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October 4, 2017

‘Horrified’: Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga’s apology to angry forward Sam Thaiday

See that, footy clubs? See how Mal Meninga got on the front foot, phoned Sam Thaiday, admitted he made a mistake and then took calls early on Wednesday morning from the media to tell everyone that it had all been an innocent oversight and he felt horrible about it?

That’s how you handle a crisis, big or small.

Thaiday ripped into his former Queensland coach on Instagram on Tuesday night because he hadn’t received a phone call telling him he had been overlooked for the Kangaroos’ World Cup squad.

So wrote Big Sammy: “A bit of respect would’ve been nice … to at least receive a phone call and learn about selection that way instead of through a leaked report from the media on last night’s news. After dedicating more than 10 years wearing the Maroon and Green and Gold jersey, you’d expect to be treated with a bit more decency and respect. I guess not.”

Thaiday received a backlash from some fans, who told him that representing your country is a privilege, not a right. He was also criticised for not picking up the phone himself to have it out with Meninga. Then there was the minor matter of his form …

But Big Mal knew where Big Sammy was coming from.

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When this column called Meninga on Wednesday morning, he immediately admitted he had made a mistake. It turned the story on its head within the space of an hour.

“It was a complete and honest oversight,” he said. “I didn’t handle it the best way, as he mentioned in his social media [post], and I agree. I called him and apologised.

“He was doing a bit of venting. He’s had a bugger of a year, realistically and representatively wise. His club [Brisbane] say they don’t want him next year as well, so he feels unwanted. He’s given a lot to our game. He’s been a great warrior and servant for our game.

“Given my association with him over the last decade or more, he deserves more respect from me and the game. I can’t be more apologetic.”

Can you imagine any other coach – let alone one of Meninga’s standing – admitting they were wrong?

“You should have heard me on the phone to him last night!” Meninga laughed when this was suggested to him.

This is why Meninga has taken the Kangaroos from a side beaten by New Zealand three times in 2015 to an undefeated machine heading into the World Cup.

Earlier this year, he introduced the RISE initiative. RISE stands for Respect, Inspire, Selfless, Excellence. It’s a creed, not a hollow powerpoint presentation. It might sound cliched but in sport these concepts are often the difference between winning and losing.

It might explain why Meninga can solve the Rubik’s Cube that is Josh Dugan when other coaches cannot.

It might also explain why Thaiday had his nose out of joint.

He played in the Anzac Test against New Zealand in May but endured a tough personal season after that.

He was dropped from the Maroons following their game-one loss to NSW. Then he was told by the Broncos he wouldn’t be re-signed after next season.

What might have rankled Thaiday the most is that he wrote the ode to go with the RISE philosophy.

He penned it late last year while laying in a London hospital bed on morphine after suffering a fractured eye socket following a head clash with England’s James Graham in a match.

“Respect is one of our core values of the RISE,” Meninga said. “I didn’t live up to those values in this instance. I’m totally regretful and hopefully he will forgive me, but he’s venting at the moment and that’s understandable.

“Sam was a big part of it with the ode. The more I think about it the more I am horrified about my inaction to give him a call. I like to put the players first and foremost. We worked on the profile of the Kangaroos and this means a lot to me. I stuffed up here. I do have a lot going on but I should’ve called him before, not afterwards.”

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