He’s back! Chilled Freddy ready to lead the Blues to victory

Beneath the noon sun, on a field at Perths oldest private boys school, in front of a sideline of Blues supporters, with AC/DCs Thunderstruck pumping through the loud speaker, as his new-look team cranked up its preparations for Origin II, Brad Fittler was calmer than a Himalayan yogi.

NSW coach Brad Fittler says his team seem calmer and more relaxed than they did for game two.

NSW coach Brad Fittler says his team seem calmer and more relaxed than they did for game two.Credit:AAP

“Is Don, is good,” he jokes.


“F..king oath.”


There he is! There's our guy! Hes back! The Freddy we all know and love is back in the room.

Since the game-one loss in Brisbane, it's reasonable to say that Freddy has been quite un-Freddy, taking a few pot shots at the media and bristling at the smallest of criticism about some of his selections.

Indeed, the feeling was he was “rattled”, one of the great rugby league terms.

Its easy to be rattled by Origin but this felt a little bit like history repeating.

But if this is a team in crisis, if this is a team thats “confused”, it hasnt showed this week.

By his own admission, Fittler didnt handle the pressure in his final season at the Roosters in 2009 when his side claimed the wooden spoon and his contract wasnt renewed.

There have been fears he was about to similarly buckle at the first sight of pressure again — not a great sign considering this is his first real test since becoming NSW coach.

Whether by design or not, Fittler changed the channel the moment he arrived in Perth.

The few hand grenades thrown from the eastern seaboard have been batted away. “I love it,” he has said of calls for him to be sacked if NSW loses to Queensland at Perths Optus Stadium on Sunday night.

Reporters who settle into camp with travelling teams have a tendency to develop Stockholm Syndrome.

Every encounter with players and coaches, from training sessions to random conversations in the hotel lobby, are considered deep insights into how the team will play. We all become body language experts.

Easy: Brad Fittler has a laugh with Boyd Cordner and Daly Cherry-Evans.

Easy: Brad Fittler has a laugh with Boyd Cordner and Daly Cherry-Evans.Credit:AAP

But if this is a team in crisis, if this is a team thats “confused”, it hasnt showed this week.

“I feel that way, too,” Fittler says. “I only go off what I see — and they look comfortable."

The Blues home base for the past week has been the Hale School in a coastal suburb north of the Perth CBD.

It boasts facilities that would rival most NRL clubs, with abundant sporting fields, tennis courts and Olympic-sized pools.

Its traditionally a rugby school that hosts international teams whenever they play Tests against the Wallabies.

The NSWRL is crowing about a rugby league side muscling in on rugby's turf, if only for a week. They secured the deal because team doctor Nathan Gibbs knows the sports master, Luke Bower, who is Bondi-born and bred and a Roosters tragic.

Here, as the week flew by, as we all watched session after session and curious students not entirely sure what theyre looking at came and went back to class, the Blues prepared themselves for battle.

At the first session of the week, on a crisp Tuesday morning, Fittler was the first to bounce out of the dressing-room, stepping and chip-kicking like a kid in the park.

His players soon followed with the same enthusiasm as former Blues big man Paul Sironen cranked up the music.

Sirro, who played 14 Origins from 1989 to 1994, is in charge of the playlist at each session.

First song: The Greatest Show, Hugh Jackman. Second: Livin On A Prayer, Bon Jovi. Third: Whatever It Takes, the theme song from last years successful campaign.

Towards the end of the session, Fittler could be found at one end of the field, putting up wicked spiral bombs into the goalposts for fullback James Tedesco and winger Blake Ferguson.

“Get that into ya!” he shouted as one nearly landed on top of the left upright.

Tedesco, as you'd expect, gobbled it up with aplomb.

Fergusons hands aren't usually that reliable but, over three sessions, I didn't see him drop a single ball.

The Eels winger watched Origin I on the couch with his girlfriend, Dominique Moraitis, who he credits for turning his life and career around since they met last November.

“Never thought Id be back here, bra,” he tells me. “But here I am …”

Some have questioned Fergusons selection, however.

They ask: how does a cleanskin like Josh Morris lose his spot after a solid performance in game one, but Ferguson gets a recall despite the infamous beers-and-bets scandal also involving Josh Dugan before the decider at Suncorp in 2017? What happened to the no-dickheads policy?

But it's the omission of centre Latrell Mitchell that continues to linger.

On Monday night, the Blues assembled at Scarborough Surf Club for a searching video review of the 18-14 loss in Brisbane.

What stood out the most was Mitchells laziness – in both attack and defence. He simply wasnt engaged in the game, no matter which way they looked at it.

The Blues had issues with him around game three last year when he came into camp in a shabby state. They werent pleased with his discipline then, just as they werent pleased with his discipline and attitude for game one.

Fittler and his coaching staff felt they couldnt risk another no-show. Not with everything on the line. In Jack Wighton, they know what theyre getting.

Former Blues centre Mark Gasnier came into camp on Wednesday as the “edges coach” but mostly to work with Wighton, who plays five-eighth for Canberra.

“Hes very eager learn,” Gasnier says. “With that skill set, and that athleticism, and that attitude, hes the ultimate student. And I reckon hes the ultimate natural left centre, so Im not worried about him playing out of position.”

Gasniers involvement is telling. Part of Fittlers sell to the NSWRL when they sacked Laurie Daley after the 2017 series loss was to bring forgotten Blues greats in from the cold.

At training you could find half a side capable of winning Origin on its own: Andrew Johns and Fittler in the halves; Gasnier in the centres; Greg Alexander at fullback; Danny Buderus at hooker; and Sironen and Steve Roach chewing the heads off Queensland forwards in the scrum.

Blocker Roach could still drop a bloke with a sideways glance. He still has those crazy poker-machine eyes, and when you talk to him about what was missing from Origin I he says …well, we cant use the word in a family newspaper like the Herald.

Lets go with another c-word. Lets call it “confrontation”. Unlike the days from the 1980s when NSW coach Ron Wiley would order Roach to put on a fight on the very first play, aggression these days must be expressed in different ways.

The lack of aggression prompted Fittler to bring in former NSW enforcer/lunatic Mark Geyer to hand out the jumpers to the players on Friday night.

(Doubtless, it was an emotional night. Friday marked the 27th anniversary of the death of Alexanders brother, Ben, who played with Fittler and Geyer at Penrith. He was tragically killed in a car crash drink driving).

Geyer is pleased to see Dragons backrower Tariq Sims selected, because he brings plenty of “confrontation” to this Blues side. So does the Storms Dale Finucane.

But the person who Roach wants to see the most “confrontation” from is Knights prop Daniel Saifiti, another curious selection. He needRead More – Source

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