Brian To'o's State of Origin award highlights ugly truth for Brad Fittler and NSW

The Blues only had one or two standout players in the 2023 State of Origin series.

Brad Fittler reacts and Brian To'o sings.
Brian To'o (pictured right) was arguably the deserved winner of the Brad Fittler medal for the Blues this year, but the winger's victory came with very few challengers after another series loss. (Getty Images)

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.

Brilliant: Papenhuyzen lifts the lid on gesture from Billy Slater and wife

'RIGHT MOVE': James Tedesco's surprise response amid 'ridiculous' furore

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.

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
Discover more of our NRL Finals coverage.

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..."

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.

Brian To’o hitting the ball up.
Brian To’o (pictured) won the Brad Fittler medal for the Blues after a strong 2023 series. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

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."

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.