Queensland's thumping victory over New South Wales in Brisbane must surely signal the end of the road for Brad Fittler's run as New South Wales coach. Undeniably likeable, clearly passionate and always willing to employ his own unique methods, Fittler has simply not produced the results expected of him on the State of Origin stage.
Fittler has coached 17 Origin games, winning eight and losing nine. More importantly this is his third series loss from six attempts, losing three of the last four. With Queensland claiming back-to-back titles, the Blues coaching staff are seemingly out of answers, with another long run of Maroons dominance a very real threat.
Tellingly when Fittler took over the role Queensland were in disarray, transitioning from a long run of success, and shoe-horning players into Origin roles they may not have been up to or ready for. The Blues, with a much more settled and talented line-up, certainly on paper, were expected to win and win well and in the first two years they did.
But it didn't take long for Queensland to assemble the next team of Maroons stars and with Billy Slater named coach in 2022, the Blues are seemingly back where they were when Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Slater himself were playing.
Fittler has a coaching and selection team, but as head coach he ultimately has to take responsibility for all the moves which haven't worked. In this series alone he made the ill-fated decision to select Tevita Pangai Junior for game one, the Bulldogs forward who was struggling at club level not surprisingly made little impact. He also named Nicho Hynes on the bench, used him for 12 minutes in game one before discarding him completely for game two.
For the must-win clash in Brisbane his best plan should a notoriously injury-prone and underdone Tom Trbojevic have to come off was to throw his dummy-half rotation out the window by slotting Damien Cook into the outside backs. Those of us who have never coached at such a level could plainly see that an edge backrower might make an easier transition to centre, especially in defence.
"I spoke to Cookie that ... he would have to play centre if someone went down," Fittler said.
"He did a great job.
"I'm not going to talk about interchanges, I'm not going to talk about who we chose,"
"You can't cover every position."
"It would have been a bit more interesting if he (Trbojevic) was out there but you've got to hand it to their defence.
"Rarely did we look like we were going to break them."
Slater with all his meticulous preparation, his selection mix of seasoned veterans and younger, bred-for-Origin types has out-coached Fittler these last two years. The momentum the Maroons have gained and the combinations they have forged will take some beating over the next several years, even considering the approaching retirement of veterans such as Ben Hunt and Daly Cherry-Evans. The Blues need a new start.
Fittler isn't concerned about his future in the role, as he looks to salvage some pride in game three.
"We've got another game to go so I'll worry about that," he said.
"Then we'll see what happens with 'Troddo' (NSWRL chief executive David Trodden) and the board.
"We've got a couple of weeks. We get an opportunity to tidy things up and turn things around and we can discuss it then."
Clean sweeps are traditionally hard to come by in Origin, but this Maroons team under Slater has a special kind of ruthlessness about them. The empty seats at the vast Accor Stadium for the dead rubber will not only hurt the finances, it will be a stark reminder that this series thrives on both sides being competitive. No Blues fan wants to go through another period of complete Queensland domination.
Whoever takes over from Fittler faces an enormous task and must be afforded all the time and resources needed to turn the ship around. The Maroons already have the advantage, just ask them, they are the only ones who truly understand Origin. The Blues need a coach who can put some of that belief, that passion, that do-or-die attitude into the sky blue jersey.