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Which coach has the edge heading into Origin 1?

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Expert
2nd June, 2019
15
1040 Reads

We’re now just two sleeps away from Game One of the 2019 State of Origin series.

For weeks we debated what the teams would look like, who the Queensland Maroons would name as their captain and who the New South Wales halves would be.

But following the naming of the teams last weekend, the storyline that I have most enjoyed following has been the different approaches of the two coaches, Brad Fittler and Kevin Walters.

I wonder whether we have ever seen two such different coaching characters up against each other in a State of Origin series.

On one side is Brad Fittler, a character who revolutionised the Blues’ approach last year when he opened up camp to the media and had the side walk from their hotel to the ground in Games One and Two. It was the most open Origin camp that journalists had seen in years.

As a new coach, form meant everything. Fittler had little regard for stalwarts who may have had Origin experience but had tasted little success, opting for a very new team.

This all culminated in a series win for the Blues and a celebration of Fittler’s unique coaching techniques.

We have seen much of the same this year.

Fittler has picked plenty of players from last year as well as five debutants, who have been rewarded for their excellent NRL form.

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We’ve seen footage from camp of the team walking around barefoot and doing charity work, as well as the coach honouring his existing media commitments with his normal calm, cool demeanour.

Were the game not in enemy territory, I even expect that we would have seen the Blues walking to the ground on game night.

But could they be too relaxed?

NSW coach Brad Fittler talks to the media at Optus Stadium, Perth.

(Digital Image Grant Troville © NRL Photos).

Relaxed is the complete opposite to the ship that Kevin Walters is captain of.

The media circus around the Queensland coach started on Monday when he likened Origin to battle and declared war on the Blues.

If that wasn’t crazy enough, the next day he held a media conference where he told the media that they were not to ask any of his players about their opposition.

This led to some bizarre interviews with players and some games amongst the media to see who could get the Maroons to crack first. Cameron Munster was the first to mention New South Wales and lose the bet.

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I’m not sure what Walters was trying to achieve with this strategy.

I liken it to telling a toddler to not touch something. Their natural inclination is, of course, to touch whatever item they aren’t supposed to.

But banning the media from asking about the opposition and trying to prevent his team from talking about their opponents, surely his team wasted a lot of energy trying to avoid the topic of the Blues.

We are so used to seeing Queensland as underdogs despite their dominance over the last decade. They always have injury concerns, players are always in doubt and they genuinely seem to thrive on that underdog tagline.

Not so this year. Walters has not had a bar of it.

Kevin Walters

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Has Walters’ intense approach suited his team or has it motivated his team for a huge opening game in front of their home crowd?

In the past, intensity has been blamed for teams choking in big games. As a Parramatta supporter, the one that comes to mind is the way Brian Smith prepared the Eels for the unlosable 2001 grand final against the Newcastle Knights.

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But, of course, it could have the opposite effect and the Blues may leave Suncorp Stadium shellshocked.

By 10:30pm on Wednesday night, we will know which coach will hold the lead going into Game 2.

Will it be Fittler and his relaxed approach that helps the Blues get across the line, or will it be Walters’ declaration of war that galvanises the Maroons?

Regardless of which coaching approach will get their team across the line, it’s shaping up to be a great contest.

The Maroons have the edge when it comes to the forward battle, but the Blues’ backs may give them the advantage.

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My player to watch is Josh Morris. While he may have been picked for his defence and to help Nick Cotric limit the impact of Kalyn Ponga and Cameron Munster, he has been solid in attack for the Sharks this year and his experience will no doubt benefit the squad.