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Why blood, sweat and tears mean more than a slick Powerpoint presentation

Opinion

Having overlooked Kevin Walters for the Brisbane Broncos coaching role more than once, the club’s board is choosing heart over head this time,  writes Michael Blucher

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It was quite a few years ago now – a Friday afternoon in December – when old-school rugby league antics infiltrated the normally urbane confines of Brisbane’s Tattersalls Club.

And turned the joint into a mosh pit.

The occasion – the annual “Sporting Hasbeens” charity luncheon – an irreverent, inordinately festive occasion at which a local sporting luminary who’s recently stepped off the stage is inducted into the “Hasbeens Hall of Fame”.

The organising committee are most readily identified as rugby union types – university club rugby to be precise – but this particular year, it was rugby league’s turn to be exalted.

Up for induction, not one but four greats of the game – the three Walters brothers, and Trevor Gillmeister, AKA “The Axe”, on account of his boisterous personality, thought by some to be a long-lost Walters’ sibling, cut adrift at birth by a mix up in the Ipswich hospital maternity ward.

It was a cracking afternoon, which culminated in Gilly “hosting” an impromptu game of Red Rover across the width and breadth of the downstairs bar in the gentlemen’s club. Leather furniture back against the wall, coats off, Gilly in the middle. Away you go. Do your best.

Predictably, the game was over the moment the rest of the addled patrons witnessed the fate of the first “contestant”. Gilly poleaxed him into Christmas Eve, still a week away. All over, Red Rover.

Just as memorable, well before it all got a little silly, host Greg Martin’s introduction of the three Walters boys, Steve, Kev and Kerrod. “Please give them a huge Hasbeens welcome, this year’s inductees: Proton, Neutron and Electron. Together, they make up a brain the size of an atom“.

Yes – they were there to be roasted, not revered. But by the time they’d told a bunch of yarns and been handed their commemorative (individually engraved) walking sticks, they’d ticked both boxes. Roasted and revered. Great characters, the lot of them. And good blokes.

Wind the clock forward 10 or 12 years, and Neutron, the middle component of the atom-sized Walters’ brain, has at last, belatedly, deservedly, thankfully, been cast into the role he’s coveted since 2009, the year he commenced coaching.

Kevin Walters is now in charge of the Brisbane Broncos, the club he cherishes more than anything else, with the possible exception of his wife and children.

We saw what the appointment meant to him on telly the other night. Chatting to The King, he teared up just thinking about the honour bestowed upon him, and the responsibility it brings.

Oddly enough, Walters was finally anointed by much the same administrative push who overlooked him last time – October 2018, when they opted for Anthony Seibold, somewhat curiously locking the rookie coach into a monstrous five-year contract.

Seibold’s presentation apparently was vastly superior. There was no comparison between he and Walters. Perhaps that confirms what most of us suspected. The correlation between slick Powerpoint presentations and coaching success in the NRL? Not that strong.

It would be interesting to know what’s changed between October 2018 and a week ago.

Certainly not Kevin Walters. He’s authentic to the core. One leopard with one set of spots.

Earlier in his coaching career, the six-time premiership winner admitted trying to mimic the mentors he’d worked with closely and admired – the likes of Craig Bellamy and Mal Meninga.

But with age and experience came a comfort in simply being himself. “I’m not them. I’m me. Just be yourself”.

Nobody underestimates the enormity of the task in front of Kevin Walters, least of all Kevin Walters.

He might have been in a lot of high-performance NRL environments, but he knows there’s a giant chasm between “assistant coach” and “coach”.

One makes suggestions, the other, decisions. Head coaches run without cover. They rise and fall on the consequences of the decisions they make, and the outcomes those decisions produce.

An equally seismic shift – moving from coaching in the annual Origin series to a full-blown NRL season.

One involves melding the best of the best for three matches over six weeks. The other – 15 different opponents over 24-plus weeks. At your disposal, a squad of roughly 30. A squad where each week, 13 blokes are happy, four are mildly happy and the other 13 probably think the coach is a miserable prick. At the very least, a poor judge.

Yes, there are plenty of challenges ahead. But I doubt there’s a person in any way affiliated with the game in Queensland who wouldn’t be behind him.

Kevin Walters is a Bronco, through and through. Cut him and he’d bleed maroon and gold. And while passion and pride don’t win NRL games, they certainly provide a solid platform from which to build.

Heaven knows, there’s plenty of building to do.

Kevvie, on behalf of the Sporting Hasbeens, and the many millions of “Sporting Never-wases”, we wish you the very best.

And don’t worry about Marto. I know your TE score was higher than his.

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