Mal's eight magical moments
By Mike Westlake - courtesy of The Courier-Mail - more league news here
QUEENSLAND’S loss in Game Two of this year’s State of Origin is no more the end of a dynasty than a commercial break in the 1980s soap opera that bore the same name.
The end of a winning streak, certainly. But should the Maroons regroup next year and embark of another eight in a row — which, given the talent in the squad and the ageing legs of the Blues, is not impossible — then the series loss of 2014 will be nothing but a blip on the radar.
The length, breadth and eventual death of this incredible Queensland dynasty will take years to totally quantify.
It cannot be dismissed as being over just because some teary-eyed Blues, giddy at finally having something to show for nine years of toil, say it is so.
But what Queensland’s first series loss since 2005 has done is allow us a moment to take a breath and a step back to appreciate what an incredible achievement the Maroons’ eight-year run has been, and how privileged we were to witness it.
In the lead-up to the final game of this year’s series, rather than mourning a series lost, The Courier-Mail will be celebrating Queensland’s eight straight.
Beginning on Tuesday, we will revisit each of the eight series-deciding games in a walk down memory lane for fans, and a tribute to the efforts of the Queensland players and staff.
To start the week, we asked Queensland coach Mal Meninga to nominate his eight greatest moments from the historic Origin era that he created.
A nearly impossible task — but one that cannot be debated, given they are the personal highlights of Queensland’s most successful period from Queensland’s most successful coach.
1 — THE FIRST MEETING, FEBRUARY 2006
The first of Meninga’s greatest moments did not even happen on a football field.
It was the laying of Queensland’s new foundation stone, away from the public eye, in a function room at an inner-city hotel in Brisbane.
Such is the sanctity with which the meeting is held by the Queensland inner-sanctum, Meninga still — more than eight years later — will not divulge specifics of who was present or what was said.
“We called a group of Queenslanders together and said ‘come and have a chat about Origin’,” Meninga says.
“We called in 32 current players, and we had a few other people, a few former players to have a yarn about Origin, to get their thoughts and have some of the old blokes talk to them about what it meant to them, their expectations and what it meant to them.
“It was a criyicial moment for us because the players began to understand what they were being asked to be a part of. There was a realisation from those players, who may not have understood before, about what Origin was about.
“A lot of people spoke. I won’t go into specifics because it is one of those moments that has to stay between the people that were present.
“But what we as a group took out of that meeting was that those players had no less passion for the Maroon jersey. They had just forgotten how to win.
“They didn’t have a deep enough sense of self-belief. Through those stories, we were able to generate that belief.
“That was a defining moment for us, that meeting. That is where we set our standards for performance, and our standards for behaviour based around a value system that we carry to this day.”
2 — GAME ONE, 2006
WITH all of the glorious victories to choose from, few would have expected Meninga to nominate a loss — a 17-16 defeat in Sydney — to rank among his finer moments.
“We were criticised from pillar to post after this game,” he said. “My coaching was called into question. People said the execution of the team was terrible.
“The leadership of the team was being questioned with Darren (Lockyer), Petero (Civoniceva) and Steve Price. Their futures in the team were being questioned as well.
“This was after a loss by one point.
“For some people it was just another loss. We started poorly and trailed 14-0 at half-time. But we came back and lost by a field goal.
“We nearly got a result. The belief was starting to emerge. It wasn’t an ending, it was a new beginning.”
3 — GAME TWO, 2006
THE very next game, Queensland’s astonishing 30-6 victory at Suncorp Stadium, was less of a surprise.
“After going down there (in Game One) and playing poorly, we made a few changes,” Meninga said. “A few of the guy that we called up in Game One just weren’t experienced enough. We made some changes.
“But the seed of self belief that had been sown in that meeting in February started to bear fruit in the second game.
“We just had to stick to our guns. Our attitude was great. We just had to play better. And we did.
“We blew them off the park that night. It was what we needed from a self-belief and confidence point of view. The players could see what they were capable of.
4 — GAME THREE, 2006
“It is an obvious one to choose, being the game that gave us our first series win,” Meninga says of the 16-14 win in Melbourne. “But for me it was memorable for the way we played as much as the end result.
“We had to go to Melbourne and play on an unfamiliar ground, and there were not a lot of things that went our way that night.
“We got more than our share of tough calls, and the job just got harder and harder. But they just kept fighting, hanging in, waiting for their luck to change and the chance to come. They only got one chance, and Darren Lockyer was good enough to take it. That win summed up what the team was about.”
5 — GAME TWO, 2007
“To win the series, we had to go to Sydney and win at ANZ Stadium — a place where we had come away with nothing from something like 11 matches,” Meninga explains.
“We had to find a way to win down there. It was a big moment for us, because it got the monkey off our back and showed that we could win in Sydney.
“We had to work had for it. The final score was 10-6, but it was significant because that gave us the series. And we did it down there where no one thought we could win.”
6 — GAME THREE, 2008
FOR the first time in Queensland’s record-breaking run, the Maroons had to learn how to win without skipper Darren Lockyer, who missed the entire series through injury.
“Cameron Smith had stepped up to captain the side,” Meninga said. “We lost the first game of the series down there, won well back in Brisbane, which meant we had to win again in Sydney to win the series.
“We had Scott Prince playing halfback for us that night, and he broke his arm early in the match — very similar to what happened to us with Cooper Cronk in Game One this year, and again we regrouped wonderfully well.
“Our defence was outstanding — probably the best defensive effort I have seen from the team. From memory, we had to defend something like six sets in a row during the back end of the second half to win the game.
“To me, that quality of effort and playing for each other was outstanding. We had that belief back in the footy team and each other.”
7 — LOCKYER’S FAREWELL, GAME THREE, 2011
MENINGA does not try to hide his emotions when he talks of the final act of Queensland’s sixth-straight series win.
“For me it was fantastic,” he said. “It was in my mind the greatest 20 minutes of Origin football that this team, or any team, has produced. It was a nearly perfect 20 minutes. We blew them off the park.
“Darren’s retirement, to be able to send him out a winner, was such a special moment for me personally and for the team.
“That was the night Johnathan Thurston got hurt as well, it and created that unforgettable moment where he was pushed out onto the field in a wheelchair to be with the team.
“He shared in the team’s success, and the team gathered around him to share his personal pain.”
8 — COOPER’S FIELD GOAL AND PETERO’S FAREWELL, GAME THREE, 2012
“Cooper Cronk’s field goal in Game three of 2012 at Suncorp to win us seven in a row would be right up there,” Meninga said. “It was in the dying seconds of the game, so much on the line.
“But for us who had seen him at training the night before, practising field goals from that exact same spot on the field, it was just incredible.
“The great players like Cooper are always visualising ways that they could potentially win a game, and then they go out and prepare for it in case it is needed.
“That was such a stand-out for me. The night before he was hitting them from that same spot. It was incredible. That was what it took to win the game and the series.
“Because of that, Petero was able to leave Origin as a winner.
“That capped off the great work he had done for so many years for Queensand in Origin footy. He was able to walk away as a winner, and that meant a lot to us.”