Stevens: Embrace The Moment
Standing in front of 38,000 screaming fans at the cauldron formerly known as Lang Park, NSW captain Brad Fittler takes centre stage as his teammates lock arms around him for his final address before Game One of the 1999 series.
The 17 players unite side by side as they carry the burden of expectation of an entire State - looking to restore their pride following a heartbreaking series loss the year prior.
As Fittler demands attention before giving his players his final word, debutant Jason Stevens stands quietly yet listens intently, but the high-octane crowd is so deafening he can't hear a word being spoken.
"I came into a side where there were a lot of debutants in 1999, but it was always reassuring having 'Freddy' and the older heads just to settle nerves," Stevens told NSWRL.com.au.
"We were in arms and he was barking orders, but I couldn't hear him.
"He was literally a metre away from me and I couldn't hear a word he was saying because the buzz of the crowd was so loud."
What resonates with Stevens so prominently is the way Fittler demanded respect, but also showed it, and how he demanded his players give their all, and in return he would do the same.
And while he played alongside a host of players whose names are firmly embedded in Origin folklore, such as Buderus, Lazarus, and Johns, it was those types of moments which assures Stevens that Brad Fittler is the right man to lead NSW into a new era.
"I played with Freddy when he was captain and he was such an inspirational player, he's a larrikin but he's very driven," Stevens said.
"He's got a great balance in the way he presents the truth to players and he's not afraid to ask the tough questions. I found when I was playing with him at Origin he was very good at encouraging the players around him and he highlights your strengths to you.
"Tactically he's been a very smart player and he reads the game so well, so if there is anyone that can get a good strategy in how to approach Queensland it will be him."
The euphoria and adrenaline of a State of Origin debut remains with Stevens to this day, but one thing that struck a chord with the former Sharks enforcer is the moment former NSW teammate Craig Wing received his first sky blue jersey.
He says the raw emotion Wing displayed when earning his first representative honour should be relatable for this year's 11 NSW debutants - and they should use the opportunity to represent their families, friends and the State of NSW on Wednesday night.
"I think they will need to reflect on the jersey and what it means to be a NSW player," Stevens said.
"I remember Craig Wing when he made his Origin debut and he was just staring at it.
"He was so emotional, and I remember thinking that's what you want, someone that knows the value of that jersey.
"I think that's something all the players could do in their own head space – just embrace that it's going to be a big moment and there are going to be nerves, but it will bring the best out of them."