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Marvellous mentors: Meninga named greatest Origin coach of all

He oversaw the most dominant period in Maroons history and now Mal Meninga has been named the fans' choice as the greatest State of Origin coach.

Meninga claimed 49% of the vote to beat current Queensland mentor Wayne Bennett (27%) and successful NSW coach Phil Gould (12%) to the top honour.

Meninga – already a legendary player with 32 Origin appearances to his name – coached the Maroons for 10 seasons between 2006 and 2015, winning 20 of his 30 matches as Queensland went on a stunning eight-year series winning streak. 

To celebrate four decades of the famous interstate contest, the NRL has released "40 Years of Origin", available at all the best bookstores and via NRL Shop.

Best Origin coach

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Top 10 Origin coaches

(in alphabetical order)

Arthur Beetson

It was only fitting that the man who captained the Maroons to victory in the historic first Origin clash in 1980 would go on to savour four series wins as Queensland coach.

Big Artie took the reins in 1981 when the Maroons won the only game 22-15 before joining forces with skipper Wally Lewis to lead his men to a three-peat in 1982, ’83 and ’84.

After a four-year hiatus, Beetson returned in 1989 and masterminded a series sweep, getting the absolute best out of a star-studded side which included Mal Meninga, Allan Langer, Gary Belcher, Gene Miles and Lewis.

Wayne Bennett

He is back again in 2020 for his fourth stint at the helm, looking to conjure an unlikely series win to go with his successes in 1987, ’88, ’98 and 2001.

After suffering the indignity of a clean sweep in his first series in charge in 1986 and the opener in ’87, Bennett went on a winning streak that still remains unrivalled.

Forgetting about the exhibition match in California at the end of the ’87 series, the Maroons won eight games on the trot before NSW finally rebounded in 1990.

And who could forget his master stroke in 2001 when he recalled Allan Langer from England to inspire a new-look Maroons team to a thumping 40-14 win in the third and deciding game.

Terry Fearnley

He may have only coached NSW in one series but it was one of the most significant moments in Origin history for the Blues as they finally broke Queensland’s stranglehold on the shield.

Having taken Parramatta to successive grand finals in 1976-77 and coached the Kangaroos to World Cup success in ’77, Fearnley had plenty of big game experience under his belt by the time he took over from Frank Stanton as Blues coach.

Full Match Replay: Blues v Maroons - Game 2, 1985

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After Michael O’Connor produced a magical debut to score all the points in an 18-2 win in game one, the Blues muscled up in game two to wrap up the series 21-14, prompting skipper Steve Mortimer to sink to his knees and kiss the SCG turf.

It had taken Fearnley just three weeks to end three years of Blues pain and lay the platform for a clean sweep in 1986.

Brad Fittler

As the Blues’ most capped player with 31 matches, Fittler’s legacy was already assured long before he assumed the reins from another NSW legend Laurie Daley in 2018.

The Blues had won just won of the past 11 series when Freddy strolled in and immediately put his own stamp on things with 11 debutants in the 2018 series opener.

Blues make major changes, Holmes back for Maroons

The new-look Blues delivered big time, winning 22-12 in front of 87,000 fans at the MCG in game one and repeating the dose at ANZ Stadium in game two, sending a huge hometown crowd into a frenzy with an 18-14 win.

Come 2019 and Freddy’s unorthodox methods again resonated with his men as they recovered from a loss in the opening game to win the series 2-1.

Phil Gould

Far and away the most successful coach in Blues history with six series wins, Gould proved himself the master motivator in the game’s toughest arena.

Tired of hearing that NSW couldn’t match Queensland’s passion for Origin, Gould set about smashing that myth in 1992, putting his faith in 22-year-old Laurie Daley as captain and unleashing Paul Harragon, Glenn Lazarus, Paul Sironen, Ben Elias and Brad Clyde to unsettle the Maroons.

Under Daley’s inspirational leadership the Blues won three series in a row from 1992-94 and then swept the ’96 series with Brad Fittler at the helm.

Gould then took a six-year hiatus, returning to savour two more series wins in 2003-04.

Maroons coach Graham Lowe and captain Wally Lewis with the Origin shield in 1991.
Maroons coach Graham Lowe and captain Wally Lewis with the Origin shield in 1991. ©NRL Photos

Graham Lowe

The Kiwi who became an honorary Queenslander, Lowe’s passion for Origin footy made him an instant with his players and the Lang Park faithful.

Following Queensland’s favourite son, Arthur Beetson, into the job was never going to be easy but Lowe ushered in a new era by handing Steve Renouf, Gary Larson, Paul Hauff, Gavin Allen and Mike McLean debuts in the ’91 series opener and the Maroons delivered 6-4.

NSW hit back in another tight struggle in game two and with the series on the line Lowe was forced to deliver a team talk ahead of the decider from his hospital bed in Sydney after suffering a DVT.

Showing the sort of courage Origin has been built on, Lowe made it to Brisbane for game three and was chaired from field by his players after an epic 14-12 win to wrap up the series.

Relive the final moments of Origin I, 2011

Mal Meninga

Big Mal was there as a player on opening night in 1980 and donned the maroon jersey 32 times before beginning his remarkable 10-year reign as coach in 2006.

With the Maroons staring down the barrel of a fourth consecutive series loss, a late Darren Lockyer try pulled the deciding game out of the fire and what followed was a dynasty which will quite simply never be matched.

Such is Meninga’s presence that his men would have run through brick walls for their coach, and on countless occasions across next eight years they did just that.

Capewell likely to play, Holmes confident at fullback

“Mal would bring in past players to tell their story about their journey to the maroon jersey, and you would have grown men in tears for no other reason than the care you had for the jersey and what it means,” Maroons great Corey Parker said in ’40 Years of State of Origin: The Magic, The Moments, The Memories’.

Wayne Pearce

"Junior" Pearce overcame a horror initiation with the infamous Robbie Kearns horse riding drama ahead of game one in 1999 to become the only New South Welshman to feature in a series sweep as a player and a coach.

Pearce captained the Blues to a 3-0 whitewash in 1986 and repeated the dose as a coach in 2000 when Ryan Girdler broke all sorts of records and Brad Fittler led from the front in grand style.

“Origin is a lot more about the camaraderie and connectivity and you have to create an environment where that connection is very strong,” Pearce said in ’40 Years of State of Origin’.

“Successful Origin coaches have been good at understanding that principle.”

The triumphant 1995 Queensland State of Origin team.
The triumphant 1995 Queensland State of Origin team. ©NRL Photos

Paul Vautin

"Fatty" won just four of his nine games as Maroons coach but three of those came in the space of an incredible month which gave us the most famous upset in Origin history.

With Super League players unavailable in 1995, Vautin’s Queensland side was decimated, while the Phil Gould-coached Blues still boasted 10 internationals.

Despite taking nine debutants into game one and wearing the unflattering tag of Fatty’s ‘Nevilles’, the Maroons conjured a 2-0 win at the SFS on the back of some old school bonding and unwavering belief.

On to the MCG for game two and the shackles came off in a 20-12 win before the sweep was rounded out in front of the Suncorp Stadium faithful.

Don't stay on the sideline, convert downtime into mate time

Ron Willey

The wily Willey came in on the back of the drought-breaking 1985 triumph and kept the ball rolling in ’86 with a series sweep.

A two-time premiership winning coach at Manly in 1972-73, Willey’s CV was already bulging when he became the Blues’ fourth coach in 1986.

Taking over a powerful side which included Wayne Pearce, Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny, Steve Roach and Michael O’Connor, Willey engineered a sweep in a tense series where the winning margins were six, four and two points.

The Blues won the opening game in 1987 but Queensland fought back to win the series and Willey was succeeded by John Peard as coach.


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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