PLAYERS FULL OF PRAISE FOR MAL
QUEENSLAND COACH MAL MENINGA HAS BECOME MORE THAN A COACH TO HIS PLAYERS, WRITE TODD BALYM AND PAUL MALONE.
MAROONS winger Darius Boyd has compared Mal Meninga to master coach Wayne Bennett as Queensland players paid tribute to their mentor of 10 years, who today celebrates his 55th birthday.
“Mal has that same thing about him that Wayne has, that he really cares about the players,” Boyd said.
“He asks about your wellbeing and how your family is going. He’s more than a coach.
“What makes Origin time so special is that it’s like a family. He’s helped create that culture that the players have bought into. It’s a special week to be in the Origin squad.”
Boyd’s comments are further proof that Meninga is more than a coach to the Maroons.
He is a father figure. A friend. A confidante. And a leader. When he talks, they all stop to listen.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone command so much respect from a playing group. He doesn’t rant and rave but when he talks blokes listen,” Lillyman said.
“For me personally he is always there for advice or to me is very clear in what he wants you to do and your role in the team and he makes it clear before the game starts.
“He is certainly not a small man and he does command plenty of respect. When he gets a bit cranky he gets everyone’s attention.”
Meninga took over Queensland in 2006, when the Maroons had lost three series in a row, and immediately he rebuilt the team and brought in a golden era with a record eightyear winning streak. Victory tonight over NSW at Suncorp Stadium would give Meninga 20 wins from 30 games and a ninth series in 10 years.
He is Origin’s longest serving and most successful coach and he’s done it all by creating a culture of success within Camp Maroon. It’s a culture that allows fun and relaxation for a few days before ultimately the focus turns to football.
“He has always been very focused and he knows what he wants,” Johnathan Thurston said. “He expects that from the rest of the boys. He puts the team first and you know one of his big things when he came in was changing up the culture and that is what he has been able to do.
“He has had a massive influence on my career. I’ve been able to call him when I’ve been under the pump or haven’t been playing well leading into an Origin series, at the back of the year or whenever.
“He has always been there to provide support for me.”
Corey Parker was ignored by Meninga for Origin selection from 2006 until 2011. But the veteran lock used it as motivation to fight his way into the team and is a better player for it.
Parker said it was incredible to see how much respect Meninga commands in the dressing room and out in the community.
“He just has that presence doesn’t he,” Parker said.
“He has got the respect from most people everywhere he goes. I’ve been here in Brisbane, Papua New Guinea and various parts of Australia but he just oozes that respect and people just stop and listen to him.
“It’s just his presence and the way he goes about his business is something unique and something special.”
Lillyman said Meninga knew how to foster a fun environment, but good luck to the player that mucks up when it’s time to train.
“When it’s time to switch on it’s all hands on deck,” Lillyman said.
“He is good like that and he demands it at training. If anyone is a bit off or not have their mind on the job he will cop a bomb straight away. He is not afraid to give someone a serve.”
Meninga enjoys a laugh too. When retiring centre Justin Hodges demanded every member of staff participate in the players’ 8am recovery session in the Sanctuary Cove pool, where the water temperature is in the midteens, Meninga was among the first to get wet.
Hodges knows his Origin career has been defined by having his idol, one of the greatest centres in rugby league history, his Queensland coach.
“Those first early days weren’t bright but coming in to ’ 06, that’s for me when I probably started my Origin campaign and having him as a centre, the guy I looked up to as a kid and now he’s the coach, I just learnt so much from him,” Hodges said.
Even after a decade in his role Meninga wants more.
He has signed on for three more seasons and gets a kick being part of a great football team but also promoting rugby league to all corners of the state.
“For me to be involved in the game in this way and have a contribution this way I can’t think of anything better,” he said.
He puts the team first and you know one of his big things when he came in was changing up the culture and that is what he has been able to do
FATHER FIGURE: Mal Meninga keeps a close eye on a training session and ( above right) makes a point with utility player Michael Morgan.