The real physical and mental toll of an Origin outing

“Freddy [Brad Fittler] was just saying the other day, ‘My God, these players are so much better than us,'” Blues high performance manager Hayden Knowles said. “It was in a physical way and [referencing] how much work and training they have to do.

“You can’t do the brutal things that used to happen before, but in other ways it’s taken to new levels every year.”

Brad Fittler can only marvel at how physical Origin has changed since his playing days.Credit:NRL Imaging

Players get bigger and faster with each passing year, and collisions that generate a G-force similar to car crashes, lead to scenes like Scott suddenly collapsing in the bowels of Suncorp Stadium.

“The players come out at half-time and they’re on the pitch, they’re exhausted,” says veteran NSW doctor Nathan Gibbs, after splitting his 21 years in the Blues team between Fittler’s heyday in the 90s and the last decade.

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“Invariably, coaches tell them, ‘The guys in the other locker room are the same.’ fights to advance an extra yard and get a fastball game against two, three and four players who fight for the exact opposite.

“It’s a little moment in the game and then repeat it over and over until one mistake breaks something. All that effort, all that force in the collision and it’s done at a speed that you don’t see anywhere else.

Throughout his own Origin career, former Blues assistant turned Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon was renowned for his most devastating efforts – making all six tackles in an Origin set in 2004, and a record 59 tackles l ‘Next year.

Beyond the obvious physical condition required, “a player’s mind and heart” will push them through rarefied air, he says.

But as Gibbs points out, the effort a player puts in will be the same as winning or losing, resulting in “absolute exhilaration if you win and utter depression if you lose, in addition to absolute exhaustion”.

That’s why the mental toll of an Origin campaign can linger long after the physical has ended.

State of Origin even takes the game's elite athletes like James Tedesco to rare places.

State of Origin even takes the game’s elite athletes like James Tedesco to rare places.Credit:Getty

“Everyone handles it differently,” Fitzgibbon says. “As a coach, Origin makes your player better when he comes back to your club. But you have to pay taxes on it.

After having nine Broncos involved in the 2006 Origin Series, when captain Darren Lockyer was among those playing for their rep careers, Wayne Bennett gave his team a week off, with half the team traveling to Phuket for vacation.

In the short term it didn’t work out – Brisbane lost five games in a row either side of their break. Further down the road, they won the premiership.

“There’s absolutely a decline, you can only stay up so long,” Fitzgibbon says. “But Ricky Stuart and Phil Gould always made it clear to us that being an Origin player was not just about playing at that level, it was about coming back to your club team and being an Origin player at that level.

“Some players, you have to hold them back for their own good. Then other times you see an absolute champion take that into account and play some of their best games of their career. With all aspects, physical, mental, emotional, it’s just the ultimate measure of a player.

Watch the State of Origin decider exclusively live and free on Channel 9 and 9Now.

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