STATE OF ORIGIN

Why 'crazy genius' Fittler got the nod

Brad Fittler once took his players out on to the field the night before a City-Country game and asked them to lie down and stare into the sky.

He asked them to find a patch of grass they would likely end up on and visualise what they would do the next night. It worked.

So he did it again with Lebanon at this year's World Cup. It worked again.

It sounds as loony as some of his post-game interviews, but the players who have been in his teams swear by it.

He's a crazy genius. He's not necessarily the most qualified for the job. Michael Maguire has him covered when it comes to the modern-day coaching manual.

So what makes Fittler the right man for NSW any more than Laurie Daley?

Both are likeable former players who tasted plenty of success in their playing days. Both have the respect of all involved in the game.

The players liked Daley. No one ever had a bad word to say about him. But did they really play for him?

Did they play for him like Queensland played for Mal Meninga? Did they play for him like Lebanon played for Fittler?

The NSWRL was always going to appoint Fittler as Daley's successor. The Blues officials did what any organisation should do and they looked around, spoke to the likes of Maguire and John Cartwright, but they were always coming back to one man.

Fittler's accomplishments with Lebanon in the World Cup only reaffirmed the NSWRL's faith.

A coach, with very little NRL experience, took a group predominantly made up of park footballers to within two points of a semi-final.

Fittler is the master of the short preparation. The City Origin side had no right to win this year, and barely managed to field a team let alone one capable of winning. But they did. And did so under similar circumstances the previous year.

It's about the environment he creates. Something some NSW players didn't understand until they played under Meninga for Australia.

Daley's reputation was battered in the aftermath of this year's Origin defeat. It's hardly what he deserved, especially when you consider how close NSW got to winning this year's series.

"We all but two minutes won that series," NSWRL chairman George Peponis said.

"We were 16-6 in the second game and almost had it in the bag. A couple of poor decisions were made… there were some poor decisions by some of the players and we were beaten on the bell. We were two minutes away from winning the series. There needs to be a lot more pride in this jersey."

That's where Fittler comes into it. Some say Daley paid the price for placing too much trust in his players.

But is that Daley's fault for trusting or are the players to blame for taking advantage?

Fittler won't suffer fools. He may be relaxed and will encourage a good time, but he will know when that is being abused.

"We need some of our senior players to step up," Peponis conceded.

"And I think you'll see that. We have blooded a lot of new players over the last couple of years, and as they mature and become leaders, I think you'll find they take on that role… We need to improve both on the field and off the field to beat Queensland."

He also won't be afraid to make the tough selection calls, evident by his opinion earlier in the year that Latrell Mitchell should have been picked in Origin I despite playing reserve grade in the lead-up.

"Those sorts of people are now in a position where they should be better each week," Fittler said.

"I don't know if there's a Latrell Mitchell or a Nick Cotric or an Alex Twal or an Angus Crichton or a Cam Murray. All these guys with one more off-season under their belt then they start putting a bit of pressure and maybe in two years they start putting a lot of pressure. We'll see what happens."

Fittler won't ask of his players what he won't reciprocate. Which is why when he asked the Lebanese team to focus on hydration in camp, he walked around with a bottle everywhere he went.

It's why when he asked his players to learn the Lebanese national anthem, he managed to learn parts of it despite not speaking the language.

Where the Blues will be based is still up for grabs. There was a lot of talk this year about the impact the controversial decision to stay at The Star had on their preparations.

Fittler grew up playing in an era where that sort of stuff didn't matter. They got together, they drank and they went out and played football.

Origin is now a business of its own. Preparation is paramount, especially when looking for an edge over a team that has so few flaws.

He'll surround himself with quality people, placing an emphasis on creating an environment conducive to building confidence. NSW won't lose because of a lack of desire. They won't be out-enthused. 

But there's a bunch of future immortals in a maroon jersey who will determine whether Fittler is successful. That doesn't mean he's not the best man for the job.

• Holden State of Origin Game One in Melbourne is on-sale and tickets are available at nrl.com/tickets

• Tickets will be available for Games Two and Three on Thursday December 7 at nrl.com/tickets (Game Two – ANZ Stadium, Sunday June 25th , Game Three – Suncorp Stadium, Wednesday July 11th)