By Paul Malone of The Courier Mail
MAL Meninga has 24 years of Origin involvement as a player and coach but he smiles quizzically at a sight which even he has not seen before.
His halfback, Daly Cherry-Evans, is walking around in a knee brace, nine days before Origin II. Queensland’s all-time greatest tryscorer, Greg Inglis, is out of sight, supposedly wearing a moonboot.
Billy Slater is also in doubt and Corey Parker’s withdrawal takes out the Queensland forward who had the second-most tackles and the second-most run metres in Game One.
“To be honest, Mal is more relaxed now than he was before the first game,’’ captain Cameron Smith said.
“I think most coaches are a little on edge leading into a series and worrying about preparation.
“It’s a strength of Mal as a coach, to keep everyone calm and keep it quite low key. I know once we get to the training paddock and in meetings, he’s quite focused and quite intense.
“We are all confident they (the doubtful Maroons) will make the right decision on whether they play. They are never going to put themselves before the team.
“If the right thing for the team is they sit out of the game and give someone else an opportunity, they will. Sammy Thaiday did that in Game One.''
Smith said Meninga had already stressed upon the Queensland players the importance of their “trying to relax a bit and enjoy this camp’’.
An hour after fulltime in Game One, I noticed Meninga was walking around outside the Suncorp Stadium dressing room, talking on his mobile with a smile.
Losing is something than might wound deeply on one night, but a loss doesn't define a man’s life.
“We have all been involved in very tight Origin games and Mal has been involved in more than anyone,’’ assistant coach Michael Hagan said.
“He knows what it takes to turn it around. Losing Game One makes it a bit tougher but we will support him and try to get the right result in Sydney.’’
Increasingly over recent years, as NSW became more and more aggravated by defeat, Meninga has spent a good deal of his time as Maroons coach with an eyebrow raised, as he fields media questions about agendas which have less and less to do with reality.
It is almost his default facial expression at this time of year.
Meninga noticed that a Sydney newspaper had cobbled together short news items about Queensland and labelled it “the whingers’’.
“I haven't made a comment about anything (about Game One). We haven’t said a thing,’’ he said in some wonder.
When it was pointed out Laurie Daley had complained to the NRL about some of referee Shayne Hayne’s decisions late in NSW’s May 28 win, Meninga said: “Yes, hmmm ... I thought both teams handled poor decisions, if you want to call it that, really well.
“It’s not about complaining about decisions, it’s about what you do next when a decision goes against you.’’
Coaches have long sought to give referees something to think about before a big game, so Daley is entitled to go his hardest.
While Origin is in its 35th year, the extent to which outrage has been confected in NSW this year is unparalleled.
One Sydney newspaper and some Twitter warriors have whipped themselves into a muck lather about this heading by The Courier-Mail over a story about the downgrading on a dangerous throw charge of Josh Reynolds: “Judiciary Frees This Dog To Play Origin II’’.
He is a Canterbury player, a team called the Bulldogs.
The NSW whingers know that but they contrive to find offence: “They called him a dog’’.
Maybe they think it will help their team win next Wednesday in front of their own fevered supporters.
You just wonder what will happen next that not even Meninga has seen before in Origin.