In a close examination of the Maroons‘ State of Origin jumper, a small but significant detail can be seen on the upper left sleeve – four numbers representing the player’s Queensland hometown postcode. This unique feature, along with the player’s Queensland number and the Queensland flag, serves as a constant reminder of whom they are representing. As opposed to NSW coach Brad “Freddy” Fittler, who spends his summers seeking support for his state, the Queensland players are directly invested in their representation, sending a message of solidarity to their home towns.
While the NSW team dons the logo of McDonald’s on their shorts, there is no secret formula for the Maroons‘ Origin success. It simply comes down to their desire to win. In the second match of this year’s series, despite the Blues having multiple opportunities to score on the Queensland line, the Maroons were able to repel their attacks. Even when the Queensland wingers rushed in to cut off a NSW overlap, the Maroons forwards sprinted to cover the corner post.
In contrast, Queensland’s fourth try showcased their determination. Winger Murray Taulagi kicked the ball infield, with three Maroons players chasing it down. The only NSW player attempting to stop centre Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow from scoring was giant front-rower Payne Haas, who was in-goal.
Leading up to the selection for the second Origin match in Brisbane, NSW was focused on who would replace their injured half Nathan Cleary – Nicho Hynes, Adam Reynolds, or Mitchell Moses. Queensland, on the other hand, prioritizes players, particularly forwards, who are hard workers. The intensity and speed of the series require a specific kind of player – one who stays involved in every ruck, ready to support their teammates without expecting to receive the ball, and always prepared to defend against an inside pass.
NSW has been slower to embrace this approach, despite the history of Origin showing that talent alone does not guarantee victory. Storm coach Craig Bellamy, who previously didn’t fully understand Origin, later advocated for the selection of hard-working forward Dale Finucane. Freddy eventually chose Finucane in his second year as Blues coach, and NSW went on to win the series. The Blues may have Origin-type forwards in 2023, but in the second game, the key ones were injured or returning from long layoffs.
When confronted with the idea that NSW lost in Brisbane due to being outplayed by a superior Origin-type pack, Fittler defended his team, stating that they held their own “inside the scrum line” and that their front row performed like skilled tradesmen. He acknowledged that Queensland didn’t make many breaks through the middle. However, it seems evident that the Blues lacked urgency, particularly in their forward pack, which Fittler agreed with, admitting that Queensland had a stronger desire to defend their line.
Moving forward and ahead of the Sydney game, Fittler faces the challenge of selecting an Origin-style pack. Jake Trbojevic should be the first pick, with Liam Martin starting alongside him. Isaah Yeo could potentially be shifted to prop, with Cameron Murray returning as lock. Although many believed Yeo should have replaced Tom Trbojevic when he was injured early in the Brisbane match, he was sidelined due to a rib cartilage injury and did not partake in training during the Origin camp. Payne Haas, who was one of the Blues’ best players, must also be retained.
Critics have targeted Fittler throughout the Origin series, suggesting that he needed to win to secure his job. The external scrutiny seemed to affect the atmosphere within the NSW camp, distracting the players. The true greats of Origin concentrate solely on the game and not its implications, making resilience a vital trait. Fittler’s age being a decade older than the Queensland coaching trio of Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, and Johnathan Thurston, who were pivotal in the Maroons‘ decade-long dominance, has also been used against him. And if Fittler were to be replaced, retired NSW captain Paul Gallen would be a likely candidate, but he, too, could face significant scrutiny due to his ties with Nine Entertainment.
Regardless of the outcome of the Sydney match, Fittler should be retained as coach. However, he must make the right selections, including having a back on the bench to comply with concussion rules. While he has faced criticism for favoring Penrith players, one who hasn’t been called upon is fullback Dylan Edwards, who exemplifies the qualities of an Origin player with his relentless work ethic. Incumbent fullback James Tedesco‘s recent poor form may warrant a change for the dead rubber Origin III match.
Ultimately, Fittler faces a tough decision – should he prioritize Tedesco or himself? Whichever choice he makes, it is crucial that he focuses on the game and its requirements, rather than the external noise.