Walters ready for ultimate challenge
Kevin Walters is set to face his greatest challenge as Maroons coach and QRL managing director Rob Moore insists he is up to the task.
After stepping down from his role as Brisbane Broncos assistant coach Walters has more time to dedicate to guiding Queensland to a third consecutive series win under his stewardship.
The Maroons have lost 59 Origin games worth of experience with their talismanic halves Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk retiring from the representative scene.
Within two or three seasons Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Matt Scott and captain Cameron Smith – with 151 Origin games under their belts – are likely to have sailed off into their own Maroon sunsets.
It is hard to find a comparable period in Queensland history when such an array of great players has retired or been on the cusp of retirement in such as short space of time.
Not only must Walters get the new halves combination firing in 2018, he will need to ensure the next generation of players in key positions is ready to make the step up to the Holden State of Origin arena.
In the backline there appears to be plenty of options with Ben Hunt, Cameron Munster, Michael Morgan, Daly Cherry-Evans, Anthony Milford and Ash Taylor likely to vie for halves positions in the years ahead. Valentine Holmes and Kalyn Ponga are also rare outside back talents with a decade or more of representative football ahead of them.
Replacing Smith will be the ultimate selection headache while Scott has been a warhorse for the Maroons for a decade. The rise of Jarrod Wallace and Test forward Felise Kaufusi are promising signs, along with the speedy development of Gold Coast lock Jai Arrow, but Rome was not built in a day and neither will the next great Queensland side be.
"It is a transition that started last year when we had injuries and then the retirements, and it is a transition that is going to continue for the next couple of years," Moore told NRL.com.
"From Kevvie's point of view he wants to make sure this transition period happens smoothly.
"To win eight series in a row is going to be really hard to do again but you want to make sure that year-in and year-out that any new players that come in are ready to play.
"There is a lot of work that needs to be done behind the scenes to ensure that is the case because Origin is not a place where you suddenly blood players. They have got to walk out at the first training session alongside players that have been there for three, five or 10 series and be one of them."
Moore said the QRL was "always comfortable" with Walters juggling his Origin and club duties and never doubted where his priorities were. He said the former Brisbane captain had made "a courageous decision" to give up a role he was passionate about.
"Kevvie's priority has always been with us and we haven't seen him miss anything, but I think he has just looked at what he's got ahead of him," Moore said.
"We were down in Melbourne for the [Origin series] launch and the realisation has probably hit him that this next couple of years, with the transition of players, is going to be a big thing.
"We think we have a good group of young players coming up but they've got to be ready to play."
To make that a reality it is Walters's job to ensure generation next is ready.
"We went through a 10-year stretch where there was limited change and the core of the team remained the same," Moore said.
"What we have been doing in the background is obviously working to make sure our programs with the QAS [Queensland Academy of Sport] that underpin Origin are strong and are producing players, which we believe they are."