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Opinion

Brad Fittler fine tunes Ferraris well, but has he learnt enough to succeed as an NRL coach?

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Expert
1st June, 2022
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Getting a read on the Bulldogs and exactly what planning, wheeling and dealing is going on behind closed doors is near impossible.

Just about every possible scenario has been thrown on the table and an array of names bandied about in terms of who becomes the new full-time coach. It has been a weird few weeks, with general manager of football Phil Gould backing one coach just days prior to his departure, the current temporary appointment seemingly certain that he is nothing but a stop-gap option, and a former Sharks mentor rumoured to not be as high on the pecking order as some people were led to believe.

Toss in former North Queensland coach Paul Green and the stories circling that the club has no intention of heading in his direction, a Bulldog favourite in Jim Dymock – whose appointment would bring many a smile in the kennel –and growing rumours that New South Wales coach Brad Fittler may in fact be interested in a return to clubland.

If anyone was to be able to lure Fittler away from the representative scene, it would be Gould, the two having a personal relationship that extends as far back as 1990 when ‘Gus’ began his second NRL coaching appointment at the Penrith Panthers.

The man affectionately known as ‘Freddy’ is certainly a big name, a successful coach at representative level and one renowned for having brought new ideas and methods into a Blues dressing room that was in dire need of them.

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Brad Fittler

Brad Fittler (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

However, while appointing Fittler would certainly be significant news, no matter which club was to make the move, the question remains as to whether it would be smart.

The 50-year-old does not have runs on the board when it comes to coaching the week-to-week grind.

Just three seasons after drawing the curtain on a 336-game career, Fittler become a young head coach of the Sydney Roosters, after taking the reins from Chris Anderson who left the position mid-season.

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Freddy made a whirlwind, undefeated start across his first month in the job and was reappointed for 2008.

However, after a semi-final appearance in his second season, the Roosters plummeted to last on the 2009 NRL ladder, lost eight of their last nine matches, and embarrassingly claimed the club’s first wooden spoon since 1966.

Across two-and-a-half seasons, he won just 43 per cent of matches and, for a club that had been winning at near 60 per cent since the turn of the new century, Fittler’s position was untenable by the completion of the 2009 season.

Brian Smith stepped in as his replacement for 2010.

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The question now faced by any club curious as to whether the former Lebanon coach might be a cosy fit for them, is whether Fittler has improved enough as a coach to be able to cope with the rigours of the NRL.

Origin is different. Very different.

State of Origin camps bring an array of superstars together. There is no focus on player development or improvement in skill sets, only the need to gel a group of men who have already reached the pinnacle of their sport and know exactly what they are doing.

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James Tedesco

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Fittler has excelled in man management at the helm of the Blues. There have been some interesting and eccentric techniques used to foster mental peace, he has handled the media well, and created a winning culture and environment that has, apart from a shock 2-1 loss in late 2020, produced success.

However, without that depth of talent and the need to bring players up for consistent efforts at least 24 times a year, would Fittler’s unique approach be so far out of step with those of the more experienced and successful coaches in the NRL, as to prove unsustainable?

Names like Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy build empires and cultures that withstand anything thrown towards them. They bunker down with their players for the long-term fight, often looking far beyond the current season and shooting for stars that most have yet to even identify.

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Fittler’s task at Origin level has been to achieve instantly, with the most talented playing stocks available and without the need to worry about the million other things requiring attention at club level.

Coaching the Blues is a little like polishing a Ferrari before heading out on a Sunday drive, while NRL success is more akin to spending hour after hour in the garage, fine-tuning and preparing for the long haul ahead.

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Bellamy is the modern benchmark in terms of NRL achievement and his lack of success in interstate matches, admittedly against a Queensland team for the ages, further highlights the difference between coaching at Origin and club level.

If the Bulldogs or any other club are indeed considering Fittler as a potential coach, the above would need to be considered.

Who knows, success may be instant. However, considering his current role and the coaching limitations we saw just over a decade ago with the Chooks, it would be a risky appointment.

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