BIG READ: The making of Maroons coach Kevin Walters
FORGED in Ipswich and proud of it.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters is such a man if ever there was one.
As the 49-year-old prepares for one of his greatest challenges as a coach in the State of Origin decider on Wednesday night at Suncorp Stadium, he spoke to the QT about the ethos that has made him what he is today.
The values Kevin lives by can be traced back to the Walters' family home in Merton St, East Ipswich. It was there that Kevin and his four brothers - twin Kerrod, Steve, Brett and Andrew - were given a rolled gold Ipswich upbringing by their late parents Sandra and Kevin Snr.
Sandra was a nurse and Kevin a builder and both instilled in their sons the value of hard work, respect for others and the need to ride the peaks and troughs of life with grace. When asked about what philosophy he lives and coaches by today, Kevin harked back to his youth.
"A lot of it comes from my family and growing up in Ipswich," he said.
"It is a working man's town. Certainly back then it was.
"Dad was a hard working person. He certainly liked working hard but when the work was done he liked to enjoy himself with his mates...relaxing with a beer and enjoying the good times in life.
"That has always been my theory as well, taught to me by my father, to work really hard at whatever you are doing and to remember that things aren't always going to be easy.
"There will be some tough times, but on the flip side of that when things are going good you need to enjoy those times as well."
Walters, who played his junior footy with Booval Swifts, certainly adopted that philosophy in his playing days. The Brisbane Broncos in the 1990s was a club that reaped the benefits of relentless work. Walters won five premierships at Brisbane on the back of hard yakka.
He also enjoyed it. Walters' rapport with that other Ipswich favourite son Allan Langer was epitomised by on-field brilliance and banter and humour off the field.
Talk to former Brisbane players and they will tell you about the way Kevvie and Alfie took the heat out of pressure cooker situations with cheeky humour and that typical Ipswich irreverence.
Walters said another life lesson he learned from his father was that "the good times don't last forever and neither do the bad times".
"There is always going to be a turning point in both those situations and you've got to handle them the best you can, and that has been my philosophy," he said.
"Things don't always go your way. When they do you need to enjoy it and when they're not you don't want to be kicking cans too much but keep working hard and things will turn."
In Kevin's coaching career that was certainly the case when Wayne Bennett sacked Walters, Glenn Lazarus and Gary Belcher from his coaching support staff at the end of 2005.
It was no surprise that Ipswich was there for Walters in one of his darkest footballing hours. They already had a coach lined up for 2006 but the Jets finished stone motherless last that season and gave Walters a coaching lifeline in 2007.
"That was extremely important for me to get the confidence back," Walters said.
"There were some great people up there at the time with Johnno (club chairman Steve Johnson), Brad Wolens, Kerry McNamara and all the staff. They were very supportive.
"I was very grateful to have the opportunity to coach in my home town and it really did rebuild where I am now.
"I have a lot of faith in my coaching ability. It was just about having someone to give me the opportunity and show me that same faith."
The Jets prospered under Walters and made the Queensland Cup finals in 2007, the same year they were club champions.
The next season they reached the grand final only to lose in a heartbreaker to Souths-Logan. It says a lot about Walters' passion for his home town that if there is one thing he could change in his decorated league career it is that 2008 loss.
"We had a great couple of years at the Jets, but the only thing that still irks me most days when I am thinking about coaching and football is not winning that premiership in 2008," Walters said.
"It was a golden opportunity for us and we blew it. I go over it in my head time and time again. There are a couple of things that I could have done as a coach which may have changed the scoreline.
"But it was a learning curve for all of us."
The QT told Walters we had just done a big piece on Goodna veteran Alby Talipeau, who was the man who broke Jets hearts in 2008 with a decisive late play for Souths-Logan.
"Alby scored that try and I remember him getting the ball down and going 'Oh no. Surely not'," Walters reflected.
"The other thing I remember from that day was their mascot, the big magpie, going 'aark, aark' all afternoon. If I had a rifle there I could have pulled it out and done some business with that magpie...although that is probably not right.
"I also remember their fans up on the hill going 'aark, aark' all day. I've got to let things go, haven't I?"
Walters played 11 Tests for Australia, including a World Cup final triumph at Wembley in 1992, and 20 Origin matches for Queensland.
He has coached Catalans in France in the Super League and been assistant coach at Brisbane and Melbourne. But Walters has never been given a saloon passage. He's fought for everything.
Before being made Queensland coach in 2016 Walters sat by as Cowboys coach Paul Green was offered the job first, only to knock it back.
There was also talk Bennett was in the pipeline, but the QRL wanted a full-time coach and not one with club responsibilities as well. Walters got the gig and proved he was up to the task with a 2-1 series win in 2016.
There were calls for his head in some quarters after the Maroons lost the opening clash at Suncorp Stadium this year. But they drew level in Sydney and now face the ultimate test.
Walters' humility comes to the fore when asked if he feels as though he has proven himself as Maroons coach.
"I don't feel like I have proved it yet," he said.
"You're continually on the charge to win things and get better. It is a results-driven industry. If we get beaten on Wednesday night there will be those who will be into me for different reasons, and that's fine. I can handle that."
Queensland will use a record 26 players in this Origin series and Walters has done well to juggle the comings and goings.
"I knew that when I took the job on that at some stage there would be a a transition of older players," he said.
"I was hoping to manage it a little bit better but injuries have forced our hand in a few areas.
"We've got our head above water at the moment. Let's hope that after Wednesday night our head will stay above the water.
The QT spoke to Kevin's twin Kerrod who said his father was also big on " always treating people with respect" no matter what their station in life. Kevin said that advice had stayed with him.
"I try to treat people the way I would like to be treated," he said.
"I think I am a fair person in the way I treat people through life. Everyone in life gets hit for a six now and then and it is the way you handle it and the way you treat people around you when that is happening that's the key."
A classic example of how Walters walks the talk on this relates to Broncos half and Maroons debutant Ben Hunt. Hunt said this week that when he was experiencing his own lows after being dropped to Intrust Super Cup that Walters contacted him to say he still had faith in him and that he was firmly in the Queensland picture.
Walters owns his decisions. When Daly Cherry-Evans was left out of the Maroons side, Walters rang him to explain why and to reassure him about his future prospects. Players want that honest communication and to be treated with that respect.
Kevin Snr is certainly living on in his son in that regard.
And that Ipswich ethos of hard work is one that will be in evidence in the coming days in Maroons camp, win or lose at Suncorp.
"We are working hard and we have worked hard since this Origin series began," Walters said.
"But one thing I do have is a lot of faith in this playing group. At the end of the day they are the ones out there putting their bodies on the line for Queensland. We'll make sure that we, the coaching and support staff, will do everything we can to make sure that on Wednesday night they are giving their all for Queensland."