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Meninga's style takes Kangaroos to the top

AAP logoAAP 21/11/2016 Ian McCullough

It's just over six months since Mal Meninga oversaw his first match as coach of an Australian team in transition and reeling after being knocked from the top of the world standings by New Zealand.

After creating a decade of dominance over NSW by Queensland it was only the call to lead his country at the time, that was going to prise Meninga from his beloved Maroons.

Having slumped to three successive losses to the Kiwis, Tim Sheens' seven-year reign was brought to an end by the ARL late last year, with Meninga pipping Wayne Bennett to land what he considers the No.1 job in rugby league.

Meninga's approach is poles apart from that of Sheens, whose intense style and maniacal dedication to all things league started to grate on the players.

The 56-year-old isn't a tracksuit coach, preferring to allow assistants Adrian Lam and Michael Hagan take training while he watches intently.

It's been used as a stick to beat him by sections of the NSW media but behind closed doors is where Meninga shines and players from south of the Tweed, unfamiliar with his approach have been blown away.

Family members of rookies Shannon Boyd and Jake Trbojevic found themselves joined by the coach at breakfast in the team hotel and wives with young children have been made feel very much part of the team and not a distraction.

Mal Meninga © AAP Image/Paul Miller Mal Meninga

But when it comes down to the business of winning, Meninga has left no stone unturned in the quest for success with everything from the monitoring diets to staying at state of the art facilities with on-site pitches to reduce time spent on buses factored into his planning.

It was nearly two months ago the Four Nations squad first assembled in Perth ahead of a one-off Test against New Zealand.

Big names Paul Gallen, Corey Parker, Jarryd Hayne, Daly Cherry-Evans and Robbie Farah were left at home along with Greg Bird, Andrew Fifita and Semi Radrardra.

Meninga's declaration that he was only interested in good characters and players who could be ambassadors spoke volumes.

The result has been what veterans Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston describe as the most united and memorable tour party they have been part of.

""Mal spoke a lot at the start of the year about what it is to play for Australia and I think the entire squad has bought into that," Smith said.

"It's one of the happiest and tightest knit groups I've been involved in and I think that shows in the results we've had this year."

The Rugby League World Cup in Australia, New Zealand and PNG next year is likely to be the swansong for Thurston, Cronk, Smith, Sam Thaiday, Greg Inglis and Matt Scott.

But with young stars Boyd, Trbojevic, David Klemmer, Trent Merrin, Blake Ferguson, Tyson Frizell, Josh Dugan, Josh Mansour, Matt Gillett, Boyd Cordner and Valentine Holmes in and around the team the future looks bright.

The same cannot be said for New Zealand and England who have both gone backwards under new coaches David Kidwell and Wayne Bennett.

Kidwell's side were terrible in the 34-8 final loss at Anfield and Bennett's England were widely expected to progress to the final with what they considered to be their best team for 20 years.

But despite upsetting his employers with some monosyllabic media interviews, Bennett's certain to keep his job with all eyes on the World Cup and a mid-season Test against Samoa in Canberra in May.

Kidwell's has only won one of his first five matches in charge and even failed to beat minnows Scotland.

He insists he's the right man for the job but with his team accused of lacking application and discipline in the final, some New Zealand commentators are questioning whether the 39-year-old is out of his depth.

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