On the eve of what was meant to be a tribute to Cameron Smith’s contribution to State of Origin, NSW coach Brad Fittler has questioned whether he retired in fear of what was about to unfold.
Plenty have questioned the credibility of the Blues’ series triumph given the names that were missing in the Queensland team, but Fittler wasn’t buying it.
He questioned whether Smith, foreseeing the Blues were about to undergo a radical change, had the stomach to fight the battle.
"For whatever reason, he might have thought we were picking 11 players that were harder than what he wanted to take on this year," Fittler said in Brisbane on Tuesday.
The suggestion has been that Fittler has been blessed.
"I think George Peponis was quoted saying my life has been like that," Fittler said.
"Maybe you’ve got to put yourself in the right position and you find some luck."
The implication behind the chatter has been that Queensland, as much as Fittler, helped NSW win just their second State of Origin series in 13 years.
That he's the Steven Bradbury of rugby league, perhaps?
"Have you seen the doco they did on him?" Fittler fires back.
"He didn’t get the medal for going through and everyone falling over, he got the medal for breaking his jaw, he got the medal for breaking all his bones and he got the medal for all the build-up that went into that moment. He got himself into a position. He put in a lot of work and a lot of people have done the same.
"Troddo [NSWRL chief executive Dave Trodden] and BJ [football manager Barrie-Jon Mather] have set up pathways and now you’ve got blokes like Latrell [Mitchell] and Nick Cotric who are all 18 and 19 ready to play Origin. Cameron retires and [Queensland] players are injured … I don’t know. But we can’t control that at all.
"NSW has done a really good job at winning just about everything. They’ve won all the age groups the last few years, they’ve won the women’s now and obviously Queensland have fallen behind somewhere."
The players who have been part of previous series defeats have been asked whether this year’s triumph is any less satisfying given they didn’t do it against Queensland legends like Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.
None have publicly declared that this is any different. But Fittler doesn't care about comments, especially north of the border, that they are any less deserving.
"I don’t care. I’m not fussed," he said.
"When you look at it and talk about how experience is so [valuable] in Origin, we had 11 blokes in the first game beat a team that outweighed us by how many Origin games. You take Cameron Smith out who’s a really good player – he’s a vital one – but 11 new blokes took them on and beat them."