The one word Bennett won’t stand for in Camp Maroon
It is the no-ego policy driving the Queensland Maroons.
Queensland coach Wayne Bennett has revealed he made deliberate changes to the Maroons squad as he lifted the lid on the selection methodology that inspired his side's epic 18-14 boilover of the Blues in Origin I.
As he prepares to wrap-up the series on Wednesday night in Origin II in Sydney, Bennett gave News Corp an insight into the selection process that gave rise to eight Queensland debutants in the series opener at Adelaide Oval.
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While injuries to incumbents such as Kalyn Ponga, David Fifita and Michael Morgan were a natural factor, Bennett's selection framework - and the type of player he wanted - cannot be undersold.
Bennett was appointed Queensland coach just 32 days before Origin I after his predecessor, Kevin Walters, was forced to stand down following his appointment as head coach of the Broncos.
Walters had all-but finalised Queensland's 27-man COVID squad, but Bennett admits he made some eleventh-hour tweaks to include players he believed would flourish in Camp Maroon.
Critics scoffed at the selection of unheralded NRL players such as Edrick Lee, Hymel Hunt, Brenko Lee, Phillip Sami, Josh Kerr, Dunamis Lui, Corey Allan and Kurt Capewell, but Bennett said Queensland's stunning upset in Origin I was built on a strategic formula.
"The squad was largely put together before I got there but I did make some changes to it," Bennett said.
"There are no egos in this group.
"At the end of the day, I pick players on what they do on the footy field, but there are other considerations.
"If there are two guys pretty equal, I look at what club he comes from, a club like the Melbourne Storm for example has great systems and their players come well prepared for Origin.
"Then if there isn't much in it ability wise, I will look into the personalities. I don't want egos. Egos have all been put on the shelf in this camp.
"As coaches (including Mal Meninga and Neil Henry), we are doing the best we can for these young men.
"I don't know what other teams have been like but this group of men have been a pleasure to deal with."
Walters' original squad included key hardman Josh McGuire, the 14-game Maroons veteran who won the Ron McAuliffe Medal as Queensland's best-and-fairest in 2017.
Then came the Bennett bombshell. The super coach overlooked the player he had coached for years at the Broncos.
Bennett has no personal vendetta against McGuire but the reasons for his shock omission were multifaceted. Bennett was concerned by McGuire's form this season, at times turning his back running into the line, as well as his tendency to give away silly penalties.
Bennett had never worked extensively with the likes of Maroons duo Cameron Munster and Jake Friend, but he lauded their performances in Origin I and their value to the team collective.
"I admire a number of them enormously," he said.
"Cameron Munster for example ... I have watched him for a long time and what he does on the footy field. I love his energy, his confidence and what he brings to a group. The biggest wrap I can give a guy is to say he's a natural footballer and Cameron is that.
"Jake Friend is my type of player. There is no fanfare or fuss with that bloke. Some people criticised him (for being picked) but they don't know what Jake brings.
"As a coach, you know he will do his absolute best and he is the ultimate pro. His influence rubs off on the group. The way he handles himself is low maintenance. He causes you no grief at all and on the park, you know he won't let you, his teammates or the Queensland jumper down.
"It's been a privilege to work with this group, it's been good for me personally."
Maroons enforcer Josh Papalii admits part of Bennett's magic is his equal measures of respect and fear.
Bennett also drives high personal standards. When James Roberts joined Souths earlier this year, Bennett told him to cut off his rat's tail. The Maroons super coach would be less than impressed with Papalii's mullet haircut.
"Wayne is a massive believer in picking the right blokes," Papalii said.
"I was very nervous coming into camp (to meet Bennett).
"I texted him before coming into camp and said I was nervous meeting him for the first time and his reply was you better be nervous.
"One of the first rules here in camp, I missed a meeting and he said, 'No s**t haircuts', and here I am walking in with a full-on mullet.
"I don't usually get nervous, I am one to be myself but it's a bit different with Wayne.
"Wayne has coached the best players in the world and gets the best out of players who felt they weren't worthy of it and I felt I was one of those.
"When I look at Wayne, I took a massive scope of who he is as a person, he coaches me as a person before a player and I really admire that as a coach.
Maroons Origin I hero Capewell lauded Bennett's influence on the group.
"You have to keep the camp happy, there's not much to do in the bubble," he said.
"The boys are enjoying training and each other's company which makes it easier.
"The bubble is a challenge but we've made the most of it back in camp.
"We play a few games and the boys have handled it really well."
Originally published as The one word Bennett won't stand for in Camp Maroon