The NSW Blues have some tough decisions to make.
Coming off a winning series, Fittler will do all he can to stay loyal with the players that got the job done last year. However, it’s impossible to ignore a host of fresh faces knocking down the door.
James Maloney and Nathan Cleary steered the side to victory last year, but Cody Walker and Luke Keary are near-unstoppable for their respective clubs at the moment. The NSW forwards dominated in 2018, but the likes of Cameron Murray, Victor Radley and Tevita Pangai-Junior are dominating now.
Assistant coach Danny Buderus is dealing with finding the balance between form and loyalty as he, Fittler and a few other coaches frequently sit down to discuss the 2019 line-up.
There is however, one selection non-negotiable.
“There’ll be no distractions, we don’t want anyone in the group that’s distracted through contract negotiations or things that aren’t going to be solved by the time they come into camp,” Buderus said.
“We want those to be put aside so that when you walk in there you’ve got nothing but the best for the group; everyone needs to do whatever they can for a short period of time to really bond and get the group to a high level of relationship.
“Style of play will [naturally] come because these are the best players in the game, but to get them to form that real pillar with each other and all those good characteristics to come together [is what will make] a good performance.”
Last year was a clean slate coming off a losing series. Brad Fittler had no problems starting a new team from scratch with 13 players earning their first State of Origin jersey.
This year, it’s much different.
“You’ve got the 13 debutants in there, but you’ve also got guys that are really banging down the door to perform and put themselves in the frame; it’s not hard to work out who those guys are,” Buderus said.
“The group from last year have really got to play themselves out of the team, which none of them have.
“Or, you’ve got to have someone that plays themselves into the team, and it looks like some have, so it’s a good position to be in.”
Whatever the final 17 is for Game One, the depth shows that NSW are in a top position as it stands with so many fighting for positions.
We don’t want anyone in the group that’s distracted through contract negotiations.Danny Buderus
Buderus just wants to put out a team that an entire state can be proud of, just like last year.
“One [series win] is great, but we really want to build something here and build something that everyone is going to be proud of,” he said.
“I think everyone is proud of the blue jersey over the last period so hopefully they can be proud for a lot of years to come.”