Brad Fittler will front the NSW Rugby League board on Friday to pitch his case for staying on as the Blues' State of Origin coach, and reportedly wants Ivan Cleary to be part of his staff in 2024. Fittler's Blues have suffered back-to-back series losses to Queensland, and many have called for a change of coach for next year.
But the NSWRL board are reportedly leaning towards keeping Fittler on after he delivered a review of this year's 2-1 series loss at their last monthly meeting in August. Fittler was told that at that meeting to come back to the board on Friday with his projected coaching staff for 2024.
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According to reports, he wants to bring in Cleary as a coaching consultant after the Panthers mentor played a similar role in Game III this year - NSW's only win of the series. Fittler's staff this season included Greg Alexander as chief advisor, alongside the likes of Andrew Johns, Danny Buderus and Paul McGregor in camp.
But Alexander revealed on Friday morning that he won't continue in the role next year. "I've just decided that that's enough," Alexander said on SEN radio.
"It's been a massive part of my six years. But it's a big commitment and I've committed elsewhere. When everything calmed down after the trip overseas, I just thought about it.
"And when Freddy asked me are you good to go again, it's not a job that you (should) hesitate on. Freddy wants to continue and I certainly wish him well."
Brad Fittler wants Ivan Cleary to help out again in 2024
Cleary was spotted in Fittler's coaching box during NSW's Game III win, and Fittler indicated at the time he was impressed by the Penrith coach. If Cleary was to fill a similar role in the 2024 series, it would only be a game-day role and wouldn't disrupt his job at the Panthers.
“I’m impressed with him the way he handles games and I thought he might be able to help tonight," Fittler said after Game III. "I asked him a lot of questions... and he came up with pretty good answers.”
Cleary later revealed: “I was really fortunate and quite humbled to be able to sit in the box with Freddy. I really enjoyed the night. I loved it.
“We played together 25 years ago and have known each other a long time. He asked me to go in and I thought it would be some good education for me. If I could help along the way then that would be good. I sat back in the cheap seats – actually, they’re not that cheap – and really enjoyed the night. I learnt a bit, myself.
“I sit in the coach’s box every week and do my role, but it’s been a while since I’ve been an assistant coach, not since the New Zealand team 10 years ago. It was a different perspective being able to sit there with all care and no responsibility.
“I didn’t do anything. Freddy was in control. It’s pretty clear that the team followed the game plan which probably didn’t happen in the first couple of games. I was really happy for him because I think he’s done a great job over the six years.”
I have no issues with all these Panthers players but at what stage does Fittler realise we have to steer away from their playing style?
Ivan Cleary as coaching consultant? Might as well just give him the reigns! 🤦🏽♂️
— Etiuate Veamatahau (@etiuate) September 21, 2023
Ivan - good.
Freddy - bad.
— Panther Rants (@PantherRantz) September 21, 2023
Fantastic news for Queensland
— Stuart Akister (@StuartAkister) September 21, 2023
Brad Fittler likely to retain NSW State of Origin coaching job
Fittler is tipped to be retained as Blues coach in 2024, but confirmation of a new contract is unlikely to come before another board meeting in late October. The former Panthers and Roosters player won three of his first four series in charge of the Blues, but back-to-back series losses to Billy Slater have taken his overall record to 3-3.
NSW women's coach Kylie Hilder will also front the NSWRL board on Friday, after making her own end-of-series presentation last month. The NSW women's team drew their two-match series 1-1, but relinquished the shield on for-and-against. There are calls for the women's series to be best-of-three next year.
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