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Return to old values inspiring Fittler's brave new era

As Andrew Johns sets out the cones for a training drill, Brad Fittler is in the middle of the field kicking a ball with Greg Alexander and Danny Buderus, while Steve Roach speaks to new Blues enforcer Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

Standing on the sideline juggling another ball is Paul Sironen, while Brett Kimmorley waits nearby to talk to Nathan Cleary for Channel 7, but also undoubtedly to pass on some tips as a former NSW Origin series-winning halfback.

Welcome to the 2018 Blues Origin camp where the biggest names are the coaching staff and not the 17 players who will take on Queensland in Wednesday night's opening Holden State of Origin match at the MCG.

Fittler's 31 Origin appearances is the record for a NSW player and his coaching assistants, Johns (23) and Buderus (21), are both in the top 10, while Sironen, whose role is team manager, wore a Blues jersey 14 times.

NSW advisor Greg Alexander also played six Origins, Matt King (9) will join the NSW camp before the match, while Mark Gasnier (12) has been called in to work with rookie centres Latrell Mitchell and James Roberts.

Roach (17 Origins) and Kimmorley (10) aren't officially involved but both have been regular visitors to training and their presence has only added to an atmosphere that oozes State of Origin success more than any series since Ricky Stuart took over from Phil Gould in 2005.

Blues touchdown in Melbounre

The significance for the Blues players is that they grew up watching Origin when Fittler, Johns, Buderus, Gasnier, King and Kimmorley were the stars of winning NSW teams in the early to mid-2000s, before the Maroons' 12-year era of dominance began in 2006.

According to NSW insiders, the 11 rookies in the team have been hanging off every word from Fittler and the other Origin legends, while the more experienced players have also embraced the new culture, which is really a return to old values.

Among the ideas Fittler has re-introduced is open training sessions and making every member of his squad available to the media for 15 minutes at the end of each session.

This is a throwback to the days when Fittler played under Gould from 1992 to 1996 and reporters would descend on the field as soon as training was over to grab the likes of Sironen, Roach, Stuart and Laurie Daley for an interview.

After all, if a player can't cope with reporters asking questions about State of Origin, how will they handle the pressure which comes from Australia's most hyped and scrutinised sporting event?

The Blues have also returned to Coogee where the team was based during the 15 seasons Fittler played for NSW and he has even re-introduced bonding sessions, although they are much more controlled than those in the past.

Fittler's NRL coaching career may be limited to 58 matches with Sydney Roosters between 2007 and 2009 but his strength is that he appreciates Origin is different to the weekly grind of the Telstra Premiership.

Despite being the most successful NRL coach of the past decade, Craig Bellamy told's Inside the NRL program on Monday that he didn't understand that when he took on the NSW role in 2008.

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Bellamy, who had never played Origin, focused heavily on structure and technique during his three years with the Blues and preferred players familiar with his coaching style and systems because of the limited preparation for games.

Daley instigated some of the changes that Fittler is now benefiting from but it was more of a gradual changing of the guard during his four-year tenure than the massive overhaul which has taken place this year.

For much of the last decade, NSW has relied on aggressive, niggling tactics aimed at limiting the impact of Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis, without success.

However, Fittler has decided to try and "out-football" the Maroons and the Blues team contains players who wouldn't have been selected in the past such, as Mitchell, Roberts, Josh Addo-Carr and Damien Cook, because of concerns over their defence.

Those players will go into the series opener on Wednesday night full of excitement and confidence because of the backing of a coaching staff who know what it takes to win State of Origin.

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