Firstly, never mention the opposition: everything is about “us”, not “them”.
Secondly, avoid key words. At Souths, players were banned from using words such as “tough” in press conferences. Rather, it was all about the “process”.
The best at it was Jason Clark. In their famous run to the title, Clarke was the player most trusted by the club to front the media during the week. He never wavered, sticking to the script week after week. The media knew something was going on.
When Souths won, amid the euphoria, Clarke spotted some of us journalists, ran over, bear-hugged one and smiling from ear to ear yelled: “It was the process.” In club football, when there is a different opponent every week and 15 teams to beat to win the premiership, not mentioning the opposition and only worrying about yourself is a tactic that can work. Developing a mentality for the players that the opponent this week doesn’t matter. What matters – this week and next week and the week after – is “getting ourselves right”.
State of Origin is completely different.
In Queensland, it has always been about “them”. It is, and always will be, about beating the Blues – those bastards from NSW who’ve disrespected them since Federation and who stole their players for years and years.
State of Origin is the ultimate redemption and has been since July 1980.
These myths work for Queensland, where it’s all about being the underdog, even when you have Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis.
It’s never about “we will win”. It’s more about: “They don’t rate us. Never have. They think they’re going to win. Who do they think they are?”
This year, Maroons players are tied in knots at press conferences, trying to avoid saying NSW or uttering the name of a Blues player. They’re thinking about things they shouldn’t be.
Walters has executed the plan poorly. While downplaying who the opposition are, he labelled the match a “war”. But who are you fighting in the “war” Kevvy? Um … the others?
Queensland Rugby League chairman Bruce Hatcher all but labelled the use of the mind games as rubbish, saying he had no knowledge Walters had hired the $5000-an-hour Stubbs.
His public comments were damning.
All of a sudden, Queensland are split – singing from different hymn sheets. It’s unthinkable that north of the border the chairman would publicly be at odds with the coach six days from game one.
Walters is the unwanted coach in club land. If he loses this series, he’ll be the unwanted man in the battle between Queensland and “the others”. Which is a shame because he’s a good fellow who’s let the pressure get to him.
Striking a chord
During last year’s Origin series, Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr didn’t sing the national anthem before matches. I looked back at replays to confirm it.
I knew the Blues had met with Anthony Mundine during the series and thought maybe he had been in their ears. So, when the series ended, I asked them about it, discreetly and privately.
Addo-Carr said: “I never sing it and never have. I don’t even know the words [laughs]. It was just something that was never part of my upbringing or my life.”
Mitchell: “It’s not my go – never has been. It’s not the way I was brought up. It was just something we didn’t do as a family.”
I also asked them if it was organised: had the Indigenous players got together and agreed not to sing it?
They both said it wasn’t and they hadn’t even discussed it. It was a private thing for each of them.
New Blue Cody Walker has come under plenty of scrutiny for a similar stance, if you could call it that. He looks like he could become the face of non-anthem-singing Indigenous Australians.
This is an issue for the NRL – and they need to address it quickly.
These players aren’t “doing a Colin Kaepernick” – taking a knee in protest while the national anthem is playing. Kaepernick’s NFL career famously ended as a result of his “stance”.
Walker, Mitchell and Addo-Carr are of a new generation of Indigenous Australians. A generation that has been taught through family values that they can make their own choices. Not singing the anthem is one of them.
They don’t disrespect it. They stand arm-in-arm with teammates when it is played. They respect their teammates’ right to sing it. They just don’t sing it themselves.
It shouldn’t be an issue. But it could blow up into an issue.