By Jeff Wall, Crikey’s rugby league
writer

In its 25 years history, one of the hallmarks of the
State of Origin has been the absolute unity of purpose within the Queensland
Maroons in good times and bad times alike.

Today the “oneness” that has symbolised the Maroons
record is rather frayed at the edges, and in real danger of collapsing
completely.

While the
fraying centres around who will be, and who shouldn’t be, the 2006 Maroons
Origin Coach, it is a division that has been evident for some
time.

Even though Wayne Bennett is no longer the Origin Coach,
his influence over the Maroons Origin processes is beyond dispute. He is
effectively the State Coaching Director, through his role with the Queensland
Academy of Sport, and his influence in Origin selections is not in dispute –
even though he is not an Origin selector.

There was a time when Bennett was “persona non grata”
with the Queensland Rugby League – during the Super League War – but his
influence in the QRL today is hardly a state secret.

And this is how it all starts to get very
interesting.

There is a group in Queensland known as the FOGS –
Former Origin Greats. In its short history it has done an excellent job
fundraising for worthy causes, such as former players who are suffering serious
illness and players who suffer career ending injuries.

But the FOGS have increasingly become a “ginger group”
in rugby league. And I am all for that! The game surely needs gingering up at
the administrative level.

The latest “cause” the FOGS have taken up, and have got
very passionate about, is the “pedigree” of the State of Origin Coach.

It is clear that Michael Hagen won’t seek the position
again, and won’t get it if he does.

It is equally clear that significant forces within the
QRL want to give the job to Craig Bellamy, the Melbourne Storm Coach.

Now Craig Bellamy has a long association with Wayne
Bennett. He was Bennett’s understudy at the Broncos for years before taking up
the Storm appointment. He is also Assistant to Bennett as the Kangaroos
Coach.
His wife and family continue to live in Brisbane and his
children attend school in the Maroons state. When his family stayed behind while
he moved to Melbourne the rumour mill suggested it was merely a “transition”
period until Bennett retired as Broncos coach with Bellamy being his obvious
successor.

Given that Bennett has been the Broncos coach since 1988
it might be a very long transition!

In recent weeks, the rugby league world has been alive
with reports that Bellamy has the Maroons coaching job “in the
bag”.

And hasn’t that fired up the FOGS!

The retiring Maroons Manager, Chris Close, fired the
first volley saying that Queensland risked losing public support “if a foreigner
was appointed coach”.

Foreigner? Well Bellamy does hail from Northern NSW, and
played almost 150 games for the Canberra Raiders between 1982 and 1992. He
joined the Broncos as Assistant Coach in 1998 before taking over as Storm coach
in 2003.

But that is clearly not good enough for the FOGS,
including the Maroons first Origin captain, Arthur Beetson, who gave Bennett
both barrels over the weekend claiming he had too much influence in Maroons
selections and processes.

Bennett and Beetson hardly swap Christmas cards. Their
falling out goes back some years and has not improved with the passage of
time.

The Queensland Rugby League has poured oil on the fire
with its declaration yesterday that, effectively, the best person will get the
job!

The FOGS will doubtless interpret that is a sign that
Bellamy is close to being a certainty for the job.

Relations between the FOGS and the QRL are at an all
time low. And that comes at a time when
the Blues have really started to assert what may be very long term dominance
over State of Origin.

Ricky Stuart might be struggling in the NRL premiership
race, but he must be enjoying the unusual spectacle of the once ever-united
Maroons camp tearing itself apart.

Given the egos involved, the brawl can only get worse in
the weeks and months ahead!

Jeff Wall can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW