Big Mal deserves to get all the plaudits

IN THE early days of his rugby league career in Brisbane, Mal Meninga was often criticised for not being aggressive.

He was a gentle giant, rolled with the punches and rarely threw one.

And as that big infectious grin spread across his face after Wednesday night's record-smashing win by the Maroons to snare their ninth Origin victory in a decade, nothing seems to have changed.

Despite his success, Big Mal simply remains Big Mal. If he wasn't an Australian sporting icon before Wednesday night, he must be now.

The records obliterated by his team in the 52-6 hammering of the Blues has continued his fairytale run as Queensland coach, and the biggest winning margin in the 35-year history of the contest begs the question of when the domination will end.

And while Big Mal thoroughly deserves to luxuriate in the success of this champion team, he can take great comfort from the fact that his 'old men' continue to perform for Queensland.

The Maroons went into Wednesday's decider with eight players 30 or older in the team. Throw in injured 32-year-old fullback Billy Slater and Matt Scott (30 on July 30) and the Queenslanders are unquestionably an aging mob.

But does that concern Big Mal, or his fellow selectors?

Is the big fella apprehensive about the belief by some critics that Queensland has sidestepped its succession plan? Not in the least if his post-match demeanour is a yardstick.

The 'winners can be grinners' idiom is alive and well in the Maroons camp as Meninga's repeated references to 'Dad's Army' and 'too old' reflected his thinking on age being a barrier.

Rugby league may well be a young man's game, but the definition of young is a moot point. With players now full-time professionals and receiving the best dietary, medical and rehab advice available, 30 may well be the new 20.

Corey Parker, for instance, was named man of the series at 33; Cameron Smith (31) has equalled the record for most Origin appearances; Johnathan Thurston (32) kicked the most goals in an Origin match; and Greg Inglis (28) scored his 17th try, more than any other Origin player.

Is it any wonder that Meninga, never one to gloat about personal landmarks and success, was looking just a tad smug on Wednesday night?

Sure, Queensland is a gifted team, with some of the greatest talents to have played the game.

But for someone besmirched as merely a figurehead coach for much of the past decade, Big Mal deserves to feel a little vindicated and self-satisfied.

And while the gentle giant remains at the helm, Queensland fans can look forward to more of what they saw on Wednesday night - but maybe not quite as comprehensive.

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