Given the enormity of the task at hand for the Blues, bringing in a coaching guru who steered Australia’s women’s hockey team to unrivalled success from 1993 to 2000— including gold at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics — was timely.
“He won these sorts of games — the big ones,” Fittler told the Herald. “He had 21 do-or-die games [as Hockeyroos coach] and he won 20 of them. He talked today about a lot of the things we often talk about here; about training how you want to play. I thought this session was appropriate: everything was flat out.”
Indeed, the Blues took their preparations up a notch at their second field session since arriving here in Perth. Charlesworth ran a discerning eye over the team from the sidelines.
Much has been made of Maroons coach Kevin Walters using self-proclaimed coach whisperer Bradley Charles Stubbs during this campaign, but Charlesworth is a bona fide giant of Australian sport.
A cricketer who won Sheffield Shield titles with Western Australia in the 1970s, as well as competing at four Olympic Games with the Kookaburras, he also has a strong relationship with rugby league mastercoach Wayne Bennett.
Charlesworth highlighted the desperate final play from the 2015 grand final, in which Bennett’s Broncos lost to the Cowboys, who scored a try in the dying seconds to force the match into golden point.
It showed how every single play, no matter how small, counts.
“I felt for Wayne because they were seconds and one tackle away from winning that game,” Charlesworth said. “I faced these types of matches with the Hockeyroos. In our sport, it’s semi-finals or finals at the Olympics or World Cup. You don’t get another chance.
“We faced similar expectations [as NSW in Origin II] heading into the Sydney Olympics, when people were only buying tickets to the final because they expected us to be there.
“We played a tournament three months before and, when we didn’t get to the final, we were told we’d lost our edge. If you’re an athlete, this is why you’re here. Lose yourself in it. For the coach, though, he gets all the peripheral stuff.”
The white noise Fittler has been hearing in recent weeks can be counted as “peripheral stuff”.
He has come in for heavy criticism since the game-one loss in Brisbane, and especially so with some of his selections for this match. The manner in which players like Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker were dumped suggested there was panic in the ranks.
“They were telling me that the NSW team was announced 10 minutes after the last game on Sunday — that’s very tight,” Charlesworth said. “But that’s the caper. That’s being the coach. You have to make decisions and judgments on what you think is best for your team.
“One of the hardest things in coaching is selection. My thing was that the most important criteria for selection is current form. That’s what you have to go for. And you don’t pick people who are injured.
“But, when the game starts, the important decisions are made by the players on the field.”
Fittler said many of the lessons he learned from Charlesworth more than a decade ago still resonate with his coaching today.
“He had me believe in what I already thought: about connecting, working hard, and the important of setting up the team,” he said. “They’re the ones who do it. I’ve always been like that. We get a week here in Origin to set it up. You have to set it up so they’re not only ready but know what it takes to win.
“In his book, he spoke about the ‘10 commandments’, which were non-negotiables. When I went to the Roosters, I had the ‘seven deadly sins’. Things like kicking off inside the 10 metres and holding the opposition there. Three tackles within 20m. No back-chatting the referee … We have the same sort of non-negotiables here.”
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.