Kevvy the Origin gatecrasher

New Queensland State of Origin coach Kevin Walters. Photo: AAP Image.
New Queensland State of Origin coach Kevin Walters. Photo: AAP Image. JIM MORTON

KEVIN Walters still gets a buzz when he recalls going to his very first State of Origin game at Lang Park as a 12-year-old in 1980 with his father and brothers Steve and Kerrod.

"We had tickets, but the line to get in was all the way back to the (Brisbane) river, so after trying a few times to push into the queue, Dad found a hole in the fence and we watched the game from the terrace," Walters, set to make his Origin coaching debut in June, told Australian Regional Media.

"It was an amazing night. I can still remember the roar when Arthur (Beetson) ran out (in front of 33,210 fans). It bounced off the old Frank Burke Stand and around the ground.

"I was only 12 but that was my introduction to Origin and to the incredible passion the fans had for their state and their team that night.

"I remember I wanted to get into the dressing rooms and see what all the players were doing."

The three young brothers from Ipswich, who loved their footy and knocked around with another little blond-haired kid named Allan Langer, didn't know it at the time but they were to become instrumental in Origin's huge success, playing 75 games between them.

Fast forward 36 years, five premiership titles with two different clubs (Canberra and Brisbane), two Kangaroo tours and numerous victories for Queensland and Australia, Walters has replaced the most successful coach in Origin history, Mal Meninga.

He'll be the 11th man entrusted with the honour of coaching the Maroons since John McDonald in the inaugural Origin in 1980, which Queensland won 20-10 on Mal Meninga's 20th birthday.

But he knows about pressure as the man who inherited the Queensland No.6 jumper from the great Wally Lewis. Quite an act to follow.

Stepping into Meninga's boots will be tough. Walters knows and accepts that.

Maroons' coach Kevin Walters in his customary five-eighth role. Photo Contributed
Maroons' coach Kevin Walters in his customary five-eighth role. Photo Contributed QRL Media

 

But having played 20 games over a decade (1989-99), he also knows exactly what is required from players every time they pull on the Maroons jumper to represent their families, their fans and Queensland.

Walters doesn't buy into the "hatred" that supposedly exists between players from each side of the border, although he does believe Queensland players understand Origin better than their rivals - a claim the Blues say is a total myth.

"It's not about me pushing the culture, the history and deeds of former great players who've worn the jumper before them - that is already there," he said.

"That's been installed in Queensland players since 1980.

"(And ) it's not about hating NSW or disliking the Blue jumper or disrespecting New South Wales.

"It's about what the Maroon jumper means to the people of Queensland. That's why our fan days out in the country towns mean so much and are so inspiring to the players. It reminds them of the responsibility they have when they represent Queensland.

"It's not just about the player or his family and his friends in Brisbane. It's about all the people of Queensland and that's bloody great."

Walters does concede in Origin's early years there were players from both states who hated or disliked each other.

"It's hard to hate someone, but it didn't matter to some players like Choppy (Chris Close) or Benny Elias. It worked for them," Walters said.

Back in those wild days there were all-in brawls in every game, with players getting their jumpers ripped off their backs.

Walters gives chase to Anthony Mundine, of the Blues, back during the 1999 State of Origin series. Photo: Getty Images.
Walters gives chase to Anthony Mundine, of the Blues, back during the 1999 State of Origin series. Photo: Getty Images. Getty Images

 

But things have changed with more emphasis now on player welfare.

Origin, though, is still played under a different set of rules to the NRL and requires special players who can push themselves beyond normal limits because that is what Origin demands.

Walters suggests present New South Wales captain Paul Gallen, who has flagged this year would be his last Origin series, is a throwback to those days and has no problems taking pot shots at Queenslanders, or "two-headed" Ipswich fans.

"If that's what motivates Paul, that's fine. He's been a great player for NSW," Walters acknowledged.

"The Queensland team, led by Cameron Smith, motivate themselves by what they want to do and give the people of Queensland."

Walters, 48, comes into the Queensland job with a fresh mind and his own ideas, determined to make his own mark after learning from highly successful coaches such as Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy, and also from coaching Catalan Dragons in the English Super League for two seasons in 2009-10.

"Nobody will do what Mal did and win eight series in a row," said Walters, Meninga's right-hand man for several of those wins over the Blues.

"I just want to make sure those high standards set in those early years under Beetson are maintained under my watch."



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