Mal Meninga joins Wayne Bennett to form Queensland State of Origin coaching dream team

Queensland’s underdog State of Origin outfit will be powered by a coaching dream team, with Mal Meninga joining Wayne Bennett’s staff for next month’s series.

Australia coach Meninga was pipped for the Maroons job by Bennett when Kevin Walters was forced to relinquish the role after being appointed Brisbane Broncos coach.

But Meninga’s follow-up offer of support to work as an assistant coach has been accepted by Bennett, and the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) on Thursday conceded there were “exceptional circumstances” in approving the move.

With no Tests scheduled for this year, Meninga will temporarily step down from his national duties and forgo his Kangaroos salary to join Bennett, who he first worked with at Brisbane’s police academy more than 40 years ago.

Meninga was coached by Bennett at the Maroons, Canberra Raiders and Brisbane club Souths during his decorated playing career.

The pair boast 14 State of Origin series wins between them as Queensland coach, while the experienced Neil Henry — a key strategist behind some of Meninga’s nine series wins — has replaced Justin Hodges on Bennett’s staff.

“From my perspective, it’s great to be involved and to work under Wayne and the current batch of players is something that I’m really excited about,” Meninga said in a statement.

Meninga’s arrival gives unprecedented coaching punch to a greenhorn squad out to defy an injury list that includes Kalyn Ponga, David Fifita, Michael Morgan and Moses Mbye, while Valentine Holmes is suspended for the November 4 series opener.

“Mal will be a great sounding-board for myself, support staff and the players,” Bennett said.

“I’m really glad Mal has accepted the role, as his presence alone will be a great asset for us moving forward.”

ARLC chairman Peter V’landys said the disruption to the rugby league calendar caused by COVID-19 had cleared the way for Meninga to join the Maroons.

“Under normal circumstances you can’t be head coach of the Kangaroos and be involved in an Origin squad,” he said.

“But given there are no Test matches because of COVID, we have granted Mal permission to assist Queensland.

“Mal is an Origin legend and his presence in the series will add an additional layer of excitement for our fans and players.”

AAP/ABC