Wing and a prayer: how quick are Fittler's electric Blues?
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Wing and a prayer: how quick are Fittler's electric Blues?

Josh Addo-Carr is on the wing, Brad Fittler on a prayer. A plea to the State of Origin gods that perhaps the fastest rugby league team ever assembled is the one to finally outrun this Queensland dynasty.

Addo-Carr walks off the training field at Coogee Oval and reveals a tattoo of angel wings on his leg. A nod to Fittler’s give-’em-wings-make-’em-fly Blues revolution. They dub him ‘‘The Fox’’.

Fast lane: Speedsters James Roberts, left, and Josh Addo-Carr are part of a lightning-quick NSW backline.

Fast lane: Speedsters James Roberts, left, and Josh Addo-Carr are part of a lightning-quick NSW backline.Credit:Fairfax Media

On the other side of the field is ‘‘Jimmy The Jet’’, perhaps the only man in the competition who could stretch Addo-Carr over 100 metres. The Jet stands next to a bloke nicknamed Turbo, Manly’s Tom Trbojevic. He’s no slouch, either. Then there’s the Roosters’ Teddy and ’Trell, genuine speed kings in their own right.

Fastest rugby league team ever assembled? Probably. So, just how fast is Fittler’s NSW – specifically its back five – compared to their Queensland counterparts they’ll meet at the MCG on Wednesday?

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‘‘They’re the fastest [team] I’ve seen,’’ shrugs respected Speed Agility Academy coach Roger Fabri, who works with countless NRL jets each summer to refine their technique. ‘‘This is like a relay team. If there was a relay race they would be finished and they would beat [Queensland] by a change.’’

A Queensland back line that boasts Valentine Holmes and Billy Slater. But that is how much faith Fittler has put in his electric Blues to turn the Origin tide.

Fittler knows speed thrills. He also knows speed kills. But having hand-picked an array of the NRL’s fastest men with the competition’s quickest hooker in Damien Cook to match, he ain’t bluffing about how he plans to blow up the Maroons’ Origin stranglehold in the post Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk era.

‘‘This is possibly the most athletic back line I’ve been privileged to have been a part of,’’ says the Blues’ conditioning guru Hayden Knowles, shaking his head. ‘‘It’s unbelievable. They’re all natural and so fluent. They’ve got such a relaxed running style where everything looks effortless for them.’’

On the advice of several speed coaches, Fairfax Media has pitted the NSW back five against their opponents – and each other – in a hypothetical 100m race to work out how much of an edge the Blues will boast over Queensland in the speed stakes. Stories of schoolboy running feats abound, albeit with not a lot of definitive data.

It is said Addo-Carr, predicted to be rugby league’s quickest man, could break 11 seconds for the 100m dash, and he has worked extensively with Fabri in the past.
NSW fullback James Tedesco achieved that feat at a younger age, but now employs a more violent running style based on stride frequency to help maximum acceleration over short distances. Roberts could nudge a similar mark fully fit and Latrell Mitchell, despite his bulkier frame, has admirers.

‘‘If you are going to have a 100m sprint race in the NRL, those four are in it,’’ Knowles says. ‘‘Acceleration, Teddy and James Roberts would win. Once you get to top speed and they open up, you’re looking at Latrell, and if you want to really open up you’re looking at Josh Addo-Carr.’’

Fabri was stunned when Addo-Carr walked into his training base three weeks after winning his first NRL grand final with the Storm last year. He was fast, but wanted to get faster. Fabri has an unusual theory on what helps his blinding speed: long achilles tendons. And he would love to see NSW teammates Addo-Carr and Roberts go toe to toe.

‘‘Addo-Carr resembles a greyhound and Roberts resembles a thoroughbred,’’ Fabri says. ‘‘Roberts is built for speed. I’d say he’s a freak. I feel he would have the quickest 40m in both back lines; let me go one step further and say the quickest 40m in the NRL. His strength is his dynamic acceleration.’’

Fabri says each have their own technique strengths and flaws from a pure running point of view: Tedesco’s ability to change direction and move laterally is unmatched, albeit his style inefficient; Mitchell a ‘‘powerhouse’’ who doesn’t lose momentum at contact; and Trbojevic as efficient as league players come and the king of repeat efforts in the Slater mould.
Yet, they keep coming back to The Fox and The Jet.

‘‘I’ve worked with Freddy a long time and we once had James Roberts in a City camp,’’ Knowles says. ‘‘It was that exciting. I thought he was the fastest player I’ve ever worked with until last year we had The Fox come in and he took that mantle, in my opinion. He’s the fastest thing I’ve ever seen.

‘‘If Athletics Australia grab a talent like Josh Addo-Carr at 16 and put their arm around him and say, ‘I’m taking you all the way to the Olympics’, they could because he’s so naturally gifted. But what’s happened is someone has put their arm around him as a footy kid and has taken him all the way to Origin. They are all so unbelievably naturally gifted athletes.’’

Which all bodes well for Fittler. But they need to tackle, as well as find clean air.
Predicts Fabri: ‘‘You will now know speed is king after Wednesday night.’’

Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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