Queensland coach Kevin Walters admits the fallout over the disastrous Emerging Maroons camp controversy will have a huge impact on his maiden State of Origin campaign this year.
In a nightmare start to Walters’ Maroons tenure, six more players copped 12-month Origin bans from the Queensland Rugby League (QRL) for breaking curfew at the weekend camp in Brisbane.
In all, eight players have been suspended in a body blow to Queensland’s Origin title defence.
Brisbane trio Ben Hunt, Anthony Milford and Jarrod Wallace, Canberra’s Edrick Lee, South Sydney’s Chris Grevsmuhl and Sydney Roosters prop Dylan Napa were hit on Friday with bans.
Cronulla’s Valentine Holmes and Melbourne’s Cameron Munster had already been suspended for ignoring Walters’ orders and leaving camp to go out drinking on Saturday night.
Holmes sparked the controversy when news emerged he had been fined by Queensland Police for public nuisance and obstructing police early on Sunday morning.
He is being investigated by the NRL integrity unit.
Roosters firebrand Napa and Raiders flyer Lee had enjoyed time as 18th man in last year’s Origin series.
Hunt and Milford were expected to pressure incumbent Michael Morgan for the Maroons utility bench role this year and on standby for Queensland’s prized halves Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
And Holmes or Munster were considered an ideal replacement for veteran Queensland fullback Billy Slater who is yet to return from a shoulder reconstruction.
Walters did not regret his hardline stance but admitted their depth would be sorely tested as Queensland looked to extend their run of nine series wins in 10 years.
“You’d think it would (affect the side) given the recent history of the emerging players coming through,” he told an Auckland media conference on Friday.
“Last year, we had two players (Dane Gagai, Josh McGuire) involved in the Emerging camp play Origin football that season so no doubt it will.
“But we’re trying to protect the brand of Queensland Rugby League and State of Origin.
“If they couldn’t understand clear instructions given to them, it’s probably not time for them to be involved at the next level.”
Walters said he had consulted senior Maroons players and they had supported management’s hardline stance.
Walters confirmed he had told players not to go out after they had returned from a team dinner on Saturday night at the Story Bridge Hotel.
He said he would consider banning alcohol from future camps.
QRL Managing Director Robert Moore tried to explain why it took five days to name the other six players who broke curfew.
“Our initial focus was on Valentine Holmes because of the involvement of the NRL integrity unit,” he said.
“As we suspected, there were other players who broke curfew and we have now gone through a process of interviewing players.
“Due to pre-season commitments, we’ve only been able to finalise that today.
“To the players’ credit, they’ve come forward and because of the importance we place on our Emerging Origin program, they will receive the same sanction as Cameron Munster.”
Moore said they ruled out further punishment for Holmes after he was dropped from Cronulla’s NRL Auckland Nines squad and ordered to work with the club’s welfare and education team.