It is not uncommon for coaches to approach headquarters to highlight concerns, although it is unusual to do so before the first game of an Origin series.
At least part of Fittler’s concerns came true: The Maroons’ kicking pressure on Cleary ran along the finest lines. Penalties could have been awarded three times, but they didn’t.
Speaking to Maxwell a few days after the loss, Fittler complained about the late hits on Cleary, as well as prop Junior Paulo being held in the scrum when Queensland halfback Daly Cherry-Evans made a critical attempt early in the second half. .
Maxwell listened but gave little in the way as Fittler left unimpressed, and you can bet this will be a big part of the Blues’ approach to game two at Optus Stadium in Perth on Sunday night.
In other words, if NSW wants to win this series, they’re going to have to deal with everything that’s against them – at least in their minds. It’s the classic siege mentality, straight out of the Queensland playbook.
It is a different course than previous years under Fittler.
The Blues are usually at their best when they are frontrunners and enjoy scoring points early before Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell score.
With those two Ferraris parked in the garage due to injury and COVID-19, and now a game behind them, NSW will have to fight and test the referee’s patience, as the Maroons did in Sydney.
NSW Captain James Tedesco telegraphed sentiment last week when he told Herald he should channel his ‘inner Cameron Smith’ and manipulate the referee.
“I think maybe I should,” Tedesco said. †[Klein] No penalty given for 60 minutes [in Origin I]† He just let the game flow, but you can’t just let them come all over you.”
This is Fittler’s toughest question since he became a coach in 2018.
His methods and selections are screwed up like never before, which is strange for a man who has won three of the last four series and lost just five games in total.
Two of those games were dead rubbers, while in all games the margin was less than a converted try with the Blues on the attack, pushing the Queensland line as time went on.
Fittler was big enough to admit after the 2020 series loss that he was “out-coached” by Wayne Bennett and deep down you suspect he might feel the same about Billy Slater’s Queensland trio, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston in game one.
Since making seven changes to the beaten team in Sydney, Fittler has been accused of “panic”.
The truth is that he has chosen a side capable of improving the series.
Bulldogs star Matt Burton will play center left but offers Cleary a second kick option by deploying spiral bombs like the ones that terrorized the back three of the Wests Tigers on Sunday.
Penrith Api Koroisau and Damien Cook deliver the one-two punch that Ben Hunt and Grant Queensland gave in game one. It won’t be surprising if he starts the match.
Fittler is big enough to admit he was wrong in overlooking Jake Trbojevic for the first game and the Sea Eagles center forward will most likely start now.
Angus Crichton and Siosifa Talakai are the risky selections. Crichton has been in patchy form for the Roosters, while Talakai has to make the fairly big step from the NRL to Origin football, which was played at a feverish pace in game one.
The only roster that NSW has no control over is the umpire. Chances are, Klein will get the whistle for game two with an announcement expected Tuesday.
It will be a concern for NSW fans if Fittler allows too much headroom for the officials.
Only the paranoid survive – but they only survive if they win.
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