Brad Fittler and James Tedesco bounced back to silence their critics and put their hand up to continue in their roles next year and they can thank Cody Walker for helping them lead the Blues to victory.
Meanwhile, Billy Slater finally lost a few tactical battles in game three, with David Fifita spending the bulk of the decider on the bench.
Read on for the key Talking points from Origin III.
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‘True Origin player’ Ennis praises Moses | 02:59
FREDDY BREATHES LIFE INTO ORIGIN FUTURE
New South Wales coach Brad Fittler has taken back control of his destiny after finally nailing his selections in Game III.
Fittler was under immense pressure heading into the dead rubber, having lost five of his past six games and three of the past four series.
But the Blues turned up for their coach big time as his selections of Cody Walker, Bradman Best and Keaon Koloamatangi were all justified.
Walker was named man-of-the-match, Best scored two tries in a scintillating debut and Koloamatangi worked tirelessly all night.
The 24-10 victory came after Fittler bungled several selections in the opening two games.
Nicho Hynes, Tevita Pangai Junior and Stefano Utoikamanu were all axed after debuting, while Hudson Young only lasted only one more game than that before he was dropped.
Fittler has won nine of 18 games in charge of NSW, but he had to win this year’s series to trigger the 2024 option in his contract.
The 51-year-old will now take some time to consider his future and decide if he still has the “energy” to lead his state.
“I think it will be Freddy’s decision. He’s done so much for the state as a player and coach,” former Blues star Mick Ennis said on Fox League.
“He’s won three series and lost three. Yes he lost the first two games in this campaign and under immense external pressure he had to make some brave calls for Game III.
“I feel relief for Freddy, I’m rapt for him.”
The New South Wales Rugby League board are also next year considering appointing veteran Brian Smith as a coaching director above Fittler.
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Queensland Maroons Press Conference | 06:55
TEDESCO ANSWERS CRITICS IN CAPTAIN’S KNOCK
No player has been under more pressure and faced more criticism than Blues skipper James Tedesco this Origin series, but he had the last laugh in a stunning return to form in game three.
Tedesco finished with 223 run metres, nine tackle busts, an offload, a linebreak and a try assist to lead the Blues to a face saving victory and restore some much needed pride.
The NSW skipper looked on from his first touch, but it was two back-to-back plays in the second half that summed up how switched on Tedesco was.
The Blues fullback diffused a towering Queensland bomb to get NSW out of trouble before making a break past his Queensland counterpart Daly Cherry-Evans to put Bradman Best over for a try that sealed the result.
Andrew Johns paid tribute to Tedesco’s involvement in Best’s game clinching try.
“Once again, the blueprint for NSW. Got the ball to the right-hand side. Got some big men at Munster. Opened up the field,” Johns said.
“Cody Walker gets on the outside, beautiful. Tedesco gets on the outside of Daly Cherry-Evans and then the young man from Newcastle gets two on debut. Bradman Best. Great attack once again, the left-hand side.
“Cody Walker, unlocking Tedesco, Tedesco unlocking Bradman Best. And look at the young man there with a look on his face. He wanted the ball. Great to see the captain in the clear, Tedesco.”
Paul Gallen was also full of praise for Tedesco for setting the example for his side in the effort areas and hitting back at his critics in style.
“Isn’t it what! James Tedesco been under so much pressure,” Gallen said.
“He has been absolutely outstanding tonight. He’s been threatening to go through on two or three occasions.
“Got through that time to set up a try for Bradman Best. It’s come off the back of the defence.
“The defence all night has been outstanding. Queensland’s two tries have come from kicks. Other than that, the Queenslanders have not threatened the Blues. Haven’t even created an
Blues great Michael Ennis had a feeling Tedesco was going to join a long list of Australian sporting champions to produce when the critics were baying for his blood.
“I had a feeling pregame about James Tedesco,” Ennis said.
“He just showed his true character tonight. He was exceptional the NSW skipper and when I mentioned guys taking it upon themselves, I thought his second half in particular when the game was in the balance and that fear of Queensland finding a way back and fighting and hanging in there.
“Well Tedesco led the charge for NSW. I thought he was great tonight the captain.”
Corey Parker believes it was Tedesco’s effort and commitment, especially in defence that set the tone for his side as Queensland threatened a comeback in the second half.
“There were some real key moments he set up a try and made a linebreak, but defensively to get across and nullify the opportunity for Queensland to score in that right corner,” Parker said.
“Queensland were starting to turn the tide if they could just get one across the line, but Tedesco was able to get across there.
“They were the moments they will look back on. Yes he had some flashy plays with the ball, but defensively Tedesco was very good.”
Timely Teddy puts QLD to bed! | 00:45
WALKER SHINES AS SOUTHS COMBINATIONS UNLOCK BLUES
NSW coach Brad Fittler made it clear during his Origin coaching tenure club combinations would form the nucleus of his teams.
Blues selectors had long opted to select the Panthers duo of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai alongside lock Isaah Yeo.
But maybe Fittler was looking in the wrong place all along?
With Cleary sidelined with a hamstring injury and the series already lost after Game II, Fittler swung the axe and dropped Luai before shifting Isaah Yeo back to the bench.
Rabbitohs star Cameron Murray took his spot in the No.13 jersey and welcomed his trusty club teammate Cody Walker at five-eighth, while Damien Cook also started at hooker for the first time in 2023.
The move paid dividends and Walker ran riot, consistently threatening with his strong running game and connecting with debutant Bradman Best on the left edge.
Michael Ennis believes player of the match Walker was the key to unlocking the Blues’ attack, which has been clunky all series.
“It was so good to watch knowing the talk and the speculation whether he should be there and should they have gone with Nicho Hynes,” Ennis said.
“There was arguments everywhere around the selections given that NSW have been unable to find points in the opening two games of the series and Hynes and Cody Walker have been majestical with the football in the NRL.
“Boy tonight Walker just freewheeled. He just went for it tonight. Didn’t sit there and overthink it. When moments didn’t come off for him he didn’t go into his shell.
“He didn’t play frustrated and he just made the players around him better and that’s what Cody does at Souths. He makes Latrell better. He makes Alex Johnston better. He has got a great combination out on the edges with his back-rowers and centres and tonight he did the same.
“Bradman Best would be sitting in the sheds now going boy what a player. How good is it to play outside Cody Walker? The time and space and the tempo. Time just slows down when he has got the ball in his hands.
“The way that he held up the pass for Best to score that try was just brilliant ball playing.”
Phil Gould went as far as to label the Rabbitohs connection “the difference” and the Blues managed to block Queensland’s clean sweep at Accor Stadium.
“I think the South Sydney combination have been the difference tonight,” Gould said.
“You know, having Cook at dummyhalf, Cameron Murray in the middle, and Cody Walker has been outstanding on that left edge.
“Every time he gets the ball, the pace of the play changes. And he threatens the defence. He’s got Foxx away a couple of times, Bradman Best.
“He nearly got a kick try in the first couple of minutes. He’s got them bamboozled on that left edge.
“He found a try for Martin. He created space for Tedesco. He created the try for Bradman Best and got Addo-Carr away three times and he hadn’t done that all series. All of that has come off him. He brought them all to life.”
Cameron Smith goes back a long way with Walker and believes the Blues cashed in on the time and space he created for his outside men.
“I saw Cody Walker develop those skills as a young man with the Melbourne Storm in the early days,” Smith said.
“Watching him play with the composure he has the ability to come up with the right option all the time and the variations I think that’s what Gus is alluding to.
“It’s not so much programmed into you what program you will come up with. There are three or four variations in the back of Cody’s mind when he knows he will receive the football.
“In an instant whatever picture he sees from the defensive line he comes up with the right play.
“As I said his performance tonight was fantastic. He’s been in great touch for the last month. That’s why he plays tonight for the Sky Blues.”
Crucial Crichton plays hold out QLD | 00:41
SLATER’S PERPLEXING FIFITA CALL FALLS FLAT
Billy Slater won most tactical battles with Brad Fittler this series, but his decision to bench star forward David Fifita for the majority of game three came back to bite him.
There were few better players for Queensland in the opening 20 minutes than Fifita who scored a try and looked dangerous every time he touched the ball.
However, Slater took Fifita off after 21 minutes and he spent the next 50 minutes on the bench as the Blues built a match winning lead.
Had Fifita been injured it would have been a fair call from Slater, but the fact that he came on for the last 10 minutes showed Queensland’s interchange blunder.
The Maroons desperately needed Fifita’s punch and line-breaking ability as the Blues strangled them out of the contest with some desperate defence.
Fifita finished with 38 metres, two tackle busts, an offload, 16 tackles without a miss and a try, which is not a bad return for half an hour’s work.
However, the 50 minutes Fifita was off the field was effectively where the game was won and lost and Queensland were left to rue keeping arguably their biggest attacking weapon on the bench.
Slater’s explanation for the rare tactical oversight was less than convincing.
“We just thought he was looking a little bit fatigued out there,” Slater said in his press conference.
“We were doing a lot of defence and we just felt that was the right move to put Reuben Cotter on that edge. Reuben moves really well defensively, so we gave David a spell.
“When you have got eight interchanges it is really hard and in hindsight it’s hard to look back and we would love him out there more, but you can only have eight interchanges.
“We spent that last 10 minutes knowing that we didn’t have an interchange up our sleeves, so we had to roll the dice.”
CHIP & CHASE – Foxx with an all timer! | 00:38
BEST JUSTIFIES FREDDY’S FAITH IN SPARKLING BLUES DEBUT
NSW centre Bradman Best enjoyed a dream debut after bolting into the Blues side as a controversial selection for Game III.
Best helped set up a try and scored two of his own, he ran for 94 metres from 11 carries that produced a tackle bust.
The 21-year-old Knights centre was picked ahead of Matt Burton and Kotoni Staggs and he wasted no time repaying the faith of coach Brad Fittler.
“Bradman best is a big game player, wasn’t overawed by the occasion,” Mick Ennis said.
“He was open and honest this week, we crucify blokes for being outspoken but he said it how it is during the week and that he hated Queensland and I love that.
“That stuff is exactly what this rivalry has been built on and he was really impressive, really impressive.”
NSW assistant Danny Buderus added: “His selection was criticised and everyone’s got their opinion but he came out and showed he belongs on this stage.”
The Blues have their most depth at centre and next year Best will be competing for a spot against Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic, Stephen Crichton, Burton and Staggs.
Best narrowly avoided being awarded the first try of the match on Wednesday night when he was caught fractionally in front of Cody Walker’s grubber.
But minutes later he batted on a pass to Josh Addo-Carr which put him into space and led to the winger’s sensational chip-and-chase try.
Best wouldn’t be denied in the 24th minute when he scored the Blues’ third try after barging his way over on the left edge.
“Bradman Best gets a maiden origin try, he’s had a wonderful start and the Blues are dominating,” Mat Thompson said in commentary.
“A lot of negative talk early in the week about Bradman Best being in the side. But he’s been in the system in the pathways, came through 16s, 18s, 20s,” Johns said.
“He was on the radar for Game 1. Look at him. He’s a powerhouse.”
Queensland legend Cameron Smith added: “Once again that left-hand side by the Blues. They’re absolutely tearing the Maroons to shreds out there.”
Best scored his second try in the 65th minute after backing up James Tedesco on the inside after the NSW skipper made a blistering break down the middle.
“The first gamer gets another one, he’s having a debut to savour, the 21-year-old from Newcastle is relishing Origin,” Thompson said.
“It has proven to be an inspired selection.”
It’s rubbish that QLD care more than us! | 01:30
HAMMER’S DREAM SERIES JUSTIFIES SELECTION OVER GAGAI
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow was a controversial selection over Maroons veteran Dane Gagai but he enjoyed a dream series.
Tabuai-Fidow’s selection saw coach Billy Slater accused of abandoning Queensland’s famous pick and stick policy.
But it proved the correct call and the 21-year-old has now scored in all four of his Queensland appearances.
Tabuai-Fidow scored a double in the series opener including the matchwinner when he burnt Nicho Hynes and then stepped Blues skipper James Tedesco.
The Dolphins fullback crossed again in Games II and III and on Wednesday night came within a few millimetres of equalling the record for most tries in an Origin series (5).
Tabuai-Fidow will be one of the first players picked next year and has almost certainly ended Gagai’s decorated Maroons career.
Hammer keeps sensational record alive! | 00:30
WALSH BRAIN FADE COSTS QLD CLEAN SWEEP
Reece Walsh’s brain explosion that saw him suspended may have cost Queensland clinching a rare series whitewash.
Broncos superstar Walsh was suspended for swearing at referee Chris Buttler in Round 17 and the three-game ban meant he was out for Origin III.
The Maroons were missing his electric spark at the back on Wednesday night and while AJ Brimson was solid, he didn’t provide Walsh’s X-factor.
Brimson ran for 140 metres from 16 carries that produced four tackle busts and a linebreak, but he didn’t set up any of his teammates.
Conversely, Walsh terrorised NSW defenders in Games I and II and sparked several game-changing moments, after he was picked ahead of Knights star Kalyn Ponga.
If the Kangaroos side was picked tomorrow, 21-year-old Walsh would be in the squad and breathing down the neck of fullback James Tedesco.
Queensland have only completed a series whitewash once this century, in 2010, and they missed a golden opportunity to clinch a second on Wednesday night.
“Without being critical of AJ Brimson, I felt like their attack just looked different without Reece Walsh, that’s the truth,” Mick Ennis said.
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