Capras coach at Maroon's camp ahead of Origin next week
CENTRAL Queensland Capras coach Jason Hetherington is back in the Queensland State of Origin fold and in his element, working alongside some of the biggest names in the game.
Acknowledging he was one of many other former Origin and Australian representative players Queensland coach Mal Meninga could have asked to help out with the Queensland squad, Hetherington took his duties as squad trainer seriously, despite the huge enjoyment and personal satisfaction he gained from the gig.
"Queensland is the best football team in the world at the moment, you learn so much in the preparation, and I love being around it," Hetherington said.
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"It is an absolute honour and privilege to be here ... Mal (Meninga) could have picked 160 other players but he went with me," he added.
Hetherington, who was in the middle of his first season coaching the Capras, will miss their Queensland Cup game against Souths Logan Magpies at Browne Park tomorrow, owing to his commitments with the Queensland squad.
The squad was in the middle of preparations for the first game in the State of Origin series in Sydney on June 5.
While disappointed he could not be there to coach his team, Hetherington said he believed the experience gained by working with Meninga, and former Origin greats Allan Langer and Trevor Gillmeister, who were also on the coaching staff, would benefit the Capras on his return.
"Alfie (Langer), Gilly and myself all get along really well and work well together - we have similar philosophies about the game," he said.
It was Gillmeister, and then strength and conditioning coach at North Queensland Cowboys, Billy Johnstone, who recommended Hetherington to Meninga to take Johnson's role as trainer of Queensland five seasons ago.
"Mal had no hesitations, and now I'm into my fifth series," Hetherington said.
Working with Meninga was insightful for the coach.
"He's got them to seven straight victories, and what he does with the young fellas is unbelievable. He has a process in place, and now in my fifth series, I am comfortable and confident with what I'm doing ... I know how the system rolls and of the expectations placed on us," he said.
The squad Meninga had gathered ahead of next Wednesday's clash was once again formidable.
"It's a good side - there's has not been a great deal of changes made from last year - the difference is the few guys who were carrying injuries and niggles last year don't have them this year, which means even higher expectations would be placed on them," he said.
Since 1980, Queensland had maintained a culture in which expectations to be your best were very high.
"That's a healthy environment to be in. When you have the whole state riding on what you do, you should expect to do your best for them," Hetherington said.
While New South Wales looked strong again this year, and would definitely put together another tight series, Queensland's expectation to achieve, along with its groundwork was key to the Maroons' success, Hetherington said.
"Our preparation is always good, Mal is very strict with it ...We've got seven straight, and going for eight, we've hit a purple patch and we have a terrific side, it's an honour to be part of it."
When The Morning Bulletin spoke with Hetherington, he was with the squad in Coolum, before flying to Sydney on Sunday. Earlier in the week, the Maroons had visited Bundaberg.
"It is very important to get to the regions - we all know what happened to Bundy...it was a really big day, but the boys appreciated it all, and realise they have a hell of a lot of support and are idolised by a lot of people - it was great."