Brad Fittler has taken a swipe at Queensland legend Cameron Smith, suggesting the Maroons captain pulled the pin on his Origin career before the start of the series because the thought of stopping 11 younger, faster debutants was simply too much.
Fittler is not about to let the Maroons' awful run of luck, including mass retirements and injuries, detract from his maiden Origin triumph.
Change agent: Brad Fittler has turned around NSW’s fortunes this year.
If anything, the Blues coach believes, Queensland "have fallen behind somewhere".
And his comments about Smith will not be missed north of the border, especially with the future Immortal to be given a rock star reception at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.
"For whatever reason he might have thought we were picking 11 players that were harder than what he wanted to take on this year," Fittler said of Smith.
"Whatever I was doing I just amped it up [with Smith's retirement] because when Cameron’s there there’s a level of focus you always need because he can have the type of game that breaks you down quite easily if you’re not on your game.
"Cameron retires and [Queensland] players are injured, I don't know why, but we can’t control that at all.
"NSW has done a really good job at winning just about everything. They’ve won all the age groups the last couple of years, they’ve won the women’s [Origin] now.
"Obviously Queensland have fallen behind somewhere.''
As Fittler prepares his Blues for a tilt at a series clean-sweep in enemy territory on Wednesday night, there is no denying his cause has been helped by the absence of Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Matt Gillett, as well as Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Kalyn Ponga at different stages.
You almost feel for Laurie Daley, Fittler's predecessor, who was forced to try and take down the Maroons megastars in recent years.
When Fairfax Media suggested he had become the Steven Bradbury of Origin, Fittler said: "Have you seen the doco they did on him, Steven Bradbury?
"He didn’t get the [gold] medal for going through and everyone falling over. He got the medal for breaking his jaw, he got the medal for breaking all his bones and he got the medal for all the build-up that went into that moment.
"He got himself into a position. He put in a lot of work and a lot of people have done the same.
"'Troddo' [NSWRL chief executive David Trodden] and 'BJ' [general manager Barrie-Jon Mather] have set up pathways, and now you’ve got blokes like Latrell [Mitchell] and Nick Cotric who are all 18 and 19 and ready to play Origin.
"When you look at it and talk about how experience is so vital in Origin, we had 11 blokes in the first game beat a team that outweighed us by how many Origin games.
"You take Cameron Smith out, who’s a really good player – he’s a vital one – but 11 new blokes took them on and beat them, and did the same the second game."
Smith's retirement just a few weeks before Origin I was the one thing that truly hurt Queensland.
NSWRL chairman George Peponis recently suggested Fittler had been "kissed on the cheek" most of his life.
"Maybe you’ve got to put yourself in the right position and you find some luck," Fittler said.
Fittler is adored in NSW while the love has even spread to north of the border with Queensland fans stopping to take selfies with the Blues coach.
"Walking around this morning … there were a few [people in] Maroons jerseys and they wanted photos," Fittler said.
"I don’t know if that’s good from the game or not."
Fittler has put his own flavour on Origin, introducing regular yoga for the players, "earthing" sessions where players walked barefoot and absorbed the minerals in the grass, and a trust session on Sunday in which they wore blindfolds. He has made the Blues more available to the media than in previous series.
There were two things he was most proud of this series, he said.
"We tried new things, and they defended for 10 minutes at the end of game two and held them out," Fittler said.
"If we don’t hold them out we’re up here fighting for the thing and everyone’s saying, ‘allowing your players to do the media might not be that good’.
"All it’s done has just shown if you take away distractions and put the team first you can do anything.
"It would be nice if some clubs took that approach on a bit more from the point of view of opening up."
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