Former Blues star Michael Ennis has torn strips out of the age-old myth that Queenslanders care more about State of Origin, after watching the Blues save face in a 24-10 win in Game III. Cody Walker marked his Origin return with a man-of-the-match performance, while Bradman Best scored two tries on debut as Brad Fittler's Blues stopped the Maroons clinching their first series clean sweep since 2010.
Ennis gave his backing to under-fire Blues coach Fittler, whose future is still up in the air despite the impressive win in the dead rubber game. The stark reality for Fittler is the Blues have lost three of the last four series against the Maroons.
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However, Ennis rubbished suggestions that has anything to do with Queenslanders supposedly being more passionate about the Origin jersey than their Blues counterparts. It has been a long-running debate that Queensland understands what it takes to win at Origin level better than NSW. The stats add some weight to that argument, with the Maroons having won 66 of the 123 Origin games played, compared to 55 for NSW and two draws.
Ennis - who played eight games for the Blues over a decorated NRL career - said it was "crap" to suggest that Queenslanders care more about Origin than NSW and delivered a passionate on-air address in the wake of the Blues' Game III victory. He argued the debate only surfaces when NSW are on the wrong side of the ledger and never when the team is winning.
“It’s crap, it really is. The fact that people say Queensland care more about Origin that us, it really is,” Ennis said on Fox League's coverage after Game III. “When NSW were dominant for periods, then everyone gets on the back of how good NSW are going and is this going to be a start of a dynasty.
“Then when Queensland get going again it’s how much Queensland love Origin more than us, it’s rubbish. “And I thought NSW showed it tonight, back in front of their home fans it was a galvanising performance.”
Questions remain over Brad Fittler's coaching future
The face-saving win was arguably the minimum requirement for Fittler's hopes of staying on as Blues coach and even that might not be enough. Despite widespread scrutiny over his future and no definitive answers either way, Ennis believes Fittler has earned the right to stay on or go out on his own terms.
“I think it will be Freddy’s decision. He’s done so much for the state as a player and coach,” Ennis added.
“He’s won three series and lost three. Yes he lost the first two games in this campaign and under immense external pressure he had to make some brave calls for Game III. I feel relief for Freddy, I’m rapt for him.”
Fittler was an immediate success when he took charge of the Blues in 2018, but his series record now reads 3-3 and questions have been raised over his off-beat selections and the use of his bench. The incredible performance from Walker has also left fans wondering why the Rabbitohs playmaker hasn't featured more for the Blues in recent years.
Walker has consistently been one of the best No.6's in the game and his return added spark to a Blues attack that failed to click in the first two games. The fact Walker had a hand in three out of four of the Blues' tries has prompted many questions of Fittler.
The Blues coach would have triggered a year-long extension with a series win but he will now have to prove to the NSWRL hierarchy that he deserves a chance to make amends. "At the end of the day, it (Wednesday's result) may have had a bearing on what the board may think because they'll decide who is going to be the coach going forward," Fittler said.
"I'm gathering they'll speak to me about how I feel and if I've got the energy and if I want to do it, so them playing well... the consequences of getting beaten by 30 would have been different." Fittler went on to explain the surprise sight of Penrith's two-time premiership coach Ivan Cleary in the NSW box, revealing that his coaching advice was invaluable on Wednesday night.
"I'm impressed with him and the way he handles games and I thought he might be able to help tonight," Fittler said. "I asked him a lot of questions... and he came up with pretty good answers." Cleary would no doubt be a target for the NSWRL if Fittler doesn't coach into a seventh series, although it would be doubtful if he was allowed to coach at club and Origin level.
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