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Origin-al Freddy

BRAD Fittler's earliest Origin memories are of teeming rain, fights on the old SCG hill, freakish tries from cross-bar rebounds and trips home with his Uncle Matt.

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Come Wednesday, though, he may just leave us with one of those rare warm moments. Fuzzy moments when sport moves from a contest between two opponents to a game of everlasting memories.

Not that Fittler sees it that way. When he steps on to Suncorp Stadium, he won't be running out for an ego trip. He won't be doing it for himself.

He is doing it for NSW, for the state he has led and bled for.

"All I want to do is get on board and enjoy it," Fittler said. "This game isn't for Brad Fittler. I am not coming in and trying to make a hero of myself. This is all about NSW winning."

It's also about creating a new chapter in the annals of Origin.


"There was a time when it was your world," he said. "You are playing for your state and when I finished it was because I lost the desire a little bit.

"Now I'm back, it still means a lot to me - absolutely. The team is suffering from a lot of injuries and I have an opportunity to come back and help out. To help NSW."


Fittler remembers, as a kid, being as nervous as if he was about to take the field.

"When I was about eight or nine, I remember being nervous for a week before the game," Fittler said.

"I remember going to my first Origin with my Uncle Matt when I was about 12. It was really wet and Wally (Lewis) went for a field goal and they scored a freak try.

"There was a stink on the hill . . . it was awesome."

Ironically, that was the corresponding game 20 years ago. What Fittler does on Wednesday night may be talked about in 20 years by the next generation of Origin stars.


While Queensland dominated Origin in Fittler's younger years, he never jumped on the "I hate Wally" bandwagon.

The budding footballer in him appreciated The King's great skills.

"It was always Wally who was dominating," Fittler said. "I was a diehard Blue, but the way Wally used to play . . . look, I've never hated anyone in my life.

"NSW changed their team so much, but I always looked up to guys like Chris Mortimer and I was a big Brett Kenny fan because he was such a great player to watch."


When Fittler scans the 300 top-grade games he has played, one sticks out - Game II, 2001.

"All the memories of Origin roll into one another . . . all the great wins," Fittler said. "We had some great teams in the early 1990s and in 2000 we had a great team.

"But the second game in 2001, at Telstra Stadium, I thought was probably the best game I've ever played in pretty much my entire career. I was really on my game that day.

"It all just clicked and I was really focused. I scored a couple of tries. I remember my defence was pretty good, too."


This comeback isn't an attempt to erase the memories of Alfie Langer and leave Origin the way he deserves.

"If Phil Gould doesn't ring and ask me to play, then I wasn't putting my hand up," he said.

"If it wasn't for Gus, I don't come back. It's pretty simple, but it's all to do with Gus."


People often talk to Fittler about 1995, when he led a star-studded team that was beaten 0-3 by the Paul Vautin-coached Queensland, and how it must be his worst Origin memory.

Fittler doesn't see it that way.

"In '95, when Fatty's team beat us, I actually didn't play too bad," he said. "But as a team, we were s---house."

His worst memory is of his final game -- Alf's game.

Since then, people have always had thoughts of him returning to do an Alf on Queensland.

"I won't be sweating on that," he said. "Not at all. Like I said, this isn't all about me. It's all about the team. It's all about NSW.

"Football is a great leveller and can bring you back to earth quickly. That game was only two weeks after my best.

"It's a good reminder whenever you are feeling good and you start riding your ego, you know you can be brought back to earth pretty quickly only a fortnight later."


That has been the most interesting part for Fittler: getting to know the new generation of stars he helped inspire. "When I first started, and we had those great teams in '92, '93 and '94, the team seemed to fit. This team has a similar sort of click."


If there is pressure associated with the comeback, Fittler isn't showing it.

"I don't feel it . . . certainly nowhere near as much," he said.

"I've heard people say being picked has helped to save the series and that's a compliment.

"I guess, with Darren Lockyer coming back, it is good for the sport and it is going to give everyone plenty to write about the next day. Whether that is critical or praise . . . it can only be good.

"But I know after the last game, my last Origin, it was very sad at the time when we were beaten, but it all gets forgotten pretty quickly.

"If I've gained anything out of that experience, it is that whatever happens on Wednesday, whether there is a fairytale or another bad memory, experience tells you things just roll on."