Johns: Why we love Brad’s Blues
So much for a dead rubber.
Game three turned out to be one of the great State of Origin contests.
For NSW, well if they had pulled it off, it would have gone down as our gutsiest victory.
Queensland had all the opportunity and all the possession. The Blues had Maloney in the sin bin and trailed 8-0, but then remarkably, BANG! BANG! We lead 12-8.
Ultimately, the first-half defensive workload proved too much for the Blues. Fatigue, errors and, at times, just not enough gas to muster momentum, allowed Queensland to pinch the result.
But what a series! Let's take a look at the crucial factors which saw Freddy's boys take the series.
FREDDY AND HIS MEN
The coaching staff Brad Fittler selected could not have been more perfect.
Greg "Brandy" Alexander, Danny Buderus and Andrew Johns. Brandy and Freddy have been through so much together and Brandy provided the head coach with the type of honest sounding board that only a friend can provide.
No matter what was going to take place during the series, Fittler knew that Brandy had his back completely and that any private discussions would remain that.
I have no doubt Freddy's relaxed demeanour throughout the series had a lot to do with Alexander's ability to read and relax his best mate.
Danny Buderus, meanwhile, is a champion in every aspect. Bedsy's thoughtful and kind demeanour disguises a huge competitive fire.
Buderus doesn't demand respect from others, he doesn't have to. The players gave it to him unreservedly. Danny's knowledge of what wins Origin and how to prepare to get to that place was crucial.
Lastly, Andrew Johns.
Fittler was able to tap into Andrew's obsessive-compulsive disorder perfectly. "Joey, give us some plays and attacking patterns."
Joey would wake each and every night around 2am, scribble down new formations, trick plays, attacking sequences.
When the sun rose, Joey would appear in camp. When the sun went down, he went home. Perfect!
I could never understand why we rewarded incumbency for a losing series.
Fittler and his staff pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and picked a squad on two things, form and character.
Each player selected, playing with confidence, and each player able to bring out the very best in the man alongside him.
Leaders are important, but you need the right leaders. Often in these representative teams a couple of strong personalities can fracture and divide a squad, but the leadership qualities in men like Boyd Cordner, Tyson Frizell and James Maloney has united a team full of rookies.
THE BEST OF MALONEY
Fittler stated publicly his concerns around selecting James Maloney before the series began.
Freddy made it clear that with a team full of inexperience, he needed a focused leader, not a serial pest.
Maloney has led. Without James, the Blues would not have won the series.
In game one he throws, potentially, a game-defining intercept pass, but then is able to forget about it and guide the team home.
In game two he throws the same pass, but this time it's perfect, the Blues score and the game turns their way.
To play without conscience is a rare attribute, but Maloney's ability to do this has been a huge factor in the Blues' success.
UNITING THE STATE
There was once a time when the media would just stroll into your open dressing room and ask any player anything they wanted.
Heck, the ABC's Craig Hamilton would knock on my front door and I'd happily invite him inside for a chat.
In the past 20 years things have changed for lots of reasons and the divide between media and player has widened significantly.
But Freddy turned back the clock. Each Blues session was open to the media, no player off-limits, no journalist unwelcome.
At the end of every training session the players and journalists would mix in a jovial manner, the ice has melted, the mistrust no longer evident.
And here's the thing, whether people like it or not, it's the media who write the narrative.
Journalists are open in their appreciation of how Fittler has respected them right from the moment of his appointment, and the respect has been reciprocal.
The whole narrative around this NSW team has been nothing but positive, even before a ball was kicked in game one.
The Blues team has had united support and much of that can be attributed to how Freddy has presented and sold the team to the public.