Brad Fittler has taken a leaf from Mal Meninga’s book. (Toby Zerna)
Brad Fittler has taken a leaf from Mal Meninga’s book. (Toby Zerna)

Fittler in enemy territory

ROOKIE NSW coach Brad Fittler will infiltrate Queensland in a bid to break the Maroons' record-breaking stranglehold on State of Origin.

The Sunday Mail can reveal Fittler is crossing the border, planning a visit to the Sunshine State to meet with Queensland-based NSW players in his blueprint to build a Blues brotherhood.

Not surprisingly, the meet-and-greet is an idea stolen from Queensland's playbook.

Former Maroons coach Mal Meninga embarked on annual trips to Sydney during his 10-year Origin reign to cultivate bonds with Queensland stars playing for southern NRL clubs.

Meninga's successor Kevin Walters has continued the tradition and now his Origin coaching rival Fittler is returning serve in his quest to topple the Maroons' dynasty in his maiden season with the Blues.

Fittler is expected to meet with as many as 10 current or future Queensland-based NSW Origin players.

The contingent includes Broncos recruit Jack Bird, front-row teammate Matt Lodge, centre James Roberts and Emerging Blues Payne Haas and Tevita Pangai Jr.

At the Cowboys, Test prop Jordan McLean and Lachlan Coote are eligible for NSW, while Titans trio Ryan James, Nathan Peats and Bryce Cartwright are on Fittler's radar.

Fittler, a NSW champion who played 31 Origin games, says Broncos flyer Roberts is in the frame for an Origin debut this season and is mindful of the power of Queensland's close-knit group.

The Jet could get his Blues shot. (Liam Kidston.)
The Jet could get his Blues shot. (Liam Kidston.)

"Absolutely James is in the mix for Origin," Fittler said.

"I know his coach (Broncos' Wayne Bennett) is a huge fan and Wayne is giving him some good coaching.

"I'm actually looking to come to Queensland and say hello to a few of those boys.

"Queensland seem to have a lot of control around their Origin program, so we can take a leaf out of their book.

"I haven't had a chance to go up there and see the NSW guys but I'll be doing that, definitely."

The Maroons are at the crossroads this season following the retirement of champion halves Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk and Fittler is determined to go for the jugular.

If any Blue understands what it takes to succeed in the Origin arena, it is Fittler. He won 17 of 31 Origin games and featured in seven NSW series wins but admits the current Blues are carrying mental scars from Queensland's ruthless decade of dominance.

"No doubt it's psychological," Fittler says. "Thurston and Cronk were a part of that. Now that they are going, hopefully there are a few less scars for us.

"The key is getting players to come together at Origin level. The benefit of Queensland is that their players predominantly come from three clubs (Broncos, Cowboys and Storm), so they know each other very well.

"It's a huge challenge but I'm not daunted, I'm excited.

"I'm only doing this because I think we can win. I wouldn't do this job if I didn't think I could make a difference.

"We have been very close in recent years, but last year there were so many of our blokes who were distracted with contracts or movements. A lot of our blokes were in the papers for reasons other than winning games.

"It's really important to make sure there are no distractions during the season.

"I can only front up and do what I know. I have been involved in Origin since 1990, I've learnt and seen a bit. I think I have a way to get a result. When the times comes, we'll have to aim up.

"We need to win the series this season - simple as that."

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