Brad Fittler has decided to walk away from his head coaching job with the NSW Blues.
In a shock decision, Fittler’s six-year stint in charge of the Blues has come to an end with immediate effect.
There had been enormous speculation in recent days over Fittler’s preferred support staff going forward and his own future in the role.
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The 51-year-old had been offered a one-year deal to continue the role he has held since 2018, despite coming off consecutive series defeats to the Maroons.
Fittler’s supposed preference to bring former NSW coach Phil Gould back into the fold was met with resistance from the Blues’ hierarchy.
Now he has taken all the decisions out of the hands of the NSWRL, walking away from the post after three wins and three defeats from six series against Queensland.
“The Board understands and respects his decision,” NSWRL chairman Paul Conlon said in a statement.
“Freddy was a legend as a player and returned to coach the team at a time when his state needed him.
“He enjoyed immediate success and his series win in 2021, which included record scorelines in Townsville and Brisbane, will go down in NSW Blues history.
“He also contributed through other programs including his Hogs motorcycle rides in regional NSW which played a big part in uniting the state.
“He holds a special place in NSW Rugby League history.”
Fittler said he thoroughly enjoyed his time coaching the Blues.
“I loved doing the job and NSW and I will always love NSW,” he said.
Over the past week, Fittler had pitched to the NSWRL Board his plan for the future.
Part of that included bringing in Gould to fill an advisory role vacated by Greg Alexander.
While the Board was yet to make a decision, Fittler has made the call himself to walk away.
Gould is the most successful coach in Blues history, but The Daily Telegraph’s Phil Rothfield questioned earlier this week if Gould would have time for a potential role with NSW.
He explained that some weeks he even misses Bulldogs games, despite being the club’s general manager of football.
“I think Gus has a lot of sway in Freddy’s life… what worries me is Gus doesn’t have time as a general manager of Canterbury to go to their games,” he said on Fox League.
“He often misses them, which is unusual for general managers, because he works for Channel 9.
“I don’t know where he is going to find the time to really assist, you know Freddy needs more than a Wednesday night helper.”
The NSWRL now needs to start the process of filling Fittler’s shoes, already calling for expressions of interest over the vacant role.
Maroons secure Slater for three more years
The Fittler bombshell comes on the day counterpart Billy Slater put any potential NRL coaching ambitions to the side and signed a new three-year deal to stay on as Queensland coach.
Just when it looked like the Blues were ready to start their own dynasty, Slater arrived as a rookie coach in 2022 and has since guided them to back-to-back series wins despite being rank outsiders.
Slater played 31 games for the Maroons and was a part of the dynasty that won eight series in a row and the flashy fullback now has the chance to make more history with a young squad that looks set to dominate for years to come.
It’s an incredible honour to be the Queensland coach. I’m excited about the journey that this current group of players and staff have embarked upon,” Slater said.
“I believe they are only getting started. From the very beginning, I was drawn to this role because I deeply understand the importance of this team to all Queenslanders.
“I’m a proud Queenslander and this team means a lot to me. It has been a massive part of my life and I’m extremely grateful to get the opportunity to help other people, not only fulfil their dream, but inspire our state.”
Who could replace Brad Fittler for NSW?
The NSWRL Board now needs to work out where to go from here as it tries to break Queensland’s current stranglehold on the Origin shield.
Names like Laurie Daley and Ricky Stuart, who have previously coached the Blues to mixed levels of success, have been linked with returns.
Other inexperienced names like Danny Buderus and Trent Barrett have also been mooted.
The one name many NSW fans would like to see appointed is Andrew Johns.
The Origin arena is different to other rugby league coaching gigs and past playing greats have shown they can step into Origin coaching, with precious little experience, and prove successful.
Names like Slater and Paul Vautin were among that group, while Fittler himself won is first two series in charge of the Blues.