When the first State of Origin bombshell of the 2018 series was dropped early yesterday afternoon, almost every blue-eyed fan south of the border breathed a collective sigh of relief. Not Brad Fittler.
The Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach, whose Origin preparation begun the day he was appointed last November, was in unique company when news broke of Queensland Cameron Smith's representative retirement.
"I was in Melbourne yesterday and I was there sitting with the coach Craig Bellamy when the announcement of Cameron Smith retiring from rep football (came through)," Fittler said on NSWRL.com.au's Five with Fittler. "It was quite an incredible situation to be in."
In the minutes and hours that followed, supporters of the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues rejoiced on social media; Sydney newspapers dedicated entire back pages to the promotion of a state-wide celebration. Fittler, however, was quick to see the challenge that Smith's decision poses his side.
"My instinct straight away, I thought, 'well it gets harder now,'" Fittler said. "I think while Cameron's on the field there's always a level of focus around Cameron being there so it felt like straight away, it got a bit harder.
"A lot of what I was thinking about was around Cameron being there and a lot of our defence was around Cameron being at dummy-half. It's quite incredible the influence he has over... coaches' minds, because he's so influential in a game."
Less than two weeks remain until Fittler names his side to take on Queensland in the series opener, speculation has reached a highpoint. Asked whether Smith's absence will influence his own selections, the 31-time NSW representative emphasised the need for players to handle the expectation.
"We've got to... have players that can deal with the talk and what's going on. We'll be discussing that the next couple of weeks. It's a game changer."
The move leaves neither state with a certain No.9 – while Nathan Peats is the NSW incumbent, the likes of Cameron McInnes, Damien Cook and Api Koroisau have all been touted as possible replacements. It's a good headache for a new coach to have.
"They're all strong and fit and healthy," Fittler said. "It's the best possible position I think NSW have been in in that department for a long time.
"On the other hand, they (Queensland) are going to have a hooker that doesn't have the combinations that Cameron had with all the important players so that's going to obviously be very interesting."
The 2018 Holden State of Origin series will kick off on Wednesday, 6 June at the MCG, with NSW fans encouraged to show their support by purchasing a ticket with the Blatchys Blues.