Fittler the man to lead NSW
The NSW board will next week interview candidates for the vacant Origin coaching role. The decision earlier this week by the same board to stick to the policy of a full-time coach with no club affiliation was the right one.
Before we look at who is putting their hand up for the job, I must commend the board for that decision.
It was looking like they were ready to toss away the recommendations of the review and open up the coaching role to all comers. However they were not swayed by media pressure and some individual views and stuck to their guns.
Ricky Stuart led the Blues for the past two series under that policy and while we didn't win either of them, there was an increase in interest from a Blues' perspective.
The focus of Stuart solely on Origin was a success measured in so many other ways than the result. Origin is bigger than ever as is the pressure on club coaches. The NSW board could not take the risk on any coach being side-tracked from his Blues commitment because of club duties.
Let's not forget the policy was forged on the back of three straight series losses by the best club coach at the time, Craig Bellamy. He said himself how difficult it was to juggle both roles. That was reason enough for change not to mention the perceived bias in the selection process.
While that decision narrows the candidates available it does not mean that we cannot get the coach that can handle the pressure and do the job. The frontrunners to get the position are some of our Origin greats.
Laurie Daley, Jim Dymock, Brad Fittler and Trent Barrett. Another name mentioned has been former Eels and Warriors coach Daniel Anderson.
All have legitimate claims, some stronger than others. Laurie has been the Country Origin coach for five years and in charge of the Indigenous All Stars since its inception. Jim Dymock has been part of the Bulldogs and Blues in recent times, while Trent Barrett was one of Ricky's assistants during the last two series.
I think Brad Fittler would be perfect for the role.
As a former player there were few better, in fact I think Freddy is our greatest Origin player, and went on to become an inspirational leader. I know Freddy well and he has a genuine passion for NSW.
Selflessly over the last four years he introduced and has been conducting Born to be Blue clinics with youngsters around NSW. No fanfare, no chest beating, just doing the job behind the scenes. Freddy knows what Origin is about, he knows the culture and structures, and knows how to impart that knowledge to the players.
As a commentator Freddy might come across sometimes with a carefree, light-hearted attitude but there is a serious side to him and that side saw him become one of our great captains with an unrelenting attitude to win and a mental toughness that I always marveled at.
That serious side also saw him make an instant impact as the Roosters coach, he won his first five games at the back end of 2007 and took the Roosters to the top four in 2008.
Coaching Origin is different from the grind of club footy. The best players are assembled for a three-game, eight-week assault.
His coaching experience with three seasons at the Roosters, three years as City Origin Coach, as assistant to Mal Meninga with the Prime Ministers XIII and also working alongside Wayne Bennett and the NRL All Stars is invaluable.
This is just part of what gives Freddy an edge over the other names.
With NSW losing the last seven series it hasn't been easy selecting a team to get the job done. However, there has no doubt been plenty of selection clangers over that period. Picking the right players and how you use them is paramount. Forming a strong bond, which has been created over the last couple of years, will continue under Freddy whose respect among this generation of players is unquestioned.
Queensland have developed a model that see's Mal Meninga surround himself with a strong coaching team. NSW could do a similar thing with one or more of the current candidates joining Freddy as part of the Blues coaching staff.
As Mal is the face of the Queensland team, Freddy is the ideal choice to be the face of the Blues campaign over the next couple of years. As he did as a player, he is ready to give everything to making this a success. He just needs an opportunity.
I think Freddy's time has come and he is ready. Just talking to him about what Origin means and his plans for the role gets me excited. I can imagine the NSW board feeling the same when they sit down with him next week.
Freddy is the man to end the seven-year drought.