AAP Rugby

Qld proved too loyal for own good: Walters

By AAP Newswire

Loyalty proved Queensland's undoing this year, Maroons coach Kevin Walters admits.

But the Queensland mentor vowed to reward players next year if they defy a rare NSW whitewash and send out retiring Maroons great Billy Slater a winner in Wednesday's State of Origin III.

Walters claimed he had become a better coach this year after dealing with a nightmare start to life without their Big Three - retired greats Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.

Stand-in Maroons skipper Slater will join them after his 31st and final Origin on Wednesday.

Queensland are plotting to avoid NSW's first whitewash since 2000 after being hit by a string of injuries since Smith's shock representative retirement three weeks ahead of Origin I.

Walters said the biggest lesson he had learned from his horror 2018 campaign was loyalty - considered the Maroons' greatest asset - can sometimes be a bad thing.

He is still ruing a decision to bring unfit players into Queensland's Origin I camp as a show of faith.

Slater was named at fullback for the series opener despite nursing a hamstring complaint and pulled out days before kick-off, throwing Queensland's plans into disarray.

Halfback Ben Hunt (thigh) and winger Dane Gagai (finger) also carried Origin I niggles.

"It's been a different Origin series for us being 2-0 down but I have learned a lot about myself and about the team as well," Walters said.

"I have learned ... you need fit players at Origin level to be competing.

"I think in game one we brought some guys in who were not quite fit enough.

"We like to be loyal but we also have to be a little bit smarter. But when you've got four or five players that aren't fit but belong at this level it is a tough one."

It may be difficult to swallow but Walters believes having to endure NSW's second series win in 13 years has fast tracked his coaching.

"I feel I am getting better as a coach. I know results don't reflect that," said Walters who has lost his first series in his third season as Maroons mentor.

"You learn more at a time when you are under pressure. We haven't won a game as yet in the series but that's not to say we haven't been close or heading in the right direction.

"I think tomorrow night will be a really good indication of where we are at as a group."

Walters may be more frugal with the loyalty card but said Origin III form would be noted.

The likes of skipper Greg Inglis (broken thumb), boom youngster Kalyn Ponga (hamstring), playmaker Michael Morgan (biceps) and back-rower Matt Gillett (neck) will also be available next year.

Walters said they wanted a result retiring fullback Slater "deserved" but have shelved the "do it for Billy" approach with something much simpler - win.

"We always reward good performances, that's always been the way with Queensland teams," Walters said of next year.

"But we need to get that win. That's what we are chasing. We are going hard for it."