Meninga to fire up the Maroons machine

It has been suggested Mal Meninga is to rugby league coaching what John Buchanan was to Australian cricket, although with much more substantial thighs.
Nanjing Night Net

In Meninga’s possession is that rarest commodity in sport; not only a group of outright champions but a champion side. Honestly, how hard can it be?

Buchanan was famous for delving into the philosophical and encouraging his players to read extracts from The Art of War. But on the field, the get-out play didn’t require a PhD in psychology: ”Warnie, you bowl at that end, McGrath, you bowl from the other.”

Similarly for Meninga, the virtuosity of his squad has meant his contribution has steadily diminished, or even been criticised by some NSW observers as token. Surely coaching isn’t that difficult when you can just throw it to Greg Inglis, or Billy Slater, or Darren Lockyer, or Johnathan Thurston.

Ask Queensland’s players and the truth couldn’t be further from the perception. Far from a rent-a-legend who bellows a rousing pre-game call to arms, Meninga has become a master motivator and manipulator capable of extracting the last molecule of competitive edge from his playing staff.

With Origin now played by increasingly elite athletes and almost nothing between the sides, it matters. His players say it has been a huge part of their domination of the interstate series, which could stretch to eight in a row should they triumph on Wednesday night and beyond.

”He was a player,” Queensland lock Ash Harrison said. ”He knows what made him tick and what makes us tick. He’s very good at doing those things and he thinks it’s very important for us to know the history of this jersey.

”He never ceases to amaze me with what he comes up with. He seems to push the right buttons every time. It’s one of the things he’s very, very good at.” At the Queensland team announcement, now a gala dinner instead of a media-only event in a dingy hotel space, Meninga was at his best. He assembled members of the 1959 Queensland side, the last to win before the Origin concept in 1980.

Players such as Noel Kelly and Frank Drake stood alongside their present-day counterparts as the 2013 side was called onstage. It was a gesture Meninga had been cooking up since last November.

Meninga has been a picture of relaxation and calm this time around. Zen master Buchanan would be impressed. But as in previous years, behind the scenes, Meninga will have rabbits in his hat.

In series past, when he’s said publicly that NSW taunts meant nothing, his players were then shown DVD of the offending quotes to fuel the fires. He’s had articles pasted on walls and footage of some of the best Origin biffo on rotation.

The now annual trip to regional towns such as Emerald, Bundaberg and Roma has also given players an in-your-face reminder of what the game means to people in the regions. With many of his players growing up in bush towns, it’s not just the fans who benefit.

It all adds to the mix, said Sam Thaiday, but the main ingredient is the man himself. Imposing, deeply respected and an unabashed personification of every Queensland cliche NSW detests, Meninga’s influence over his players is profound.

”If you want to know how good he is as a motivator, you just have to listen to him speak,” Thaiday said. ”We’ve got quite a mix in the coaching staff. We’ve got Steve Walters, who’s a bit of a character, Alfie [Langer], who likes to sling a bit on everyone. But as soon as Mal talks, everyone goes quiet in the room. It doesn’t matter if he’s talking about footy or whatever, everyone shuts up and listens.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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