Walters gets no.1 job with Maroons for state of origin
Kevin Walters has gone from fan to player to coach after being given the task of leading the Queensland State of Origin side for the next three seasons.
The 48-year-old was in the crowd for the first State of Origin game back in 1980, played 20 times for his beloved Maroons, and now faces the daunting challenge of taking over from Mal Meninga, who led Queensland to nine series wins in 10 seasons before being appointed Australian coach earlier this month.
Despite Walters being Meninga's assistant in the Queensland camp, and being an understudy to Craig Bellamy at the Melbourne Storm and Wayne Bennett at the Broncos, Queensland Rugby League officials initially preferred premiership-winning Cowboys coach Paul Green.
But they were left with little choice but to go back to Walters when Green "withdrew" his interest after the Cowboys board members made it clear they preferred him to concentrate on his club job.
Walters said he would step down from the assistant's role at the Broncos next season to concentrate on the Queensland job, but would return to that position for the 2017 NRL season.
He also said he had no issue with the way the QRL had arrived at the decision to appoint him.
"It took a while, but they got the right man for the job," he said.
"It's a challenging job but one I believe I can do. I have a lot of self confidence in myself as a coach."
Leading Queensland won't be his first senior role. He also coached the Ipswich Jets to the 2008 Queensland Cup grand final, and spent two seasons coaching the Catalans Dragons in the Super League, finishing with a 21-36 win-loss record.
Although Meninga stepped into the top job in 2006 following a hat-trick of series wins by New South Wales, he was fortunate enough to inherit a squad that included once-in-a-generation players such as Darren Lockyer, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Justin Hodges and Darius Boyd.
With Hodges having retired and the rest of those stars nearing the end of their representative careers, the challenge for Walters will be ensuring the older players don't hang around beyond their "use-by" dates, at the expense of the next group.
That seems unlikely, however, considering he has been heavily involved in the QRL's high-performance program in recent years, and coached the Queensland U20 team in 2012 and 2014.
"It's truly an honour to be in a position to coach such a fine group of players, and to be entrusted with the responsibility of developing future Origin talent through our programs," he said, clearly recognising the balancing act he faces.
"I'm really looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead, starting with the Emerging Origin camps in the New Year."
The first State of Origin game next year will be in Sydney on June 1.