A chance encounter with NSW State of Origin players and legendary coach Wayne Bennett as a young child at a Rugby League clinic has inspired Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler to establish an Origin camp at the University of New England (UNE) in Armidale this month.
Fittler will take a 21-man squad for a visit on the weekend of 19-20 January that will see members of the team that claimed the Origin Shield in 2018 stage a coaching clinic for 200 children, meet the Vice-Chancellor of UNE, and learn breathing techniques from a sports expert.
Fittler said Armidale held a special place in his heart after being selected to participate in a camp there as a junior which included clinics involving Bennett, former NSW coach Tommy Raudonikis and former winning Blues captain-coach Wayne Pearce.
"One of my great memories as a kid is going to the Armidale camp," Fittler said.
"I remember seeing some great coaches there and a crop of the great players. I remember the great Wayne Bennett was there teaching NSW kids how to play.
"I don't know how many kids were there but it felt like there were thousands.
"I was only a kid but it made me feel important seeing all the stars there."
Director of UNE Life Dave Schmude said that the University of New England is excited to host the New South Wales Rugby League Origin squad at the Armidale campus.
"UNE has embarked on a 10-year partnership with NSW Rugby League and our high-performance research facility at the state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence will be officially opened in Olympic Park on 5 February," Schmude said.
"UNE is proud to collaborate with NSWRL to bring elite sport to our community and create opportunities for talented young regional players.
"UNE has a proud tradition of hosting elite and junior development sports events and regional NSW is a vital source of talent for both men's and women's Rugby League."
Fittler said he was keen to turn the Armidale camp into an annual event to ensure country kids were exposed to the NSW State of Origin team.
"While I'm coach, I'll be there every year with the team," Fittler said.
"If you're a country kid and you want to meet the NSW team, Armidale is going to be the place to be.
"UNE is an important corporate partner for the NSWRL and their campus is huge. It's an amazing facility and we're lucky that we can utilise it."