How Kevvie's tough call helped shape Maroons for the better
KEVIN Walters' hardline stance to ban eight players after their boozy curfew-breaking antics during last year's Emerging Origin camp has paid the ultimate dividend, with six of them fighting back to make their Maroons debuts this season.
Anthony Milford, Dylan Napa, Valentine Holmes and Jarrod Wallace rebounded from the bans to wear maroon in the opening two games, with Ben Hunt and Cameron Munster to make their debuts on Wednesday night.
The move to ban the young players had the potential to backfire, but it only strengthened the group's respect for the Queensland coach.
The six are determined to repay Walters' faith by helping Queensland claim a famous series win.
"I think that was the hardest part for us, just how much we let Kevvie down," Wallace said.
"Obviously we stuffed up and we were happy to cop the consequences.
"But for what he did for us in the lead-up to that was awesome and then to go and do what we did was a real stab in the back for him.
"But obviously we got past it.
"I remember hearing from him early (this) year in that Emerging camp and I spoke to him. I was nervous. I just thought, 'There's no way I'm ever getting picked again.'
"He just looked at me and said, 'Mate, it's a new year.'"
Former Maroons stalwart Justin Hodges, now the Queensland under-20 coach, said Walters' move was absolutely right.
"I think what Kevvie did was great," Hodges said.
"It was a hard decision for him to make, there's so much wonderful talent in those guys who played up but he made them better players.
"One year, that's all it took for them to change everything and now they're all playing State of Origin football.
"Not being able to play for Queensland would have hit home for those boys and they wanted to make sure they turned it around so they got to play for the Maroons."
Munster said the ban may have been a "blessing in disguise" for the six.
"What we did last year, I know it wasn't ideal but I guess it's shaped me into the player I am now and realise how fortunate we are to be able to do something we love and not take it for granted," he said.
"I'm not taking it for granted any more and I've pulled my head in a lot."
And he said it showed what the Maroon jersey meant to all Origin players - Walters in particular.
"It doesn't matter who you are, if you don't respect that jersey, you're not going to play," he said.
"I really respected his decision on that last year but we've moved on."
Hunt, in particular, sees Walters as a huge influence on his career and believes the confidence the Maroons mentor has given him over the past year has been instrumental in him making his Queensland debut.
"He's always talked to me about my footy and he's always told me he believes in me and has confidence in what I'm doing and that I'll get my opportunity one day," said Hunt, whose best season came when Walters was assistant coach at the Broncos and working closely with the halves.
"Whenever I talk to him, he always says he believes in how I play my football and what I do for the team. Just having that belief for me, it gives me a lot of confidence in how you play your footy."