BRAD Fittler was in a lift at Bankwest Stadium days after NSW's record-breaking win over Queensland in Origin I when a fan stepped in and congratulated him on the Blues' performance.
Fittler cut short the text he was sending, put the phone away and engaged the punter, thanking him for his praise and asking him what he thought of the game and what NSW could do better in game two.
You could read the fan's mind - the Origin coach wants MY opinion?
It was no put on. Freddy, as he is known to everyone in the rugby league universe, wants to bring fans along on the journey.
It's why the former NSW captain, who played a record 31 Origins, spends a great deal of the off-season travelling to all corners of the state, spreading the rugby league word while raising funds for the homeless on the back of a Harley-Davidson.
Reminded of the exchange in the lift, Fittler said: "I enjoy talking to people. I love talking and love having a chat about the footy or whatever the conversation is.
"Origin excites me and it excites other people and they want to know stuff and I don't mind sharing it.
"Everyone is invested this time of the year. The players know it's not just about them - it's about a whole state.
"I find people love going along for the ride. When you pick a good team and they fight hard, people get a kick out of it. It's priceless.
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"I love the thought that when we win, a whole state goes to work or school or wherever the next day with a big smile on their faces."
Smiles were in short supply late last year when NSW lost the "unlosable" Origin series to an underdog Queensland side rated "the worst Maroons side in 40 years" by one journalist.
Fittler, who turns 50 next year, took his medicine, later acknowledging he made a number of wrong moves and was out-coached by Maroons sensei Wayne Bennett.
He found sanctuary and solace on the five and half acre property he shares with wife Marie and teenage kids Zach and Demi at Terrey Hills.
Working on the farm mending fences and tending to his three llamas (Michelle, Barack and Del Rey) while trying to - unsuccessfully - keep the snakes away from his chicken coup was the perfect therapy and a million miles away from those feral Queensland fans.
The Fittlers have lived here for seven years, moving from Rushcutters Bay following a four-year stint on Collaroy Beach.
I love the thought that when we win, a whole state goes to work or school or wherever the next day with a big smile on their faces.
"All the time I lived at Collaroy I never knew Terrey Hills existed," Freddy said.
"It's fantastic. We're elevated 230 metres so your weather's a little different - little bit colder in winter, a little bit hotter in summer - and I love that about it.
"You don't even feel like you're in Sydney when you're here. You could be a million miles away.
"From Thursday to Sunday I'm out and about at games but Monday to Wednesday I try to stay local as much as possible.
"This time of the year is insane but I try to get a couple of days where I don't have to get in a car and leave.
"The space up here ... it energises me. I just walk around with the dogs and clear the head and do a bit of thinking. As long as I can look after it I wouldn't look to move, but I can imagine one day it might get a little hard.
The only thing a young Brad Fittler knew about the northern beaches was it was home to the Manly Sea Eagles and they played out of Brookvale Oval.
Fittler spent his formative years at Cambridge Park, right in the heart of Penrith Panthers territory.
The insular peninsula may as well have been in another country.
As good friend, former Penrith teammate and NSW Origin advisor Greg Alexander, himself a convert to the northern beaches, said: "We had no idea about the northern beaches. We'd drive to Brookie Oval for games and drive home."
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That all changed when Freddy left the Panthers in 1995 and was weighing up offers from the Roosters and Sea Eagles.
"I bought a property on the beach at Collaroy but wasn't quite sure whether I was playing for the Roosters or Manly," he explained.
"I went with the Roosters but I just thought it (the northern beaches) was heaven.
"If you can find another place that's got more than this area, I need to go there.
I bought a property on the beach at Collaroy but wasn't quite sure whether I was playing for the Roosters or Manly.
"It's got beaches, harbours, national parks. I'm yet to see a better place.
"I think it's world class."
Apart from one thing.
"It'd be good if Pittwater Road was a tunnel," he laughed. "As long as I can avoid Pittwater Road, I'm having a good day."
On turning 50
It's hard to believe the schoolboy superstar who played hard and partied just as hard in his early days will reach the half-century early next year.
"50? It's significant. There were times there I didn't think I was going to make it," Fittler said with a smile.
"I think it's cool. I feel as happy as.
"I get a kick out of watching the kids grow up and love watching them being competitive with their sport.
"And I've got jobs (coaching and TV commentary with Channel 9) that keep me involved in the game and I get to meet and talk to people who are equally passionate about it
"I then get to come back to a place like this. I'm loving life."
Getting out and about
Seeing the hard work and sacrifice that went into wife Marie's café - The Kanteen at Warriewood - further motivated the Fittlers to move around the peninsula supporting local businesses.
Freddy said: "The café's gone now. It was so much hard work. It's got to be your life.
"I applaud anyone in small business. We are really conscious of getting out as much as possible because I've seen how hard it is.
"We try to hit everywhere. We like to go to different places. We think like tourists...constantly trying to do different things.
"We like to head into Manly. Our daughter plays touch down there Monday night, so we might hit the Greek restaurant on the beachfront or a couple of pockets of gold in behind (the Corso)...little Asian places with the dumplings.
"There are some good spots. We try to spread the love."
They're going to have to play pretty well (to beat us). I will leave that up to them how they go about it.
Away from the eateries, the family likes to make the most of the peninsula's natural attractions.
"We do a lot of walks. It's hard to beat Palm Beach lighthouse, the Collaroy headland, the national park," he continued.
"I also go motorbike riding through the national park. We've also got paddleboards so we go paddleboarding off Pittwater."
And what about the new coffee venue now The Kanteen is no longer Marie's remit?
"I was very generous and bought the wife a good coffee machine for her birthday/Mother's Day, which fell around the same day," Brad said, before quickly adding, "a lot of people might see that as sexist but she seemed to love it.
"To me it was a well thought out present."
On Sunday night before a rabid pro-Queensland crowd at Suncorp Stadium, the Blues will attempt to secure their third series win in four years.
Fittler's men are coming off a record win in game one but the coach has been around long enough to know last-up form counts for nothing.
"That's the thing with Origin - you can't get too carried away with what's gone before," Fittler cautioned.
"Momentum can turn really quickly."
But he had this warning for Queensland: "They're going to have to play pretty well (to beat us).
"I will leave that up to them how they go about it."
Greg Alexander laughs when you ask whether he ever saw himself living on the northern beaches
"No way. For a boy from Penrith, it was like moving to Mars," he said.
"I thought the northern beaches started and stopped at Brookvale Oval.
"I had no idea all this was here.
"It was Freddy moving to the northern beaches that sowed the seed for our move."
Alexander and Brad Fittler are Penrith's finest products, guiding the club to its breakthrough premiership win in 1991, representing state and country together and forging a strong friendship that remains to this day.
"Brandy" is Fittler's chief Origin advisor, the pair regularly catching up or speaking on the phone to discuss tactics, selections, training schedules and all the minutiae that goes into preparing a team for Australia's biggest annual football event.
That they are doing all this plotting from their respective bases on the northern beaches still blows Alexander's mind.
"I didn't know anything about the area. Freddy was living at Collaroy and he said 'come up and I'll show you around'. We (Alexander and wife Tanya) had a look at the (Collaroy) basin and both thought it's the best place in the world," Brandy recalled.
"(Former Warriors teammate) Phil Blake was going for a run around Long Reef and he saw a for sale sign for a house down in the Basin and rang me.
"I rang Freddy quickly and he went around and knocked on the door just to see where it was in terms of sales and it all went from there.
"It was a big move for us. We had family at Penrith and there was obviously the connection with the club, but we have not regretted it for a minute."
As for his old mate from Penrith becoming "Farmer Freddy" at semi-rural Terrey Hills, Alexander laughs before declaring: "He mightn't have been one at the start but he's turned into one.
"It actually suits his persona. It's his little escape."
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