Walters preparing for Origin baptism by fire
CAMERON Smith, who will break Darren Lockyer's record for the most State of Origin games in this year's opener in Sydney, believes Queensland has the right man to replace record-breaking coach Mel Meninga in this year's interstate series.
Barring injury or suspension, the highly decorated Melbourne Storm skipper will eclipse Lockyer's 36 Origin games at ANZ Stadium on June 1 in his first game under new Queensland coach Kevin Walters.
Walters was Mal Meninga's assistant before Meninga opted to take on the Australian Kangaroos job this year and he said having Smith as his skipper in his first game in charge would be a huge boost.
"That first game will be a challenge and it's very comforting to me to have someone like Cameron who is such a strong leader," Walters told Australian Regional Media.
"That's one thing Queensland teams have always had is strong leadership."
While there was a big push for North Queensland's premiership-winning coach Paul Green, the Queensland players, including Smith, are happy Walters eventually hooked the top job because they felt he had served his time under Meninga.
"I think when Mal quit, all the players just expected Kevvy to get the job," Smith said at the official launch of the Origin series in Sydney yesterday attended by both coaches, Walters and Laurie Daley, and team captains.
Walters admitted he had been set a massive challenge in winning his Origin debut game in Sydney but was confident in his ability to start his Queensland coaching career with success.
The state that has taken out the first game has gone on to win the series in eight of the past 11 years.
Queensland has lost the first game and come back twice in 2008 and 2013 to win the series, while the only time NSW have successfully recovered from being 1-0 down was in 2005.
"The stats don't lie," Walters said. "I know it can be done (come from one down) but winning the first game gives you a big edge."
Walters said the big talk at the official launch in Sydney was the good form of the Queensland teams Brisbane and North Queensland.
Last year's grand final rivals played a rematch at Suncorp on Good Friday with the sequel proving every bit as exciting as the original last October.
"It's a good feeling and Melbourne (which has a number of Maroons players) has been playing well also," Walters said. "I just wish we could play it (Origin) next week, but we will go into camp as we always do and prepare for game one and hopefully come back to Suncorp Stadium 1-0 up with a chance to win the series in front of our home fans."