This article was first written and published for NRL.com.
When inspirational NSW captain Boyd Cordner lifted the State of Origin shield on Wednesday night, I turned to my family and said: “Finally. It’s about time I got to see a team I support lift a shield.”
Despite Queensland winning Game III at Suncorp Stadium by 18-12, the series was already done and dusted by the time the teams headed north of the border.
This is the first time since 2014 that the Blues have won the series, but more importantly the dynasty which saw Queensland win 11 of the past 12 series seems to be over, particularly with the retirement from representative football of Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.
I will always remember this series with particular fondness in years to come because it was the first time in history that the NSW men’s and women’s teams each won their respective series. Hopefully it is the first of many times this will happen.
But I’ll remember the series for a couple of other reasons too.
There was plenty of change for the Blues heading into this series, but none more influential than the appointment of Brad Fittler as coach.
Freddie is a fascinating man to say the least. Whilst he may come across as a bit of a space cadet, my own personal experiences with Freddie have revealed him to be an exceptionally kind and considerate man, who is a fountain of rugby league knowledge and has genuine passion for the game which changed his life.
During the Origin campaign there have been plenty of wild, wacky and wonderful stories floating around about his coaching techniques.
Bare foot walks now mean something to footy fans. Phone bans. Yoga. Walking to the MCG and ANZ Stadium pre-game and the players being mobbed by fans. These are all things that characterised his approach to coaching. I also won’t be forgetting his live cross on The Footy Show from his llama farm.
But what I think had the most impact was his media policy which saw players become more available to the media than they had been in any previous series.
Because of this we got some really fun content including a TED Talk on what it’s really like to room with James Maloney, a video on who is Freddie’s pet in the Origin squad and some compelling content on the Blues enjoying Love Island.
There was plenty of fun to be had, but also some touching stories to be revealed.
Michael Chammas’ feature on James Roberts was one of the best rugby league stories I have ever read and was about the impact that rugby league has had on James’ life and his promise to his brother Kirk that he would one day play for NSW.
Or another Chammas story on Josh Addo-Carr and the personal demons he has had to overcome to be one of the most talented, electrifying and influential players in our game.
Our clubs and our game can learn from this because fans are hungry to get to know and understand the deeply personal and individual stories which have shaped our heroes on the field.
It helps to humanise our players and gives fans the opportunity to better understand the challenges that some of these players have faced to be elite athletes.
Please give us more of this.
Speaking of change, there was no shortage of it on the field too.
There was plenty of focus on the ‘Baby Blues’ this series and how the 11 players that debuted in game one (and Tariq Sims who made his debut in ganme three) will be the nucleus of the Blues squad going forward.
Damien Cook was close to being my man of the series and other players like Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell and Roberts, who were questioned for their defence heading into the series, proved they were well and truly up to the task.
But equally for Queensland, with several key retirements, this series was really the end of an era. That might be worrying for some fans, but for me it’s exciting. With players available to the Maroons like Jai Arrow and Kalyn Ponga, the future looks equally bright for them.
Ponga in particular will be a thrilling prospect as the long-term fullback for Queensland.
In my view, the next couple of series will be exceptional. It will be more competitive with more evenly matched teams and I am very confident that both states will get the opportunity to celebrate series victories over the next decade.
As much as I love the Blues, I couldn’t help but be moved by the emotion of the game on Wednesday night, particularly for Slater who was playing his 31st and final Origin game as captain of the state that has meant so much to him over the years.
It seemed fitting to send Slater out as a champion as the curtain closed on not just his Origin career, but another tremendous series.
Now back to the regular season – I only wish the Blues aren’t my only team to be lifting silverware in season 2018.