Allan Langer had been coached by Wayne at Origin level before.
It was a new experience for us at that level and Wayne was able to work his magic and get us home 2-1.
I am sure he will do something similar with the 27 lads he will have in this year’s squad. While some of them will have had him as club coach before, it will be the first time for all of them to have Wayne as their Queensland coach.
The intense and shortened series will suit Wayne down to the ground and it will all be about giving the players belief, like he did with us.
In 1998 I was 28 and I had been with Wayne since I was 17 and I couldn’t wait to get into camp and play for him at that level.
We’ve already heard guys like Pat Carrigan say something similar ahead of this year’s series and you can be sure of one thing - the Queensland lads will all be wanting to play for their coach.
The grandstand finish in the 1998 Origin opener
I know Jai Arrow can’t wait to get into camp and fire for Wayne before he does at Souths.
Queensland will blood plenty of newcomers, like Wayne did in 2001 when he handed 10 players a debut in game one of another winning series.
Back in 1998 it was the first Origin series for Tonie Carroll and Shane Webcke and they were both enormous.
'Tunza' scored the winning try in game one and Webcke was man of the the match in the decider.
Their careers really kicked on from there and I believe the 2020 series can be a turning point for guys like Jaydn Su’A, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Moeaki Fotuaika and AJ Brimson too.
They will find that what Wayne says to them will be simple, on the mark and will make a lot of sense. That’s the way it was for me 22 years ago. You will see all of these boys lift.
One player I reckon who will thrive under Wayne is Cameron Munster.
He just goes out there and plays what he sees and can win a match on his own. He is a character, and a lot like Alfie Langer in that regard. Wayne loves those kind of players.
That year, 1998, was a happy one for Wayne and a lot of us at the Broncos.
We also won the inaugural NRL premiership and then Wayne coached Australia for two Tests at the end of the year, and we won both of those as well.
Moments that matter - Johnathan Thurston
Few coaches would have had a year like that in rugby league history, and Wayne is still a chance with Souths of claiming his eighth premiership as coach before he goes into Maroons camp.
I didn’t tell Wayne or anyone else that 1998 was going to be my last Origin year and we won the third game in Sydney to win the series, which made it even more special.
There were tears and it was one of the only times I got emotional because I knew it was going to be my last game for the Maroons.
Having Wayne as the coach was the icing on the cake.
This year NSW will be red hot favourites, as they were in 1998 after winning the previous two series.
That will play into Queensland’s hands and Wayne’s hands as well. Being the underdogs will suit the Maroons right down to the ground.
If any coach can get a group of inexperienced players together and get the best out of them it is Wayne Bennett.
They have a small window of three weeks and it will be about belief. Wayne will give the Maroons that vital ingredient.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.
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