Demystifying Walters-Bennett relationship
Kevin Walters will be missed by Brisbane but his decision to step aside from his coaching role to focus on the Queensland State of Origin side is the correct one and I am convinced he's done it for all the right reasons.
Before I wrote this column I listened to Kevin talking on Triple M radio about his decision and he made it clear it was not because of any falling out with Wayne Bennett, as has been suggested in some quarters.
Kevin is a good mate of mine and a bad liar. I know him well enough to be able to tell when he's telling porkies but it was clear to me he was fair dinkum.
The Maroons are facing one of their biggest challenges in a decade with Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston moving on. Kevin is paid good coin by the QRL to get that Queensland side firing and this year will be his ultimate challenge and it will require his undivided attention.
Kevin has enjoyed two series wins but I know he is not satisfied with that, and now he has shown his hand about how much it means to him to coach Queensland. He said he had 64 sleeps to go before the first game so you can tell where his focus is.
I've been asked about the relationship Kevin has with Wayne and I want to debunk some myths and explain some subtleties.
Working with Wayne is like working with your old man. You may disagree on things and butt heads, but that is only natural.
Wayne can get his back up when you don’t agree with him but he respects it, ultimately.
Last year I walked into the Paddington Hotel and there was Wayne and Kevin and their partners all having lunch.
Those two have worked together for more than 30 years and Kevin understands how Wayne operates. While he has always had total control over player recruitment, selection and his staff he has always had the team's welfare as his top priority.
That is why he brought Kevin in to start with because he knew he could be a positive influence on the Brisbane attack, like he did in 2015.
There has been speculation they have clashed because Wayne won’t embrace new methods, but I don’t buy that.
One of the reasons Wayne has lasted so long in the NRL and been so successful is because he’s been prepared to reinvent himself and try new things.
I can provide an insight into that from my own experience in 2006. I rang Wayne when the Broncos were playing terribly. I jammed it into the centres and said the guys overall weren’t playing for the jersey or respecting the Broncos.
Wayne said "well we’ve got a team meeting tomorrow, so you come in and tell them", so I went in and I took my No.3 jersey from the 1992 grand final. I spoke about how much it meant to me and I said "this is my No.3 jersey and from what I can see, none of you centres has taken it off me. I challenge you to do it. No one has taken the No.7 jersey off Alf (Allan Langer), but we want you boys to step up and make the jersey your own".
That year they went on to win the grand final, but my point is that Wayne was open to an out-of-the-box way of firing up his side.
Last year the team got flogged by Parramatta and he brought in old hard head Peter Ryan to help their defence.
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I understood where Kevin was coming from when he said being involved at the Broncos and with Queensland created its own problems. In 1998 Wayne was the Broncos coach when he took over from Bob Fulton as Australian coach after we’d been beaten by New Zealand and it played on my mind.
I rocked up to Wayne and asked how I was looking for the end of the year Tests. He said I was sweet, but it is a position Kevin doesn’t need to be in.
Anthony Milford played last year in one game and Kevin will have to leave him out this time around, but he needs a clear mind to make those decisions and doesn’t need to have those internal conflicts.
Kevin will be missed at the Broncos, there is no doubt, and not just because he is great at working on attacking combinations.
I saw Jack Bird give him a big hug the other day at training, a small thing that said a lot. They will miss Kevin's upbeat and endearing personality and I know the players want to play for him because of who he is and what he has achieved. He has their respect.
My prediction is Kevin will return to the Broncos as the head coach, and he will still be in contact with Wayne and debating ideas when he does.