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Slater, Smith, Thurston in the mix as Maroons, Green part ways

Former Maroons legends Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston are expected to be considered for coaching roles with Queensland after Paul Green told officials he wanted to pursue an NRL job.

The Maroons are understood to be hoping to make a quick decision on their fourth State of Origin coach in as many seasons after deciding they wanted someone who could make a long-term commitment to the role.

Green was contracted to coach Queensland in this year's series with a mutual option for 2022 but the 2015 Cowboys premiership-winning mentor has always wanted to return to NRL coaching and a number of jobs are expected to become available within the next 12 months.

The decision opens the door for Slater and Smith to become involved with coaching the Maroons, while Thurston already had a role as an assistant to Green, along with Neil Henry.

Slater spoke with the QRL about coaching Queensland before Green's appointment in February, while Smith last week revealed he was open to taking up a role with the Maroons next season.

Mal Meninga, who guided Queensland to eight consecutive series wins from 2006 to 2013, has also been linked with a possible return but the Kangaroos coach would only consider taking on the role if he could continue in the Australian role too.

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"My focus is firmly on the Kangaroos job," Meninga told NRL.com. "I will always have an interest in the QRL and their State of Origin campaigns".

Meninga worked with Wayne Bennett in 2020 after the pair answered an SOS from the QRL following the resignation of Kevin Walters on the eve of the Origin series to coach the Broncos.

The QRL are keen to avoid a potential repeat of that situation if Green was offered an NRL job next year so are seeking a longer-term appointment to create stability after having to find a new coach for each of the last three series.

Bennett is leaving South Sydney at the end of the season and intends to return to Brisbane, but he wants to continue NRL coaching and is keen to take charge of a second Brisbane team if the ARLC decides to expand the premiership in 2023 or 2024.

Green, who had been keen to continue coaching Queensland after this year's 2-1 series loss, would also be interested in leading the new NRL franchise, while a number of jobs may become available in Sydney.

The future of Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire is currently in the spotlight as the club is currently undergoing an end-of-season review, while St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin and Parramatta's Brad Arthur are contracted for one more year.

"After much consultation and discussion post the Origin series, both the QRL and I have decided to move in different directions," Green said in a statement.

"The basis for this is simple; the QRL wants to ensure that they have certainty around the Origin coach not wanting to pursue an NRL head coach job, and whilst I could give them that certainty for the 2021 series, I cannot guarantee that this would be the case in the future.

"We all understand the dynamics and volatility around NRL club head coach roles and ultimately, that is where I see myself when the right opportunity opens up.

"I agree with the QRL's desire for stability in the Origin coach job and to that end, I felt compelled to be transparent with my broader plans and thus this decision."

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It is understood that the QRL board is keen to move towards the NSW coaching model, with former Blues captain Brad Fittler in charge and fellow greats Craig Fitzgibbon and Danny Buderus as his assistants.

While the likes of Slater, Smith and Thurston don't have NRL coaching experience they were key figures in a decade of Queensland domination as players.

Former Maroons teammate Cooper Cronk, who was another influential member of the most successful era in Origin history, was recently appointed to the QRL board as an independent director.

Cronk last week told NRL360: "There's no doubt having the crew in terms of having Slater, Smith and Thurston, the more they can be around the set-up, is great for the future".

The former Storm and Roosters premiership winning halfback's comments followed revelations by Smith that he would be interested in working with the Maroons.

"If I am approached for next year then I would certainly consider it," Smith told The Australian. "I am not closing the door on it because having an opportunity to coach the Queensland State of Origin side, that would be a wonderful opportunity."

QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher thanked Green and said a board-appointed committee would continue to work through the process of appointing a new Maroons head coach.

“We understand and respect Paul’s ambitions to return to NRL coaching at some point, and we wish him every bit of success in the future,” Hatcher said.

“In my opinion, Paul went through the most exceptional circumstances in the history of Origin, with issues around injuries, Covid-19 and player eligibility, and the way the team was able to finish off the series with one of the great Origin victories is testament to his leadership.”