From Thangool to Immortal: Mal Meninga's football career
HE WAS the ball boy for the Thangool Rugby League Club in the 60s and now the Queensland sporting icon is a rugby league immortal.
Twice overlooked in 2003 and 2012, Mal Meninga, 58 was finally rightly honoured as rugby league's most prestigious title at a gala dinner at the Sydney Cricket Ground on August.
The Immortals are the most elite group of players in rugby league's 110-year history.
Five immortals were inducted last week, joining Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper, Graeme Langlands, Wally Lewis, Arthur Beetson and Andrew Johns.
The newcomers included Meninga with St George great Norm Provan and three pre-World War II pioneers Dally Messenger, Frank Burge and Dave Brown.
Meninga was born in Bundaberg in 1960 of South Sea Island heritage and was said to be following his father's footsteps from the moment he could walk at 10 months.
Meninga's father Norm was instrumental in Mal's football career, as he coached and played rugby league across country Queensland.
After living in Bundaberg, Maryborough and Wondai, the family moved to Monto in 1963 where his Dad played for Monto Roos and Meninga got his first taste of playing league.
Norm coached the school team and together with other parents started up a junior rugby league competition.
In 1967, Norm moved on to become Captain-Coach of Thangool Possums.
Players from back in the day said Norm was a "brilliant role model” and they had fond memories of Meninga as a young fella being the ball boy and handing out oranges at half time.
Soon after this, Norm was badly injured when he was working as a benchman in a sawmill in Monto. A log skidded off the rail and hit his chest, shattering the left side of his body. He had an artificial valve put in his heart, putting a stop to his playing career.
The Meningas moved to a caravan park in Maroochydore and Meninga left at the age of 15 for the Queensland Police Academy where he completed his senior certificate. He was in the force until 1985 and during his time, he met rugby league coach and former player Wayne Bennett, who was a serving constable and would become one of his key mentors.
Meninga made his first-grade debut at 18 with Souths Magpies in the Brisbane Rugby League and played in the premiership team in 1985.
He tallied 306 top-grade games including times at Canberra and St Helens, England, playing mostly as a goal-kicking centre, but also in the wing position.
At the age of 20, he made his State of Origin debut, where they won the first ever State of Origin match against New South Wales in 1980. Mal converted seven goals from seven attempts.
With a roaring start, Meninga went on to play 32 games for Queensland.
He retired from his playing career in 1994, and was appointed coach of the Canberra Raiders from 1997 - 2002.
Meninga retired with the most appearances in the history of the Australian national team, and became the top-point scorer ever in State of Origin football.
He won three premierships and played 46 Tests for Australia between 1982-94. He is the only man to be chosen for four Kangaroo tours and to captain Australia on two Kangaroo tours.
In 2005, he began his coaching career as the new Queensland State of Origin coach, winning in a 2-1 series victory for the first time in five years.
In 2007 and 2008, he took his record with the Maroons to three wins from three series.
He has achieved the most consecutive State of Origins wins as a coach with eight series from 2006 to 2013.
His streak broke in 2014 with a Blues win but the Maroons still scored more points than the Blues across all three matches.
In 2015, Maroons won their ninth series in 10 years, with Queensland recording both the largest score and biggest victory margin with a 52-6 victory.
In late 2017, Meninga coached the Australian team to win the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
His newest Immortal award adds to his growing collection. He was honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia, named in both Queensland's and Australia's teams of the century, in 2009, Meninga was named coach of the year at the Queensland Sports Awards, in 1994 he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2003.
His father Norm, died in 1982, aged 47, when his heart finally gave out.