Queensland greats bonded by mateship pass on simple instructions to Maroons rookies chasing new dynasty

When Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Nate Myles, Josh Hannay, Greg Inglis and Allan Langer walked into Brisbane Airport, it was an unforgettable moment for one rookie Maroon, writes MARIA RECOUVREUR.

Pat Carrigan had a cracking opening game of the series for Queensland. Picture: NRL Imagery
Pat Carrigan had a cracking opening game of the series for Queensland. Picture: NRL Imagery

Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Nate Myles, Josh Hannay, Greg Inglis and Allan Langer walk into Brisbane Airport.

Unfortunately for Brad Fittler and his Blues, there’s no punchline to this story.

It’s just the image Queensland and Broncos forward Patrick Carrigan was met with as the team prepared to travel to Sydney for what ended up being a classic Origin ambush.

“We were at the airport the other day and there was a table where it was like GI, Nate, Cam, Billy JT, [Langer], Josh Hannay …” Carrigan says.

“You're like, holy …

“We’re lucky to sit around [them] and there's a bit of pressure on that.”

Slater’s official assistant coaches for his first series in charge of Queensland are Smith, Thurston and Hannay. But he has also assembled a coaching ‘supergroup’ that includes Myles, Inglis, Matt Ballin, Dallas Johnson, and older legends like stalwart trainer Langer and Mal Meninga.

Cameron Smith is officially an assistant on Billy Slater’s coaching staff, but they have also roped in a bunch of legends in mentoring roles. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Cameron Smith is officially an assistant on Billy Slater’s coaching staff, but they have also roped in a bunch of legends in mentoring roles. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Between them, they have literally won every accolade in rugby league.

Importantly, the group Slater has put together knows exactly how to build sustained Origin success. As they gathered around with players to have a beer following their victory against NSW in Game One, it was clear that the greats had brought more to the team than tactics.

During the lead-up to the series and beyond, Slater hammered home the idea of doing the little things, backing each other and creating a family bond – and it worked.

Former Maroon and Rooster Nate Myles has been training the Queensland forwards, including Carrigan. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Former Maroon and Rooster Nate Myles has been training the Queensland forwards, including Carrigan. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

“I look at the relationships, a lot of those older boys, like Billy and JT and you know, GI. They‘re still best mates,” Carrigan says.

“I think a lot of that came from playing footy together here. So I hope I can get a few good mates over the next few years.

“A big thing that Nate drove with the forwards is you don‘t have to do a big, special play. They’ll happen. In Origin, it’s all about accumulating lots of small moments. And if you can nail all the small moments over and over and over again, then you put yourself in a position to win. It’s pretty easy when you get coached by guys like that.”

Ballin is one of the least experienced Origin players in the coaching supergroup but only because the former hooker was unlucky to be stuck behind Smith during his career.

He managed just one game for the Maroons, in 2010 when Smith had a rare injury lay-off. But he played more than 200 first grade games and won two premierships with Manly, and spent plenty of time in Queensland camps learning from the best.

“I think it‘s just a fantastic environment that Billy’s created,” Ballin says.

“These players are all winners. They‘ve all won so many Origins and they’re teaching the new generation players how to win and what it’s like to be a Queensland player.

“I think that‘s the main thing that Billy’s pushed, just what it means to be a Queenslander and what the behaviours of a great Queensland player look like.

“He rang me and asked me to do the job and I couldn‘t be happier, I couldn’t feel more privileged to do it with him and the rest of the guys, they’re all fantastic fellas. That’s the vibe that Billy started. I think it’ll continue on.”

Carrigan was one of four Queensland debutants who looked like he belonged the moment he ran onto the turf in Sydney. Coming off the bench, he ran for 165 metres and made 27 tackles in a first outing best described as tough.

Carrigan, Selwyn Cobbo, Reuben Cotter and Jeremiah Nanai all had strong debuts for Queensland in Game 1. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Carrigan, Selwyn Cobbo, Reuben Cotter and Jeremiah Nanai all had strong debuts for Queensland in Game 1. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Carrigan was always on a path to the Maroons, picked as captain for the Queensland under-20s in 2018, where he played alongside Harry Grant, Tino Fa‘asuamaleaui and fellow rookie Origin squad member Murray Taulagi. Though Queensland have struggled to find their footing in the past few years, as the legends now on the coaching staff retired one-by-one, the new breed were simply gaining experience to ready themselves for the next tilt at a dynasty.

Carrigan, Cotter et al followed simple instructions to the best of their abilities, typifying a classic Queensland performance.

“Get your first tackle away, get your first carry away and you‘re in the game,” Carrigan says.

“I think I got a bit lucky on the first two of each but yeah, to pull on the jersey and sit here with Bill, Cam, GI – idols – and then have a beer with Harry Grant, guys like [Kalyn Ponga] … It‘s everything you dream. I’m pretty stoked.”

The 24-year-old is considered a future leader at the Broncos, where he plays lock and captained the club for a stint during their difficult 2020 season. The physiotherapy student suffered an ACL injury last year and has fought tooth-and-nail to return in what’s shaping as a key season in his short career.

The Queensland under-20s team from 2018. Source: QRL media
The Queensland under-20s team from 2018. Source: QRL media

“You always back yourself and have confidence in what you can do,” he says about returning to the field after a prolonged injury period.

“It‘s tough after the year we had in 2020, we really wanted to make amends last year and give Broncos fans first and foremost something to smile about, but I got pulled a bit short there and kind of felt like I owed some people.

“I looked at some good people in my corner, family, close friends and even [Blues centre Kotoni Staggs], we‘ve been in rehab that last 12 months together. He’s one of my best mates. And when you have guys like that around you, that you want to be better with, it’s pretty easy to rock up to the challenge every day. This is always a goal and the achievement line, but I think a bit of credit goes back to the boys and the Broncos for helping me.”

Carrigan is a leader at the Broncos and touted as future long-term captain material. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Carrigan is a leader at the Broncos and touted as future long-term captain material. Picture: Steve Pohlner

As for the best piece of advice he’s received in camp so far?

“Just be me. Go out and play fully, like you play at club-land. That gave me some confidence just to not overthink things. You only have to look around the room. You’ve got some pretty special guys around. I think it makes that a lot easier.”

Special indeed. With any luck for Queensland fans, they’ve found their next bunch of best mates who just happen to win footy games together.

Maria Recouvreur
Maria RecouvreurChief of production

Maria Recouvreur is Chief of Production for CODE who has spent more than a decade writing and editing sports journalism in both print and online. She has worked for Fairfax, News Corp and Pacific Magazines as both a journalist and sub-editor and was the Editor of Big League, the NRL's now-defunct match-day programme, for several years. While Maria's main passion is rugby league (go the Bulldogs), she'll watch any sport that's on and above all, loves adding the finishing touches on the incredible storytelling that comes with it.