The Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues climbed a mountain to topple Queensland in this year’s State of Origin and coach Brad Fittler has told his players next year will be even tougher after dates were released for the 2019 series.
The Blues ended an Origin drought in 2018 after claiming their first series in four years but face the daunting prospect of beginning their defence of the shield in Brisbane on June 5, heading to Perth for game two on June 23, before returning to Sydney for the final match on July 10.
Effectively, that sees the Blues on the road for the first two games in 2019 and Fittler admitted the players had received a much kinder draw this year after winning the opener in Melbourne before wrapping up the series in Sydney to avoid a Brisbane decider.
He added the Maroons’ preparations for game one at the MCG had also been thrown into disarray with veteran Melbourne hooker and captain Cameron Smith retiring on the eve of the series while star Storm fullback Billy Slater was ruled out through injury.
“This year we had the opportunity to sneak up on them a little bit,” Fittler told NSWRL.com.au
“The fact they didn’t have Billy playing, and they didn’t have Cameron, and they didn’t have (retired halfback) Cooper (Cronk) so a lot of those players weren’t as familiar with Melbourne as they are.
“Then obviously the second game was in Sydney so to be fair we had the advantage this year and we know we need to be better than we were this year.”
“Even more so now the first game is in Brisbane and the second one is over in Perth.”
Fittler said his players had been disappointed after losing the third game of the series this year to miss out on a ‘blue’ rinse, and that he had addressed them immediately to inform them they would have to improve for the 2019 series.
“Everyone understood that, and while we really happy with our effort and playing for each other and all that, everyone was a little bit unhappy with what we got on the field,” Fittler said.
“We all know we have to improve. Next year is the harder one.
“They’re going to have a completely new team now so they’re going to be in a similar position to what we were this year.”
The Maroons will certainly undergo another sea change next year with Slater joining Smith, Cronk and former halfback Johnathan Thurston as recent retirees, and Fittler said he would still back his players to get the job done after he blooded 13 rookies in this year’s series.
“I went in this year with confidence and what gave me confidence was the way our players were playing at the start of the season,” Fittler said.
“That’s going to be the same next year.”
The second game Optus Stadium, which will be the first time an Origin match has been played in Perth, is already proving a hit for Blatchys Blues fans with over 7000 tickets already sold.
2019 STATE OF ORIGIN SERIES
Game One: Wednesday 5 June 2019 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Game Two: Sunday 23 June 2019 at Optus Stadium, Perth
Game Three: Wednesday 10 July 2019 at ANZ Stadium, Sydney