The truth behind Bennett’s feud with Mal
Wayne Bennett has blasted suggestions a perceived feud with Mal Meninga could derail Queensland's campaign, backing their coaching alliance to orchestrate an Origin series boilover of the Blues.
New Queensland coach Bennett has hired Meninga as his assistant for this year's series - almost five years after the pair were embroiled in a high-level spat in the battle to take charge of the Australian national team.
Meninga clinched the Australian gig and tensions escalated further when Bennett took on the England coaching job, with the big-name duo squaring off in the 2017 World Cup final ultimately won by the Kangaroos.
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Associates from their days at the Queensland Police Academy 40 years ago, the pair have been viewed as 'frenemies', a perception fuelled by Meninga usurping Bennett as the Maroons' greatest coach after winning nine of 10 Origin series.
But in the build-up to Origin I at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday night, Bennett set the record straight on Meninga, insisting the Maroons would not be destabilised by any alleged bad blood between the Queensland icons.
"There's no feud with Mal. Never has been," Bennett said.
"No-one has any ego here (in Camp Maroon), it has all been put on the shelf. We are doing the best we can for these young men to win the Origin series.
"There is no conflict between us in terms of our footballing philosophies. We feel the same way about the game and how Queensland should be coached and how the players are nurtured.
"Mal is Mal and I am who I am ... we bring what we bring and together I think we are a pretty formidable package.
"I also include Neil Henry (Bennett's other Maroons assistant) in that, he has an excellent football brain and I really value what he brings to our coaching team.
"There won't be a ripple with us."
There was a sentiment Bennett had fallen out with Meninga when they both set their sights on coaching Australia in 2015.
But Bennett said his true grievance was with NRL authorities, not Meninga, whom he once coached at the Queensland Police Academy.
"I never had a stoush with Mal, we never fell out," Bennett said.
"I was critical of the process the ARL Commission went through (to appoint the Australian coach), people don't want to get that through their heads.
"I never had a single problem with Mal. The process the ARL put in place was flawed, they didn't conduct themselves in the manner they should have and that's what I was fighting for - the process.
"The truth is I had been interviewed for the Australian job, yet the decision was already made to give Mal the Test job.
"The NRL interviewed me and recommended me for the job. I won't name names, they know who they are. They (NRL identities) came back and said they recommended me for the job, but all of a sudden Mal gets appointed (by the ARL Commission).
"They were embarrassed about it, they recommended me for an Australian job that was already decided.
"In fairness to Mal, he can't offer himself a job. The process was a joke.
"Me and Mal have known each other for 40 years. I caught up with Mal during the Four Nations a few years ago (in 2016) and we talked as we have always talked in the past.
"I explained my position to Mal and he spoke and he understood the issue wasn't a direct attack on him."
Bennett admits he was surprised to receive a phone call from Meninga last month wishing to help the Maroons this year. He scoffed at suggestions Meninga, as Australian coach, has a conflict of interest helping out NSW's bitter rivals.
"That's rubbish. There's no conflict of interest," he said.
"There is no Test football this year and Mal is not the head coach anyway. I'm the head coach and the buck stops with me. Mal is an assistant here. If he was head coach, it would be different, but I'm the main guy so it's not an issue in my eyes.
"Mal rang me up. He called and said he would love to be a part of it (Queensland Origin camp), he said he didn't care what role he had but he just wanted to help.
"I said I would think about it over the weekend and I rang him on a Monday morning and said I liked the idea, if there's coaching to be done, we can all help out.
"Mal not only has a great aura but he has knowledge, too. He has been a great player for Queensland, he did a magnificent job coaching them for 10 years and he knows how to bring success in the Origin arena.
"We got back a long way, we have done so much together in parts of our lives and it's nice to have him here. He wanted to come and I wanted him to be here, so it's worked out well."
Originally published as The truth behind Bennett's feud with Mal