The Maroons knew it too.
It’s why they tried to wrestle their way to a series win, starting in the first game at Suncorp Stadium. It’s why NSW struggled in the first half of the decider as referees Gerard Sutton and Ashley Klein did the greatest “look at moi, look at moi” since the final episode of Kath and Kim, blowing penalty after penalty.
Fittler brought Olympic legend Ian Thorpe into the Blues camp to emphasise the importance of finishing fast.
In the men’s 4x100m relay at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Thorpe had turned second behind USA arch rival Gary Hall jnr for the final 50 metres but somehow, impossibly, with arms and legs still tired from winning the lung-busting 400m earlier that day, overhauled him in the final few strokes to win gold for Australia.
Not only did Thorpe “finish fast”, he hauled his exhausted frame out of the pool in front of the blocks to celebrate with the other team members instead of swimming over to the ladder.
“So, we worked on that all throughout the camp for the decider,” Fittler explained on Thursday morning. “It’s about finishing the small things fast: finishing sets fast, finishing halves fast, finishing the game fast. Simply that: finishing fast. Be fast.”
The Blues finished fast with Tedesco scoring in the corner with 20 seconds to go to snatch the series. They Queenslandered Queensland.
Maybe it’s just me but it sparked thoughts of this great line from the late, great Hunter S Thompson, who once wrote: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow!’”
The inspiration was something more cerebral, Fittler said. It was Good to Great, a business management book published in 2001 that showed how good companies can become great companies.
“I read it ages ago,” Fittler said. “There’s a story towards the back of the book where the coach of a high school cross-country team told her runners to not concentrate on times and results but just about running as fast as possible; running past people, about going hard to the line.”
There are plenty of NRL coaches out there who have been dismissing Fittler’s coaching credentials, just as many did when he was first mooted as a replacement for Laurie Daley, whose contract wasn’t renewed after the 2017 series loss.
Stories about earthing, breathing underwater, meditating and yoga have fed the belief that Fittler is way too funky to be a serious coach. Talk about “finishing fast” will no doubt be dismissed as self-help gibber jabber.
“I expect the scrutiny,” Fittler said. “Doesn’t worry me.”
Whatever he’s doing has worked because NSW have now won back-to-back series, the first to do so since 2004-2005. That’s not fluked.
Blues players were glowing about his half-time speech. They were blown away about him challenging someone to take control.
Blues captain Boyd Cordner, a straight shooter from the NSW mid-north coast, is a Fittler believer.
“I’m not sure if it’s the way he trained, to win like that,” Cordner laughed. “But f..k … we certainly finished fast!”
Tackling all-bar the corner post in pursuit of victory
Even in victory, the Mitchell Pearce haters are gonna hate.
Didn’t do enough. Worst player on the field. Never let him play again. Didn’t create enough chances…
Apparently throwing the long ball that created the last-minute try to clinch the series wasn’t enough for some. Origin is about the big moments. They don’t come much bigger.
He was also instrumental in setting up Tedesco’s first try earlier in the second half, instructing Cameron Murray to get into first receiver so he was at second receiver.
The idea was to position Tedesco outside of Maroons halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and it worked.
The haters don’t see these things. The best analysts in the game do and that’s why they back him.
“I’m just going to get out there and compete,” Pearce told Fittler before the match.
And he did, tackling everything but the corner post.
As revealed by the Herald, Pearce became emotional at the jumper presentation on Monday night when the players were told to talk about what the sky blue meant to them.
Surprisingly, many spoke about wanting to win for the embattled halfback.
“That’s why I did the jumper presentation the way I did — to see how Mitchell would go,” Fittler said. “It was always going to be about him, this match. He had a lot to handle. I didn’t read any articles but when I was flicking through the news feed on my phone it was all him. That’s a lot for him to consume.”
With the job done, is this the last we’ll see of Pearce in sky blue? Don’t bet. Pearce and Luke Keary has a nice feel about it, don’t you think?
Speculation mounts over next Maroons mentor
Maroons great Justin Hodges — not Wayne Bennett — is being considered as a possible replacement for Kevin Walters should the incumbent Queensland coach take the Titans job next season as many expect.
Walters said after the heartbreaking loss in the decider that he would be coaching Queensland next year, but it was hardly convincing.
He’s not a done deal at the Titans — they haven’t even sacked poor old Garth Brennan yet! — but is considered the front-runner.
Bennett didn’t exactly pour cold water on the idea of being involved, but he hasn’t so much as uttered a word about it to Souths, who we’re told wouldn’t let him do it anyway because he is still contracted to coach England next year.
Paul Green? The Cowboys won’t be letting him take it on given their current form.
The Queensland Rugby League might be scrambling for a replacement and there is talk that Hodges, an assistant coach to Walters, is being considered.
Only ever one focus for record-setting Smith
From the of Festival of Origin to the Carnival of Cameron Smith, who was never going to make a stunning comeback for the Maroons in the decider with his 400th match being played on Saturday night when his side plays the Sharks at AAMI Park.
Celebrations of the incredible milestone started in Melbourne on Thursday night with an intimate dinner.
The guest list included league bosses Todd Greenberg and Peter Beattie, Storm coach Craig Bellamy, Queensland legends Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston as well as Smith’s wife Barb and parents Wayne and Sonia.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.