Mal Meninga is a well respected Rugby League icon, few players have achieved such a level of respect in the game. Winning titles with the Raiders, representing Queensland and starring for the Australian Kangaroos.
But Mal Meninga isn’t the man for the vacant Roos coaching role.
Mal always found it hard to transition from the playing field to the coaching role; when kicking off his clipboard career in the late 90’s as Raiders coach – the former flying centre really struggled for results. Some said it may have been that the players saw him as a mate rather than a mentor, others said he lacked the ability to convey his gameplans successfully.
It seems Meninga’s personality was his worst enemy early on and prevented consistent coaching success, the situation culminating in a closed doors showdown earlier this decade with senior Raiders player Simon Woolford. Raiders insiders alleged that Meninga locked Woolford in the coaches room and motioned for the prominent hooker to ‘fight him’. Not a good look for Meninga, the Raiders club and the game.
Meninga eventually walked away from the coaching role, but his volatile personality again got the better of him. In 2001, Meninga attempted to launch his political career – but his introductory radio interview sent him into a spin, after less than a minute of the interview Meninga became flustered, left the studio mid-interview saying “It’s over, I’ll resign”.
It seemed the pressure, spotlight and uncertainty of the future was torching the once proud Rugby League talent.
Mal headed for Queensland where he kicked off several businesses including a fruit and vegetables outlet and car audio outlets.
But a turn of events would see Mal Meninga reinstated into League circles and re-launch his coaching career with the Queensland Maroons. This time, two things would help all the stars align and give Meninga the break he was craving.
Queensland had exceptional talent on the park, and the Maroons had some of the best football brains in the coaching box to assist Meninga.
This combination saw Meninga achieve State of Origin success and rebuild his status as a League coach in many peoples eyes. But has big Mal really evolved? Is he genuinely a top line representative coach, able to serve in roles that demand higher ability than the average NRL coach?
Unfortunately for Mal, probably not.
The Queensland role has been a good fit for the Maroons and Meninga, Mal is highly respected by his troops and his presence alone would provide motivation to the players pre-game and at half time. But, when the game is underway – it was clear to any Rugby League insider, that Neil Henry was calling all the shots and telling Mal which players to rotate and which moves to run.
That model works for Queensland, they’ve got every right to stick with it.
But when it comes to the Kangaroo’s, the ultimate coaching role in Rugby League – a state respected figurehead is really not the smart choice. Yes, inserting Mal as coach and surrounding him by assistants similar to the Queensland structure simply will not work. That model risks too much in-fighting prior and during games, plus not enough pull with selectors to get important players into required or certain individual game suited roles.
For starters, emotion and passion play a much smaller part in Kangaroos games. Not to take anything away from the green and gold jersey, however with Australia holding all the key players in the world – it’s a matter of the right rotations, the right plays at the right time and managing complacency.
The Kangaroos loss in the Rugby League World Cup final showed how critical the forward rotation was. Australia had the players and the form all tournament, but last minute injuries required a change in the forwards, a poor choice in the end may have contributed to the eventual loss and ruck punch for the Roos.
While some may say the Australian side is so good, it doesn’t matter – just throw any given 13 into the mix and they will win, the line between winning and losing was probably blurred quite a bit until that final night. Referee interpretations, physical elements in some international opponents and the improved speed of the UK based game have changed things. Ricky Stuart should be commended on doing a good job most of the way through, Stuart was concerned all along about referee interpretations and in the end it may have had some impact which is why Sticky got so pumped afterwards.
For Meninga it might prove too much.
Many years out of the coaching role at NRL level, and only tasting some recent success at Origin level – but ultimately not the man to bring the national side together; requiring independent leadership to ensure the roster, structure and balance of all the elements is in place.
Is Mal the man for the job? Post your comments below –