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Who are the greatest Origin coaches?

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16th July, 2023

With State of Origin finally put to bed for another season, this is an appropriate time to reflect on the coaching records of the two men in charge.

A win for the Blues in the final game quickly deflated the prevailing rhetoric of Billy Slater being the greatest coach in living memory. Brad Fittler’s achievements also suddenly didn’t appear quite so dismal, and maybe he did have a clue or two after all.

The result means they now have win records that are respectively good and acceptable, rather than genius and dunce level as they had been painted in the media.

But where do they fit in the grand scheme of Origin super-coaches?

Judging coaches on a metric of win percentage would see Fittler ranked in equal 10th position, managing nine wins from 18 games, thus a 50 per cent win record. The other men with the same percentage are Tommy Raudonikis, Graham Lowe and Kevin Walters.

In ninth place with 52 per cent is Wayne Bennett. You are probably familiar with his work.

Eighth place (56 per cent) belongs to Wayne Pearce, while seventh is held by Phil Gould (58 per cent). Younger readers, especially those who only know Gould from his Channel Nine appearances and whatever he is doing to Canterbury, may be surprised to learn that he was, by NSW standards, quite a successful Origin coach.

There is then quite a jump up to the next level of success (67 per cent), a stratum occupied by Mal Meninga, Terry Fearnley and Slater. There’s been a bit of conjecture that Slater may stand down, but I hope he continues for another series.


If Queensland can sweep that series Billy can then retire with the second-best record in Origin history, as he will have moved past Arthur Beetson (70 per cent) and Ron Willey (71 pe cent). There would also be some justice for the Storm, because if you added Slater’s hypothetical seven from nine to Bellamy’s two from nine that would give the club an overall 50 per cent coaching record at Origin record.

Currently the only 100 per cent record is that of John McDonald, who guided Queensland in 1980. Clearly this is a record that will never be surpassed.

And as we’ve recently been reminded, sweeps are rare and elusive beasts, so it seems unlikely Beetson’s and Willey’s records will be beaten any time soon.

One interesting feature of both men’s careers is that they played for one state and coached the other. This sets a precedent that could hold the key to injecting a bit of interest into next year’s series.

One of the problems with the current set-up is the lack of animosity between the coaches. Sport is drama and needs sub-plots of treachery and revenge. So, the answer seems obvious: why not get Cameron Smith to coach the Blues next year?

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 12: Cameron Smith and Billy Slater of the Maroons pose with the shield as they celebrate victory during game three of the State Of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on July 12, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Channel Nine could manufacture some feud between him and Slater with Smith storming off and extracting revenge by guiding the Blues to a series win. An angry dumped Fittler would join his mate Slater at the Maroons, possibly in the role of waterboy.


This would displace Alfie, who would side with Smith and be given the on-field role of barking instructions at the Blues. Some sort of sideline altercation between Langer and Fittler with folding chairs could be arranged. Don’t tell me that wouldn’t get some ratings!