State of Origin 2019 – great series under-pinned by some oddities.
That’s how I’d wrap it up if someone asked me in one sentence.
Both coaches went to the nth degree to try to do something different, mix it up a bit, throw in a few curve balls so to speak.
That’s not the normal thing in club-land, but the end product was highly entertaining. Both Queensland’s Kev Walters and NSW’s Brad Fittler were always very positive, very confident in that their sides were going to win.
They both really focused in on winning, as opposed to doing their best, going through the processes, getting their preparations right. It was more about winning. They gave their players the mindset from the very start that they would win each game and the series.
Each of them had a different method to get them mentally prepared for all that. Freddy through relaxation, composure and calmness, while Kevie kept hammering the line of belief and trust the players had in each other.
It was two contrasting styles and maybe that was needed as it is an extraordinary environment – there’s immense pressure not just on the players but particularly on the coaches.
The expectation around Origin has made it bigger than the game really. It’s turned into an event that even people not connected with New South Wales or Queensland directly, or to rugby league, pick sides.
Obviously the two states involved get behind their teams but Origin now resonates past that. We saw that with a sell-out in Optus Stadium in Perth this year; or with the MCG in game one last year; and we’re off to Adelaide next year.
So the idiosyncrasies and nuances the two coaches brought to the teams helped pull people in. They created a point of difference in the Maroons and Blues and that led people to pick a side to cheer for.
People found it fascinating – or perhaps humorous – that no-one in Queensland could talk about New South Wales … it was “that other team”, “the other side”, “those other blokes”.
Then we saw the Blues locking hands and walking in a line together on the grass of the training field, or down on the sand at the beach, in their bare feet.
It might have seemed odd to some but the players bought into it, and NSW won the series.
Now that it’s all over, discussion naturally turns to the coaches and their futures. Both Kevvie and Freddy have another year on their contracts until the end of 2020.
Both coaches are independent in the sense they are not NRL head coaches. There’s talk Kevvie might take up an NRL role and therefore would have to give up Queensland.
There’s been discussion that either Paul Green or Wayne Bennett may step in, although both are NRL coaches already.
I fundamentally believe the Origin head coach has to be separate from the clubs. It gives a certain autonomy. But I also feel that Origin coaching staff can also be working within a NRL club – we’ve seen that in the past with people like Anthony Seibold and Neil Henry with Queensland, and Roosters assistant Craig Fitzgibbon with NSW this year.
But the head coach I feel needs to be independent so there’s not that innuendo. Origin is also very time-consuming for a coach.
It’s not just that 17-man squad you are concerned with, you have to be involved with the age development teams – the Under 18s, Under 20s Origin sides. You want to keep an eye on the participation and representative programs across your state – that’s really important – and you want to have input into who is in charge of those teams.
The other element to it all is that the best way to have players learn the Origin values and traditions is to have former Origin players involved as coaches.
Freddy had Danny Buderus, Andrew Johns, Greg Alexander, Mark Gasnier, Fitzgibbon, and he has Mark O’Meley as his U20s coach and Michael Ennis heading the U18s.
It’s the same way Kevie had Justin Hodges as his assistant, after he was U20s coach previously, while he has Petero Civoniceva working with the forwards, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston helping the backs and halves, while Alfie Langer and Steve Walters, as manager, are also on his staff.
These people all know Origin well. They understand Origin, they lived and breathed it as players. That experience becomes such a great legacy for Origin and is one of the chief reasons the series is so great.
When these former players talk, they speak a truth about it all – it’s not speculation or assumption of what Origin is about. They know what it is and pass that onto the next crop of players.