A day after being accused of not doing enough for State of Origin, Mal Meninga has been hailed as the man who can claim sole responsibility for Queensland’s record eight-year run.
Maroons captain Cameron Smith also encouraged Meninga to keep the Queensland reins beyond his 2015 contract, saying his influence was still cherished despite being on the verge of their first whitewash in 14 years.
Meninga rubbed the Blues’ faithful the wrong way when he opted not to front the media on Monday, leaving it to NSW coach Laurie Daley to promote Wednesday night’s Origin III in Brisbane with 6000 tickets still unsold.
By late Tuesday, around 1000 tickets were still available.
NSW great Ben Elias baulked at calling Meninga a sore loser but said he had a “responsibility to represent your state through good and bad”.
Meninga missed Monday’s media call due to other commitments but unexpectedly fronted the cameras as Queensland trained on Tuesday.
“You guys right? You’re not still sooky?” Meninga laughed.
No offence appeared to be taken by an upbeat Meninga but Smith jumped to his coach’s defence when the “no show” was mentioned.
Smith claimed Meninga could claim responsibility for their remarkable eight-year streak snapped this series.
“I would love Mal to coach for as long as he would like to,” Smith said.
“He is the guy who can really put his hand up and claim those eight series victories.
“Because before he came in, we were struggling a bit for self confidence.
“But as soon as he joined the squad (in 2006), he instilled in every individual the belief in yourself and each other that we can go out and beat NSW.”
And he claimed Meninga was as influential as ever.
“He is by no means past his (due) date of finishing up,” he said.
“I think he is a tremendous coach, a tremendous man who we all look up to and respect – I would like to see him go on.”
Smith said Meninga was still trying to spark the side moments after NSW sealed a rare series win with a 6-4 Game II victory in Sydney.
“The one guy who was extremely positive was Mal,” he said.
“He was extremely proud of not only the last eight years but what we had gone out and tried to do in the first two matches.”
Smith said it was typical of Meninga’s behind-the-scenes influence few witnessed or appreciated outside of their camp.
It ensured questions about Meninga’s media no-show left Smith unimpressed.
“I had no idea about that. I don’t know whether he didn’t want to talk to you,” he said.
“But I know he has been very busy with working with the media throughout this camp and series – and he is quite a busy man.
“People only see what we do on the field or the training paddock but, behind the scenes, he is doing a lot of stuff for (charity) luncheons, junior footy clubs, etc that no one sees.
“I think he has done his fair share.”