Fittler was a man under pressure this year. Now he could be NSW’s greatest coach

So, let’s talk about NSW’s biggest call of this year’s historic State of Origin series, because there’s plenty of them.

Bringing Latrell Mitchell back from the Origin wilderness?

Brad Fittler’s call to allow Tom Trbojevic to roam from right centre proved a masterstroke.Credit:Getty

Waiting until the night before the biggest game of Ronaldo Mulitalo’s life to question his Origin eligibility?

Nah, we’ll go with one Brad Fittler didn’t make.

Because after last year’s series debacle, when the Blues butchered the unloseable series, the heat this year was squarely going to be on the coach if things started going pear-shaped.

Yet the New South Wales Rugby League drew up a contract and said to Fittler, ‘sign here’.

And like that, the the type of tremor which can quickly turn into an earthquake in an Origin environment, where everything is always made bigger than what it actually is, never had a chance to start.

It might have only been a short-term extension, but just imagine what it meant to Fittler, last year outfoxed by the old fox himself, Wayne Bennett. He knew he wasn’t at his best at the end of an exhausting year, and rugby league’s greatest coach sensed it.

But right now he could quite plausibly be NSW’s most successful coach by the time this magical run ends, as the Blues walloped Queensland 26-0 to seal the series at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday night, Fittler’s first win as coach at The Cauldron.

If not for defeat in the chaotic COVID end-of-year series in 2020, Fittler would be a perfect four from four as Origin boss. Only NSW’s most successful coach Phil Gould, Fittler’s longtime friend and trusted confidant, has a better record with six series wins.

‘Maybe last year he was second guessing himself a bit with the way it worked out. This year, he’s been really dominant in what he wants.’

Just this week, the Herald asked Fittler’s star players what had changed in their coach six months on.

“I think he’s clear in what he wants to do,” vice-captain Nathan Cleary said.

“Maybe last year he was second-guessing himself a bit with the way the year worked out. This year, he’s been really dominant in what he wants.

“He gives a lot of clarity to the rest of the team. I think [there is more intensity this year]. He’s still that relaxed kind of guy, but when we’re on we’re on.”

For all the fun and frivolity which comes with being Fittler, there is also an intense student of rugby league history, particularly Origin.

“Don’t be mistaken for the quirkiness,” Andrew Johns said in commentary on Nine. “He is as tough as they come and just competitive.”

The same people who put to bed any doubt over his future bristled when game one was moved from Melbourne to Townsville due to the Victorian lockdown.

Fittler refused to bite.

Instead, he told his players the last time the first two games of an Origin series were played in Queensland was 1982. NSW won the first game, but lost the second in Brisbane and then the series back in Sydney.

So Fittler’s message: let’s make history.

He just did.

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