Retired great Justin Hodges has backed besieged new Queensland coach Kevin Walters but believes the success the Maroons enjoyed under Mal Meninga “will never be done again”.
Hodges admitted Meninga’s decision to take on the Australian coaching role was a blow to Queensland’s hopes of extending his unprecedented run of nine State of Origin series wins in 10 years.
However, Hodges believed senior players – and even Meninga himself – would help the under-fire Walters bounce back from a disastrous start to his tenure.
Meninga’s former Queensland assistant Walters was forced to slap 12-month Origin bans on eight players for breaking curfew at an Emerging Maroons camp.
Besides the drain on Queensland’s depth, the incident was also seen as a major show of disrespect to Walters – something that would never have happened under the great Meninga.
“Mal is a big loss. What he created over the last 10 years will never be done again or forgotten, I think,” 24-game Origin veteran Hodges told AAP.
“The amount of passion he brought to that jersey was unbelievable.
“But Kevvie learned a lot from Mal.
“Those senior players are also still there. They know what to expect and know the culture everyone needs to abide by.
“And Mal won’t be too far away from the boys, I’m sure.”
Among the banned eight were halves Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt as well as fiery prop Dylan Napa and flyer Edrick Lee – all considered on the verge of 2016 Origin call-ups.
But Hodges did not believe the bans would affect Queensland at all.
However, he kept his fingers crossed the ageing Maroons would stay fit.
“Unless there were significant injuries, those (banned) guys wouldn’t have played this year anyway,” said former centre Hodges, who enjoyed a 13-year Origin career.
“Chezza (Daly Cherry-Evans) is always going to be the second pick (half), and (bench utility) Michael Morgan is still there.”
Hodges admitted “boys will be boys” but hoped the banned youngsters had learned a valuable lesson.
“They were young blokes going out for beers with their teammates – making Emerging Origin is a big thing,” said Hodges who retired after Brisbane’s 2015 NRL grand final loss.
“They were like other young people who go out with their friends.
“But hopefully, they have learned their lesson and realised what that jersey means.
“I am sure they will get an opportunity further down the track.”
Asked about other options if Queensland’s depth was tested this year, 33-year-old Hodges joked: “If there are a few injuries, I wouldn’t mind putting the jersey back on.”