Mal Meninga is intent on restoring the Kangaroos’ aura of invincibility after being ushered in as Australia’s new national rugby league coach.
Declaring himself “unbiased” after ending his hugely successful 10-year stint as Queensland State of Origin coach, Meninga vowed to return the Kangaroos to their glory days after being knocked off their perch by New Zealand.
Australia won six straight World Cups between 1975 and 2000, with Meninga front and centre during the most dominant reign of any nation in rugby league history as one of only five players to feature on the undefeated 1982 and 1986 Kangaroos tours of Britain and France, famously dubbed The Invincibles and The Unbeatables.
But after losing the 2008 World Cup final to New Zealand as well the 2010 and 2014 Four Nations deciders to their trans-Tasman rivals, Australia’s 40-year run as the kings of rugby league officially came to an end this year following three successive defeats at the hands of the Kiwis for first time since 1953.
The only player ever to make four Kangaroos tours says it’s time to set the record straight.
“I want to bring the Australian team back up to the No.1 spot and there’s a lot of things we need to do,” Meninga said after his appointment on Thursday.
“We need to inspire players to put on the Kangaroos jersey. We need to build a program where they want to play in it as well.
“I’ll pick the best players whether that’s Queensland or NSW players.
“I’m unbiased. I’m in an Australian position with a job to do.”
Meninga takes over from long-serving national coach Tim Sheens on a four-year deal concluding at the end of 2019.
The NRL’s head of football Todd Greenberg said Meninga’s was a “dedicated role but certainly not a fulltime” one despite the 55-year-old not being allowed to coach any club or state side during his tenure.
ARL Commission chairman John Grant said Meninga, widely considered a future rugby league Immortal who also captained Canberra to three premierships, was undoubtedly the best credentialled man for the job.
“What we’ve got is one of the greatest players of all-time and the most successful coach at that sort of top tournament level ever,” Grant said.
“Nine series wins out of 10 with that Queensland State of Origin side, he’s absolutely the right person.”
Meninga’s appointment was also made with the support of current Queensland and Australian captain Cameron Smith.
“I couldn’t think of a coach more suited to this role, given Mal’s achievements as a former Kangaroos captain and his understanding of what representing Australia means,” Smith said.
“He has a proven record at representative level, as well as a tremendous ability to help his players perform at the highest level.”
Meninga admitted it was a difficult decision to leave his Maroons role, but said the timing was perfect.
“It’s been a fantastic time and highly successful year for Queensland in general, but I felt this is the time,” he said.
“It was a huge decision. It rounded off my footy career.
“I’ve now played and coached at the top level. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Queensland assistant coach and Maroons great Kevin Walters is favoured to succeed Meninga at Origin level.
But QRL chairman Peter Betros said filling Meninga’s boots would be a “hard act to follow”.
“We owe him a heck of a lot,” Betros said.
“The next few years isn’t going to be easy. There’ll be a transition of players.”