The untold stories of how Fittler transformed the Blues
It was a Tuesday morning a few weeks ago.
About 36 hours after the rest of the country knew which 17 players would represent Queensland in the opening game of the State of Origin series.
Brad Fittler walked up to Blues football manager Peter Parr and asked him: "Who'd they pick?".
Parr looked at him. Wondering whether the coach of NSW was seriously asking that question.
Of course he was. Parr told him.
"He just paused for a few seconds, thought about it and said, 'yeah, good team'," Parr recalls.
"That was it. That's all he said."
Six days later, a few of the NSW players were talking in the lobby of their Melbourne hotel about how different things had been under the tutelage of Fittler.
"We haven't even done any video on Queensland yet," one player said.
That was 48 hours before kick-off at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
"It's true. We didn't talk about Queensland really. None of us kept tabs on what they were doing," Fittler's advisor Greg Alexander said on Monday.
In previous years NSW pored over hours of footage trying to uncover ways to bring down the Maroons.
This was always about New South Wales. It was always about finding a way to win, not a way not to lose.
"We met with the 10 Kangaroos players after the World Cup for dinner in December," Alexander said.
"The big thing to come out of that meeting for us was that the players felt that Queensland would almost taunt them about their inability to score points.
"From that day we knew we had to pick guys who could score points, because that probably let us down in the past."
Two months earlier, Fittler walked into a private room at The Star casino in Sydney, the same venue he would later meet with the players in December, to present to the NSWRL board.
To sell himself as the next NSW Blues coach.
"I stole a line from the great Bullfrog (legendary Bulldogs boss Peter Moore)," Fittler said.
"He used to talk about 'the club, the team, the player'. That's what I told them. But in the end there was no real convincing needed because I think everyone pulled out of the race.
"I think the day I got the job Madge (Michael Maguire) pulled out of the meeting. Whether he thought I was just getting the job and his time was being wasted, I don't know. I never really had to convince anyone in the end."
Maguire knew what was about to unfold. The truth was, Fittler could have walked into that board meeting and provided each director with a photo album of his pet llamas and he would have still walked away as Laurie Daley's successor, such was the opinion of Fittler amongst those that mattered.
It's hard not to feel sorry for Daley. He cut a lonely figure leaving ANZ Stadium on Sunday night knowing that he probably should have been experiencing the same feeling of jubilation 12 months earlier if his team iced the key moments.
In the end, one series win in five years just wasn't good enough. But it almost was.
The NSWRL board had decided before last series that Daley would have to lead NSW to victory in 2017 to earn a contract extension.
Some in the organisation felt that because he got so close, he deserved another chance. And he was about to be given another year, but director Ray Dib stood up at the meeting to decide Daley's future and questioned why the board was going against its original plan.
Dib told the board that he would stand down from his role should they agree to give Daley another year.
He believed it was time for change. Time for new faces. A new culture. And by the end of that meeting he convinced enough directors to side with him.
It was at a time when the culture of the organisation was under the microscope. There was a belief that Daley had allowed a selfish culture to develop under his watch.
Not because he had those characteristics, but because he wasn't able to identify and control those characteristics in others.
For example, the most iconic moment in NSW Origin the past 15 years is the image of Jarryd Hayne in 2014 with his arms stretched out over Blatchey's Blues like Christ the Redeemer over Rio de Janeiro.
Fittler showed his players that vision and many other examples of what he didn't want to see. He wanted selfless players who put the team before themselves.
From day one Fittler told his closest advisors, including Alexander, Danny Buderus, Andrew Johns and Phil Gould, of his good guy policy. He wanted to pick players that NSW supporters wanted to see, not see fail.
"I think a lot of it, in terms of culture, a lot of that is around the side you pick," Alexander said.
"Freddy set his standard and he knew what he wanted but you had to have players who were going to buy into it. The players are the one who set the culture."
One of the first things Fittler did was scrap the getaway camps in northern NSW. Daley used it during his time to allow his players to get away from 'it'.
Fittler wanted his players to get amongst 'it'. He wanted them to feel the pressure. He wanted them understand the enormity of the occasion and be part of the hype.
He didn't care about the potential distractions, because he picked a team he could trust. Good people first, good players second. That's what he told the families of all the players at a luncheon in Coogee before game one.
"I had done the motorbike rides with him before, and those rides were important because he worked out what people want from our game," his assistant and former NSW captain Danny Buderus said.
"He could see that NSW wanted a team to be proud of, and that necessarily wasn't all about results. Freddy drove that hard. He convinced me that's what we needed to do. That we needed to get the team and the state to connect again.
"He wanted to connect everyone again. He wanted the players to be all connected. That's Freddy's way of doing things. He just wanted to do it his way. And his way is different."
That's why the Blues have walked to both games this series. That's why they have opened the doors to the media and allowed the stories to be told.
"On the first day of camp he got everyone together," Buderus said.
"He said just know that when you're speaking to the media, you're speaking to the six or eight year-old out there who wants to be the next NSW Blues player. The six or eight-year-old who wants to be the next you."
Because he was new to the role, and in anticipation for wholesale changes to the side, Fittler rarely met with players as a group.
"I did it once with the Australian players after the World Cup," he admitted.
"That was the only time we ever met up."
Five-eighth James Maloney was at The Star for dinner that night. And despite coming off a World Cup triumph with the Kangaroos, each player in that room knew they had to earn their spot in the NSW side under Fittler.
"He told us that the opportunity is there for you to play well and be in the side," Maloney said.
"But he wanted us to be aware that it was going to be picked on form. Everyone knows with Freddy there are no guarantees. He told us that from the start."
And there he was on Sunday night. True to his word from start to finish. Soaking in the moment with a smile on his face. Not acting like a rockstar. He simply raised a peace symbol to his partner, Marie, in the stands. Job done.
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Origin at Suncorp, there's nothing like it! Game III tickets available here