Townsville Bulletin - - STATE OF ORIGIN III -

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.

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