'We're not friends': Mal Meninga's frosty relationship with Wayne Bennett

Andrew Reid
·4-min read
Pictured here, Mal Meninga and Wayne Bennett oversee a Queensland training session.
Mal Meninga and Wayne Bennett have a history of bad blood between them. Pic: Getty

Queensland coach Wayne Bennett and assistant Mal Meninga have been charged with wrestling the State of Origin shield back off New South Wales, starting with game one in Adelaide on Wednesday night.

The task facing the pair is enormous, with the Maroons side labelled "the worst in 40 years" by sections of the Sydney media.

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The new-look Maroons coaching duo came together after the sudden departure of former coach Kevin Walters, who was recently appointed Brisbane Broncos coach.

However, Bennett and Meninga are far from close, with their curious relationship adding an intriguing subplot to this year's Origin series.

There is an element of bad blood between the Queensland coach and his assistant, stemming largely from Meninga's appointment as Australia coach in 2015.

Meninga was given the Kangaroos role full-time after an unprecedented level of success coaching the Maroons prior to his national role.

However, the Maroons legend claims Bennett took issue with his appointment, suggesting that he was more qualified and a better candidate to coach Australia.

Writing an article for Brisbane's Courier Mail in 2016, Meninga explained why Bennett "does not understand what it takes to be Kangaroos coach" and admitted that he was far from friendly with the master coach.

"Wayne’s year-long, persistent and ongoing objection to my appointment as Kangaroos coach and his obvious frustration at being overlooked for the job, seem to have been born out of his own lack of understanding about what the role actually entails," Meninga wrote at the time.

"My beef with Wayne is not that he wanted the Australian job. I have no problem with ambition.

"What disappoints me is that, as a grown man and a professional, he should be able to accept the decision once it has been made.

"It does annoy me that he is in the background chipping away, trying to undermine my authority and my position with the Australian Rugby League.’

Maroons coaches ‘not friends’

Meninga went on to say that he and Bennett had never been friends and basically had "no relationship" to speak of whatsoever.

"When Wayne says he doesn’t want my job, or that we are friends who will embrace after a game, it is just not true.

"He was an influential part of my life and I am very thankful for that.

"But when Wayne walked out the door at the Raiders in 1987 to coach the Broncos, our relationship ended. We went our own ways and haven’t had any sort of relationship for many years.

Queensland coaches Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga are seen here at Maroons training.
Queensland coaches Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga have never been very close. Pic: Getty

"I know there is a perception that he and I are friends and I guess that is a part of the reason for doing this column — to set the record straight.

"We’re not enemies, but we’re not friends either. There’s no bad blood — there’s just no blood at all. There is no relationship there."

Whether time has brought the pair closer together remains to be seen but the pair will have to be on the same wavelength if the Maroons hope to spring an upset that their players seem to thrive on.

Certainly, former Queensland coach and Maroons legend Paul Vautin is confident they can pull off a boiler similar to his miracle 1995 series win.

Vautin coached a Queensland team shorn of several key players during the Super League split to a remarkable 3-0 series win.

This year's campaign, which kicks off in Adelaide on Wednesday, shapes as just as difficult.

The Maroons are the biggest outsiders for an Origin game in the TAB's history, dating back to 1998.

They are also at their longest odds in that time to win a series in that time.

They will field eight debutants, their most since Wayne Bennett picked 10 new faces for game one of the 2001 series - a campaign which Queensland won 2-1.

Injuries, retirements and suspension have ravaged the Maroons playing stocks with several incumbent stars in Kalyn Ponga, Moses Mbye and Michael Morgan all unavailable for the series.

Vautin, however, says the formula which he used with his famous 'Fatty's Nevilles' can still apply to this year's team.

"You don't have to be the best players to win Origin," Vautin told AAP.

"You don't have to be the superstars. The fastest. The strongest.

"It comes from within and that's what I got that team to believe in, to believe in themselves and each other.

"This NSW team's full of superstars, as it was in 1995 ... but it didn't matter mate because we just got them and they just believed in themselves and just kept turning up.

"I'm confident.

with AAP

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