Just seven names remain from Fittler's round one NSW team
At the start of the season, Blues coach Brad Fittler sat down with Greg Alexander and Danny Buderus and wrote down his team.
The team. The one, that if he was going into battle the next day, he would take with him. They did it every week for 12 weeks until they finally came up with the team that will tonight walk out on to the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Fourteen weeks on from the original team and only seven of those players will tonight be part of a new generation in NSW Origin history.
Mitchell Moses – scratched. A victim of Parramatta's woes.
His Eels teammate, Bevan French, gone too. While it was clear from day one Fittler would inject new blood into what was becoming a stale rugby league team, the names changed with every week.
Jordan McLean was in. He would have been one of Freddy's first forwards picked, but his body had other ideas. Josh Mansour was also in that category. So too Josh Dugan, who has struggled to find any rhythm or consistency in his first year at the Cronulla Sharks.
Junior Paulo, he was there. Fittler is a big fan. But he couldn't pick him because of the way he and Canberra have kicked off 2018. Fittler had hoped Paulo would partner Reagan Campbell-Gillard in the front row, but there was only room for one of them in the end.
Some started in Fittler's team, then left. Take James Tedesco for example.
He was a shoo-in for the No.1 jersey at the start of the year but his first two months of football at the Sydney Roosters left Fittler leaning towards Tom Trbojevic for the No.1 jersey. He earned it back in the last month.
Turbo Tom was also on the list from day one. So too his brother, Jake.
Nathan Cleary wasn't. Fittler wasn't completely sold on the whiz-kid from Penrith, doubting whether he would be ready to be thrown into the deep end at such a young age.
Despite plenty of talk that James Maloney would miss out in the lead up to game one, the Panthers veteran had a mortgage on the jersey from round one alongside Moses.
Then there's Damien Cook, who didn't even feature on Fittler's list until late in the piece. First it was Manly's Apisai Koroisau to wear the No.9 jersey. Then it was Cameron McInnes. But the form of Cook for South Sydney in the last month proved too irresistible to ignore.
Boyd Cordner was always going to be skipper. And Tyson Frizell was always going to be his back row partner. Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell and James Roberts all had to earn their spots through their performances. David Klemmer had to cement his in the hour before Fittler had to finalise his team.
NSW teams in years gone by have largely been picked on reputation. You can't accuse Fittler of doing so. Reputation went out the window at the selection table this year.
Bellamy sees shades of Smith in Cleary
The man who has mentored arguably the game's greatest player has handed NSW halfback Nathan Cleary the ultimate compliment ahead of his Holden State of Origin debut for NSW.
"He reminds me a lot of Cameron Smith, just playing in a different position," Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said of the 20-year-old Blues No.7.
"He's been really impressive for the couple of years he's been playing for Penrith. Even last year he would've been in the frame to come into NSW. I'm thinking, and I might be wrong, but he's going to be the halfback there for the next 10 years, he's that talented of a player. A real talented player with a real cool head.
"He's got good size about him. He's got a good defensive game and he kicks goals. I think he's going to be the NSW halfback for a very long period of time. For me he's the most impressive halfback that's come through for a very long time in our competition. He has a really cool head and defends as good as he attacks. He's an impressive young footballer."
Fittler drives home selflessness to new-look Blues
Brad Fittler has placed an enormous emphasis on selflessness throughout the NSW camp this year. It was the one major criticism of yesteryear – a perception that a culture of selfishness had seeped into the Blues setup.
Fittler won't stand for it.
He said as much in a recent interview on Channel Nine's Thursday Night Footy Show.
"It was a selfish culture, there's no doubt about that, because there was a lot of people making decisions for themselves," Fittler said.
"There's only really two cultures I think – there's one where people think for themselves and about themselves and there's one where people think about their workmates, their colleagues and their teammates."
He's told his players when they gathered for camp in no uncertain terms that selfish players won't be tolerated under his regime.
"He's spoken about it a bit," Tedesco said.
"Queensland keep winning games in the last five to two minutes in each game. I think there's acts there that players have done in the past that are not for the team. Not on purpose, but through fatigue and desire. That's one thing we've really driven into the young guys is that desire.
"They have so much enthusiasm and they won't let each other down. We know we'd do anything for the guy next to us. That's the thing in this camp, making sure we're close off the field. If we are close mates off the field we'll do anything for each other on the field."
Tom Trbojevic echoed that sentiment.
"You see in these games it's all about who plays better as a team," Trbojevic said.
"That's been Freddy's motto throughout the whole camp. When he brought us together he made us spend time together and build mateships. That's what's going to win us football games. You have to be a team, not individuals. He showed us examples of what being selfless is when you're out on the footy field and in the Origin arena."
At a team lunch in Coogee last Friday, which also included the family members of some players, Fittler told them all they were selected because not only were they good footballers, they were good people.
He said it was a reflection of their families. He believes good people possess the qualities needed to win Origin.
Blues' Jet-powered defence
There has been a lot of talk about the selection of an attacking backline, in particular the concerns of James Roberts matching up against Greg Inglis. Which is why it's interesting to note that Fittler went up to Roberts on day one of their camp in Coogee and told him that he was selected because of his defence.
Fittler prepared to think differently
We all know Fittler is a different cat. That's why he's mixed it up with some of his guest speakers. Traditionally ex-footballers come in and speak to the players to fire them up before battle. The list of guests throughout Blues camp have included former Olympic swimming champion Dawn Fraser and comedian Anh Do. He also asked the players to present each other with their jerseys on Tuesday night.
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Bronze tickets available from $49 here.