Blues coach Brad Fittler has gone on the offensive after the 2023 State of Origin series wrapped up, having a crack at former NSW players who he claims have attempted to drive a wedge between himself and players throughout the series. The Blues won game three of the series to restore some pride, after Queensland once again hoisted the trophy after dominating the first two matches of the series.
It remains to be seen whether Fittler will be retained as Blues coach for 2024 despite the 24-10 win in game three, spurred by the recalled Cody Walker and debutant Bradman Best. Having been criticised frequently throughout the Origin series over his selections, notably surrounding Cronulla star Nicho Hynes, who played minimal time in game one before being dropped for the following two games.
Fittler said he had been most disappointed by the criticism directed at both he and the side by former Blues players, arguing they should have felt more of an obligation to 'put the jersey first'.
“Having ex-players out there criticising and questioning you all the time, you know, support from ex-players should be unequivocal,” Fittler said. “It shouldn’t be tested but it is, constantly.”
After six years in charge of the Blues, yielding series victories in 2018, 2019 and 2021, Fittler still has a decent case to argue for his retention as coach. However criticism over his selection, most notably surrounding the likes of Hynes and Tevita Pangai Jr in game one, could still count against him.
Fittler praised those players for all turning up the game three, accepting an invitation from NSW in what he considered an inspiring show of solidarity. He said it was an 'act of bravery' for the likes of Hynes to show up, despite having only seen 10 minutes of action in total.
“The best thing about tonight was having ex-players from the last two games turn up. That says that the jumper comes first,” Fittler said.
“It was an incredible gesture considering what the media tried to portray. That was an incredible act of bravery to be able to turn up and feel part of this group.”
Fittler finds right Blues balance but too little, too late
Fittler got his team selection right in Game III with Damien Cook, Cody Walker, Liam Martin and Cam Murray all in the starting side and delivered the team extra energy from the get-go. However, Fittler still baffled fans when he opted to leave Gutherson on the bench for all but three minutes of the game.
In Game II, Fittler selected Cook as the back-up No.9. Cook was needed at centre because of an injury, which saw the Blues' game plan go out the window. Furthermore, Stefano Utoikamanu was used for 12 minutes in his debut off the bench.
Before Game III, Fittler compensated and selected Gutherson as the utility alongside No.9 back-up Reece Robson. This means the Blues only carried two forwards into Game III.
And the Blues dominated with the faster play the ball a huge factor in the victory. Despite this, fans were still left divided over the use of Gutherson.
Many felt a player, such as Gutherson, is a waste sitting on the bench and coming on in the 76th minute for Josh Addo-Carr in the Origin arena. The Eels fullback received a warm welcome rom the crowd and touched the ball twice in his short time on the field.
Fittler would have been very unlikely to keep his position as Blues coach if the Maroons achieved the first series clean sweep in 13 years. However, fans will now wait to see if Fittler gets another chance at redemption next year.
Questions will remain over a number of positions in the Blues team. James Tedesco's reign as captain and fullback will be looked at after another series loss and around the halves roles could see a change. Regardless, Fittler was full of praise for Rabbitohs star Walker for his contribution in Game III. "Cody made a massive difference and he came up with some really nice passes," Fittler said.
"We had a plan and stuck to it and other than a try at the start we got urgent in the second half. It shows how hard it is to win three games."
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