Brian To'o was arguably the deserved winner of the Brad Fittler medal for the Blues this year in a series loss, but the award highlights the issues NSW faced in the 2023 defeat. The Blues were outplayed and out-matched against the Maroons this year, only winning the dead-rubber third game to lose the series 2-1.
Queensland coach Billy Slater has two-straight series victories over Fittler and his selections ahead of the series proved pivotal in out-manoeuvring his rival and the Blues. To'o won the award for best NSW player on Monday evening, but the lack of candidates is a big concern for the Blues going forward.
To'o was a mainstay in the Blues team and averaged 211 metres across the three games from the wing. His best game came in the third match, which saw him run for 258 metres and score the opening try.
However, this was To'o's only try of the series. The winger's Penrith teammate Liam Martin was arguably the only other player who could have challenged him for the medal.
Martin was devastating off the bench in the first two games and was used to add energy. This resulted in a try in the thrilling Game I loss. Eventually Fittler opted to give him a start in Game III, which saw him play 80 minutes in the Blues' win.
To'o is the first winger to win the medal for the Blues since 2008. And while there is little doubt he was deserving of the award, some NSW fans questioned whether the lack of obvious challengers around him was a good sign. Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker won the fans' choice award, despite only playing in Game III.
This highlights the dissatisfaction for the fans in watching the Blues in the opening two games. To'o won the award with the players voting 3-2-1 after each game. 'The Mole' Twitter account wrote on Monday night: "Well deserved.. but when a winger is your best player, it says a bit about the team..."
— Raiders Review with Blake & The Pork Podcast (@blakeandthepork) September 4, 2023
Definitely should have been Liam Martin.
— David Donnelley (@DavidDonnelley) September 5, 2023
This is outrageous
— Vote for Pedro (@UNofoalii) September 4, 2023
Ridiculous statement Moley. Wingers return most kicks into the meat of the forward pack, with the hope they create momentum to get the set started. To’o has more runs and run metres including post contact than most players in the game. Wingers are a bit different to the old days
— mark pisani (@26prince) September 4, 2023
Congrats but too many backs and not enough forwards on that list.
— Steven Stowers (@StevenStowers) September 5, 2023
If your best player is a winger that doesn’t kick goals, then I’m tipping you lost the series
Regardless, To'o proved to be one of the Blues' best in an underperforming team and was thrilled to cement himself as one of the best wingers in the game. "What a massive honour, I was pretty shocked, I didn't think I would receive this award," he said. "It's one of the highest awards I have ever received, I'm truly blessed. It's the biggest in as long as I can think."
While missing out on the Brad Fittler medal, Martin won the True Blue award for giving his all and showcasing the state's spirit throughout the series. Sharks fullback Emma Tonegato won NSW's best women's player.
Brad Fittler's clouded future as NSW coach
Fittler won three of the first four series he coached after taking over the job in 2018, but his record now stands at 3-3 after back-to-back losses. The 2023 series loss was particularly grating for fans considering Queensland wrapped up the victory after Game II, before NSW salvaged some pride by winning Game III.
Amid calls for Fittler to be replaced as Blues coach, skipper James Tedesco went in to bat for him recently. The Roosters star said the Blues' win in Game III showed Fittler is still the man for the job.
"It showed how good we can be when we stick to our plan and play how we want," he said, adding he was "supportive for sure" of Fittler. "I've played my best Origin footy under him. He's brought some pride back into the jersey. He brought that back. It was in a dark place."
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