Queensland coach Kevin Walters has fought back tears as he passionately defended his team’s ability to fight back in State of Origin III.
Walters claims to have overcome bigger obstacles than responding to the Maroons’ 38-6 thumping, saying the July 10 series decider in Sydney was a challenge but not insurmountable.
Queensland Rugby League director Ben Ikin this week denied speculation that Walters’ future was on the line, indicating that the coach would see out his contract until the end of 2020.
But Walters claimed the 2017 series – his second in charge – was a tougher experience.
Two years ago the Maroons opened the series with a 28-4 loss to the Blues – the biggest Origin defeat for Queensland at Suncorp Stadium.
Yet the Maroons responded with a stirring 18-16 win in Sydney before they iced the series in Brisbane 22-6.
Walters said his 20-game Origin career as a Maroons playmaker had also taught him that it wasn’t over in Origin until the final whistle.
“As Origin coach I think 2017 was a big one for us,” Walters said on Monday. “And in the decider we managed to win that series.
I have faced this challenge before as a player and won. I have faced this challenge as a Queensland coach and won.
“In my mind I know what we have to do and we will do that this week.
“My belief and my trust hasn’t wavered one little bit from when we first came into camp in game one until now.”
Walters has been criticised for adopting mind coach Bradley Charles Stubbs’ ‘Expect to Win’ philosophy this year, yet the coach backed the self-proclaimed Coach Whisperer.
“It has been a big part of Queensland’s history – the underdog backs-to-the-wall (approach) – but it doesn’t bother me,” he said.
“I know where this team is at and I know the performance that is in them; and it is my job to bring it out, and I will bring it out. We expect to go out and win.
“The exciting thing for all Queenslanders is that we are part of a decider and it is going to be the biggest game in Origin’s history.”
One of those Walters will be looking to help him win is Corey Norman, who has secured his first State of Origin selection aged 27.
The St George Illawarra five-eighth has notched 180 games since his 2010 NRL debut, but appeared to have his cards marked after he was suspended for the final eight weeks of the 2016 season for a string of offences, including pleading guilty to drug possession although his conviction was overturned on appeal.
He was also reprimanded for filming a lewd act and drug use, as well as consorting with criminals.
Back then it was enough for Maroons great Darren Lockyer to fire a very public rocket up Norman, claiming he had to “keep his head down and bum up moving forward” if the playmaker ever wanted to realise his Origin dream.
“Corey Norman has been playing in the NRL for 10 years now waiting for an opportunity at this level,” Walters said.
“Now he is here on the big stage for a State of Origin in a decider. It doesn’t get any bigger than that for Corey.
“And knowing Corey and his personality, he is very excited by it all and looking forward to the match and all it brings.
“He will perform on the big stage. We have a lot of faith and a lot of trust in what he brings as a player.”
Norman appeared to stumble again just last year, copping another $20,000 fine from his then-NRL club Parramatta for drinking while on its injured list after posting pictures of himself consuming alcohol on social media.
However, Norman has turned it around since his switch from the Eels to the Dragons this season.
Walters said Norman’s chequered past was now “irrelevant”.
“All I have looked at is his last six weeks of football. He’s been really good for the Dragons,” he said.
“He has found a home there in many ways.
“He will be ready to go.”