Having shown his vulnerability, in a way few in his profession do, he then turned his attention to his players. Walters gathered them together and immediately addressed the elephant in the room.
What happened next was the defining moment in Brisbane’s season. Cobbo’s comments, and Walters’ reaction to them, had the potential to derail what appeared a promising campaign. Before a ball had even been kicked, a coach, already under pressure after his side crashed out of finals contention last year, was now having his credentials questioned.
With every players’ eyes trained on him, Walters told the gathering that he and Cobbo had privately thrashed out the issue, that it was nobody else’s concern and it was time for business as usual.
“So now Selwyn is going to go back to training his backside off,” Walters said, as the cheeky grin returned. “And I’m going back to being a shithouse coach.”
The room erupted with laughter, the Cobbo issue was never broached again, and the Broncos are one win away from a grand final.
With perhaps the exception of Allan Langer, it’s hard to imagine a Bronco you’d rather have a beer with than Walters. “Kevvie”, at least in his public persona, is always quick with a story or a gag; the court jester you imagine would be the life of the party.
“He’s always just been a really good person; he’s always loved a joke, his footy, loved a beer, loved a gee-up,” says his former Raiders teammate Laurie Daley, who has also played and coached against him at State of Origin level.
“That’s a way that he copes – but he’s also got that really serious want to win and compete.
“He’s always had that as a player and individual; he’s a bloke who is very determined.
“He’s had some heavy setbacks on the way, both personally and professionally. Losing his wife at such an early age when the kids were young [Kim Walters died of breast cancer in February 1998]; that type of stuff would have knocked him around.
“The fact he’s been able to raise those kids, do a great job with them and coach his son [Billy] at that level, get the best out of the players and make everyone feel good about themselves and get the Broncos back to being a success, it’s a remarkable job from him.”
As a player, Walters was a winner. Five of his six premierships were claimed at his beloved Broncos, while no one else at the club has tasted as much finals football. While not always mentioned in the same breath as some of his great former teammates, it took a special playmaker to become the long-term replacement for “The King”, Wally Lewis.
“He is a Bronco,” said another league Immortal, Mal Meninga. “He played for the Raiders early in his career, but he’s Broncos through and through, and passionate about it.
“That’s what you need at clubs, people who are passionate about the colours and being successful. That’s what he is. He is a winner.”
Meninga knows only too well just how competitive Walters is. When they were playing in the nation’s capital, one of the training drills was called “King of the Ring”. The coaching staff would lay out a rope in the middle of a boxing ring and the players would wrestle each other, one at a time. The victor of each bout would face a new challenger, with the last man standing when the session was completed crowned the “king”.
There was an inevitability about the result, with each challenger succumbing to the giant Meninga. However, there was one cheeky rascal who occasionally got the better of even “Big Mal”.
“The only bloke who could ever get Mal out was Kevvie,” recalls their former coach, Tim Sheens. “Even then, he couldn’t push Mal out over the sideline; he’d win by getting him to put his knee down on the ground and get him out that way.
“‘Unit’ was his nickname. He was a tough little thing.”
Meninga adds: “He is a winner; everywhere he has gone, everything he has done. Even with his coaching career, he has done really well.”
The Broncos weren’t winning when Walters returned to Red Hill with clipboard in hand. The former Maroons and Kangaroos pivot arrived in 2021, a year after the powerhouse club collected its first wooden spoon.
Things didn’t get much better in Walters’ first year in charge as the club finished 14th. After a very promising start to 2022, his side fizzled out, losing five of its final six games to miss the play-offs. If things didn’t improve, there was every chance this season would be his last.
It began with Cobbo’s podcast comments, continued with claims of nepotism about his decision to select son Billy as starting hooker, and included differences of opinion in the back office. In May, football boss Ben Ikin left the role to take up the job as chief executive of the Queensland Rugby League.
The former teammates were equally passionate about restoring the club to its halcyon days, but envisaged different paths to reaching them. Knowing the coach needed to do it his way, Ikin departed. However, no one is happier to see the Broncos only one win away from a grand final, with Walters in the frame for Dally M coach of the year honours.
“The way I saw things was slightly different,” Ikin says. “It was to reach out, look around and share different views on how other clubs and codes are doing things and try to force that in where we could so the whole program was being better.
“He didn’t always agree with me; I didn’t always agree with him. But there’s no doubt for the period of time that I was there, because we challenged each other, the Broncos were the beneficiary.
“He is deeply passionate, truly loves that club and wants to see it do well.
“Combine that with all of that deep footy intelligence he has got, having done that apprenticeship where he has all those tools to be a good coach, the Broncos have got themselves as a pretty handy leader.”
One who could end the club’s 17-year premiership drought, and be King of the Ring again.
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