Fittler’s radical plan to bring Indigenous speed to Origin
Nathan Blacklock repeats the question slowly enough to suggest it has never been considered before right now.
"Hmmmm," he says. "Would Freddy have picked me for Origin …?"
Minutes earlier, this somersaulting St George great was out in the backyard of his Tamworth home, mowing grass. Not thinking about our line of inquiry because, well, Tingha rarely spends a second these days on what could've been.
Or should have been.
At 42, Blacklock remains the greatest Aboriginal footballer never to play Origin footy. Arguably, our most contentious omission too.
Which is why this particular afternoon, League Central is wondering if the old Dragons winger might turn off that older lawnmower out back.
Then with said Victa stalled, asking if Brad Fittler would've done for him what three other Origin coaches didn't - even as he topped tryscorer lists, played Tests and backflipped his way into our hearts.
"I'd like to think he would've picked me, yeah," Blacklock says.
"Because Freddy, he sees Origin footy like nobody else. What he's doing with NSW … it's changing everything."
Initially, this was to be a story about Souths No.6 Cody Walker.
That livewire Casino product who, toiling anonymously with North Sydney as recently as 2016, suddenly finds himself a genuine contender for the NSW Blues.
Not so favoured as, say, Luke Keary. Or even incumbents Nathan Cleary and James Maloney. But undoubtedly, in the mix.
It's because in his SCG season opener against the Roosters, it was Walker who beat Keary physically, verbally, on the scoreboard, everywhere.
Just as this proud Indigenous All Star hasn't simply doubled down against St George Illawarra and Gold Coast since, but done everything bar driving the team bus.
Which is why when Fittler meets weekly with Origin advisers Danny Buderus and Greg Alexander, this 29-year-old Bundjalung lad is increasingly in the chat.
It's a nod to not only his own form, but what it now means to play for NSW. Or more specifically, Freddyball.
Indeed, when quizzed on Walker inside his NSWRL office this week, Fittler says: "Cody's part of a side that's winning, and winning in many ways because of him.
"He scores tries, sets 'em up, competes. They're really your three big keys for success."
And then, after a slight pause … this.
"Indigenous footballers," adds Fittler, "really suit the way I like footy to be played."
Which, again, is Freddyball.
And Fittler not only choosing those dozen debutants in his first go as Blues coach, but four indigenous newbies considered anything but archetypal Origin picks - James Roberts, Latrell Mitchell, Tyrone Peachey and Josh Addo-Carr.
As far as risks go, this was hitting on a blackjack hand of 18. Not so much challenging those aged Origin theories of all experience, percentages and defence, but flipping them entirely.
And now, Freddy's breaking bread with Blake Ferguson. He has one eye on Walker, too.
That takes to six the number of indigenous players who if not in his side, are in the conversation.
"Indigenous footballers are fast," Fittler says. "And we really underestimate speed in this game.
"Plus, they have incredible instinct.
"And if you have a look at how most Origin tries are scored, it isn't from structure or set plays. It's all instinct.
"And that's what I want."
Which is what Blacklock means by Freddy "changing everything".
Remembering, it wasn't so long ago that NSW was the state Greg Inglis walked away from and Timana Tahu walked out on. David Peachey questioned its selections, Preston Campbell couldn't get picked, Blacklock found it impossible to crack and Choc Mundine … well, he accused everyone of being racist crackers.
Yet Waridjuri boy Laurie Daley, he played 23 times for the Blues. Coached five series.
In 2017, he selected a record five indigenous players - Andrew Fifita, Nathan Peats, Wade Graham, Blake Ferguson and Jack Bird.
Yet Fittler, he's different again. It's because of those five selections made by Daley, three were forwards and a fourth, Bird, the utility.
But Freddy, he wants fellas who can find points.
"Because we've tried defending our way to victory for years," Fittler says. "I'd rather score tries."
And you're now reigning Origin champs on the back of defence, right?
"Absolutely," Fittler says.
"When you think indigenous players, you don't think great defenders.
"Well, Laurie Daley was one of the greatest tacklers of all time, but mostly it's about the way they attack.
"Yet I picked James Roberts for his defence. And Latrell Mitchell, his defence in the first two games was really strong.
"That's why when people tell me what somebody can't do, I tend not to listen … I'd rather talk about what they can do."
Which is why Blacklock reckons Freddy would've picked him.
"People thought I couldn't tackle, either," he says. "Thought I wasn't up to Origin.
"But you know what 'thought' did? Thought planted an egg and thought it would grow a chicken.
"In life, the only person who really knows what you're capable of is you."
Take Walker. The battling bush playmaker who initially humped his swag through eight winters, six clubs and three states without getting a crack at NRL is now starring for an unbeaten Rabbitohs mob led by new coach Wayne Bennett.
The same supercoach, coincidentally, who tried poaching him to Brisbane after a stellar rookie season.
"First year at Souths in 2016, when I was getting switched between fullback and five-eighth, Wayne actually spoke to me about joining the Broncos," Walker says. "So I flew up and met him at a cafe.
"Wayne said he loved the way I played and asked what position I saw myself. I said it didn't bother me, I just wanted to play."
"Oh, this year I've got plenty of freedom," he grins. "Wayne just wants me to roam."
And as for the growing Blues talk?
"I don't really know what to say," Walker says. "Every kid dreams of playing Origin and just to be talked about, awesome."
Certainly Blacklock wants him in, as either six or supersub.
"Because some halves are ball runners, others ball players," he says. "But Cody Walker, he's both. Plays every minute of a game, too.
"And plays with that instinct all indigenous fellas have.
"It's like my son, he's only one but already carries a Steeden everywhere with him around the house.
"I never taught him that. Never encouraged it, either."