RICHARD HINDS July 04, 2012
Upon learning that Mal Meninga would hold a press conference at Suncorp Stadium yesterday, the next question seemed obvious. Would there also be an opportunity to talk to the Queensland coach?
Of course, it was constant speculation Meninga was merely the symbolic head of the Queensland team, and assistant Michael Hagan was the brains behind the all-conquering Maroons that inspired Meninga's infamous ''rats and filth'' newspaper column. The one in which he railed against those in NSW who had ''poisoned a monumental team with lies, personal attacks, arrogance and disrespect''.
This time? It is symptomatic of the sense of vulnerability about the Maroons ahead of tonight's decider that Meninga is now putting out the Ratsak for the local media pack.
Once, at Meninga's Queensland media love-ins, the cameramen wore kaftans, reporters lit incense and Barry White sang in the background. Yesterday, however, the coach made it perfectly clear he was upset the local hacks would not get it on.
''I mean, you blokes make things up these days,'' said Meninga, who was agitated by reports about the fitness of centre Dane Nielsen, allegedly intrusive phone calls made to the family of the grieving Matt Scott and speculation about his own future. ''No, seriously, some of the things that come out of your minds or your mouths, fair dinkum, leaves a lot to be desired.''
Despite his 28-second political career, Meninga retains the politician's ability to deliver a verbal upper cut without letting the smile leave his face. Yet, after imposing a media ban on Sunday, it was obvious the failure of the media to support the team in the manner he expects has upset a man used - at least in these parts - to universal adoration.
Even as the media laughed at Meninga's seemingly good-natured recitation of their traitorous acts, one bottom line was revealing: ''What's going on with you blokes, hey?''
It is that rare hint of confusion, even disorganisation, in the Queensland camp that has given NSW an added sense of belief. For seven years, the Blues have watched the Maroons prepare for combat with military precision. Now, as Meninga bristles and rumours of concealed injuries and late changes abound, they sense human fraility.
At the same time, there is no sense of complacency among the Blues. They know Meninga regains his enforcer Sam Thaiday, and of the potential improvement of Johnathan Thurston and Justin Hodges, both quiet in this series so far.
Although, if Meninga wanted to remind the Blues what they will face tonight, he might need only wave his arms around the arena. The statues of Wally Lewis, Darren Lockyer and Artie Beetson in the forecourt. The 50,000 seats that will seem even closer to the playing field when filled with bloodthirsty locals. Even the nearby brewery, where the XXXX sign is regarded with more reverence than the Australian flag, somehow emphasises the hostile environment Ricky Stuart and his players will enter.
Then, as Meninga well knows, the talking will stop. All the amusing mind games won't amount to much. Even the emotion around Robbie Farah and Scott, who are mourning their mothers, will be put aside.
''Origin is an emotional game,'' Meninga said. ''It's sad to see what has happened to both families. But those sort of things, you've got to try and put them in the back of your mind. Tomorrow is all about making sure you don't let your teammates down, and doing the job you are required to do.''
For six years, Queensland has done that job superbly. Now, rather than expecting the Maroons to submit, the Blues have to prove they can do it better.