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State of Origin’s key questions: NSW edition

Lachlan Bickley Roar Guru

43 Have your say

    Welcome to the second part of The Roar’s State of Origin key questions series. Yesterday we considered whether the Queensland prop rotation might be a little thin, assessed the new look Queensland backline and asked whether Kevin Walters was truly ready to step into the big chair.

    Today we will look at three key questions for NSW.

    Question 1 – How will NSW use their bench?
    Yesterday in our Queensland key questions we looked at whether the Queensland front row rotation was a little thin but, as promised, today we will look at whether the NSW middle unit is over-subscribed with high-quality big men. For NSW, the question is essentially one of mathematics.

    There are 240 minutes of game time between the two front row positions and lock. NSW have selected six players, three starting and three on the bench who specialise in playing in the middle unit.

    While Greg Bird is capable playing as an edge backrower (and, as we shall see, this team selection almost mandates that he spend some time there) and Paul Gallen could probably chip in on the edge if need be, the other four players are all out and out front row forwards.

    But with only 240 minutes in the middle unit and only eight interchanges, it will be a challenge for Laurie Daley to get the most out of his team.

    Let’s start with the minutes and come back to the interchanges. Here’s what we can be very confident of: Paul Gallen is going to want to play at least 65 minutes in this game and Aaron Woods, who plays colossal minutes for the Tigers, will probably be aiming for 50. If we take those as given, then we have only 125 minutes remaining for the other four players.

    James Tamou averages well over 45 minutes per game for the Cowboys and is a first choice Australian Test front rower. It seems likely that he will also aim to play 45 minutes here. It’s now getting tricky with only 80 minutes remaining for David Klemmer, Andrew Fifita and Greg Bird to share. Even if we knock off a few minutes for each player we’re still looking at no more than 90-100 minutes for the three.

    While Klemmer and Fifita are both undoubtedly earmarked for an impact role, if we are to give Greg Bird a 60-minute shift as you would expect from a starting lock, we’re down to only 20-40 minutes to divide between Klemmer and Fifita. That would not only be a huge waste but, as we shall see, it will also be difficult to manage with only eight interchanges.

    This is where we get back to the idea of utilising Bird on the edge. If Bird plays 20-25 minutes in the middle and then plays the rest of his time on the edge, we free up minutes for Klemmer and Fifita. This also has the added bonus of taking some pressure off either Boyd Cordner or Josh Jackson to play the full 80 minutes (though it is likely that one of them will need to).

    As neatly as that all fits together, the problem is it is logistically challenging in an eight-interchange match. Let’s break it down.

    Firstly, we have to assume NSW only really have a maximum of seven interchanges for the forwards because they need to get Dylan Walker on the field.

    With that accounted for, the next interchanges to count are the starting props who will both come off once and go back on once. That’s two interchanges each and suddenly we’ve used up five of the allotted eight. Five quickly becomes seven when we assume Greg Bird will also need to come off once and go back on once.

    That leaves us with a solitary interchange in case of injury. But it’s not even as easy as that because, when Bird eventually comes back on as an edge player, he is adding an interchange to the rotation as whoever is playing in his lock role needs to come back off the field to ensure the Blues have three relatively rested players in the middle unit.

    It’s worth remembering at this point that NSW are very likely to move Bird to the edge because otherwise he’s going to squeeze the minutes of everyone else in the middle unit, and also require both Cordner and Jackson to play the full game, a huge ask at Origin intensity.

    If all of that has given you a headache, just imagine trying to keep track of it during the game.

    Finally, if you’re asking why this isn’t also a problem for Queensland, it’s because they have simplified matters by having a genuine edge player on the bench in Aidan Guerra. They aren’t trying to squeeze an additional middle unit specialist into the 240 minutes available in the middle.

    Last year, NSW made terrible decisions with their bench in Game 1 in particular. Daley used edge specialists like Jackson and Cordner in the middle and criminally under-utilised the high-motor Trent Merrin. Can the Blues do better this year with even fewer changes to utilise? I remain sceptical.

    Question 2 – How will the halves pairing operate?
    Our next questions concerns NSW’s halves combination, which is something like the 75th pairing the team has tried in the last ten years. For once there has not been much grumbling about the pair selected with James Maloney a consensus pick among NRL punditry and Adam Reynolds not far behind him in popularity.

    But how will they actually operate as a partnership in the game tomorrow night? What role will each player fulfil?

    The first thing to consider is which side of the field each player will occupy. In the modern NRL most teams utilise a split halves system with one half controlling the action on each side of the field. Depending on the team in question, the two halves will link up to a greater or lesser extent in midfield or even venture deeper into each other’s territory (Kieran Foran, for instance, regularly makes plays for the Eels in the left channel that is nominally Corey Norman’s responsibility).

    Of course, these are all elite players and every half is capable of playing both sides to some extent. But at this exceptionally high standard, it is preferable to have players operating in their comfort zone.

    With that being said, this partnership will likely see James Maloney play down the left side and Adam Reynolds down the right. Maloney has operated almost exclusively on the left in recent seasons and, as an added bonus, will get to link up with his former Roosters teammates Boyd Cordner on his inside and Michael Jennings on his outside.

    Meanwhile, Reynolds has been more of a chameleon. After starting this season operating on the left he has recently switched to the right side to accommodate Greg Inglis’ move to left half for the Rabbitohs. Overall this should be a fairly natural position for both players.

    In terms of the specific role each player will take, while we noted earlier that most teams play a split halves system, it is also common for a team to have one half who runs more and one half who kicks more. The following table sets out each player’s key statistics for the season to date.

    Average per game Season totals*
    Runs Running metres Kicks Kicking metres Tackles Missed tackles Try assists Line breaks Line break assists
    Maloney 8.7 79.9 6.6 152 16.6 4.4 6 3 4
    Reynolds 6.2 53.3 11.7 299.8 19.3 1.5 4 0 1

    *Reynolds has played only six games to Maloney’s 11

    Reynolds and Maloney seem to complement each other. While Maloney is very comfortable running the ball, Reynolds makes his living as an elite kicker. These raw stats don’t reflect just how accurate and creative a kicker Reynolds is, particularly inside the opposition half.

    Any NRL team would be comfortable with this sort of balance from their halves and coach Laurie Daley will be hoping Maloney and Reynolds quickly develop the necessary understanding to augment each other’s strengths and offset each other’s weaknesses.

    It is worth addressing defence as there has been a common misconception that NSW is taking a big defensive risk with these two players. Certainly James Maloney has a well-earned reputation as a poor tackler and that is reflected in his 48 missed tackles already this season.

    Reynolds, however, does not suffer from the same problem, having missed only nine tackles all season (albeit from fewer games). Even if we look back at 2015, Reynolds’ missed tackle rate was still very good at 2.9 misses per game for a total of 52 all season. Maloney missed 109 at an average of four per game.

    Queensland will no doubt target both NSW little men in defence but the numbers suggest attacking Maloney will be more productive.

    Question 3 – Can Matt Moylan be the missing link?
    One of the biggest decisions for the NSW selectors was what to do at fullback. The selectors eventually decided to move incumbent Josh Dugan to centre and select Matt Moylan for debut at the back.

    While Dugan has subsequently been ruled out through injury, it is still worth considering the underlying thinking that led to his initial selection in the centres and the choice of Moylan at fullback. That’s because Moylan is a profoundly different style of player to Dugan and that will (or should) flow through to the entire team.

    Essentially the difference boils down to this: Dugan is a power runner while Moylan is a natural passer and playmaker.

    I highlighted Dugan’s struggles as a playmaker in a recent Thursday Night Forecast, and it was clear from the start of this season that NSW were going to consider shifting Dugan to centre, a role he has played before both for St George-Illawarra and Australia, and look for a more creative player to fill the number one jersey.

    Moylan certainly fits the bill in that respect, having recorded seven try assists and six linebreak assists in only seven appearances this season. But those try assists don’t come out of thin air and getting the most out of Moylan will require a distinctly different approach than using Dugan, or indeed almost any other fullback.

    That’s because Moylan plays like an extra half on the field. He’s recorded an average of 38 touches per game, yet he runs the ball on only 13.4 occasions each game. By contrast, most fullbacks average in the mid-20s in touches and will typically run the ball on half to two-thirds of their possessions.

    The only other fullback in the competition who comes close to Moylan’s numbers is Lachlan Coote who is a key part of the Cowboys three-headed playmaking monster and also plays like a half.

    It is no real surprise that, as a player who came through lower grades and age groups as a half, that Moylan gets far more involved than most fullbacks. But it will mean that if NSW want him to shine they will need to allow him to fold into the line on a regular basis. Will Maloney and Reynolds feel comfortable with that?

    Moreover, while Moylan’s credentials as a playmaker are well established, there is always the lingering concern about a player on debut in the high stakes arena that is Origin, especially when that player is debuting in a critical position. Even players as transcendent as Billy Slater and Jarryd Hayne started their Origin careers on the wing.

    At his best, Moylan is capable of being a genuine extra half on the field who can add a wonderful extra playmaking dimension for the Blues. This makes him a potential match winner for NSW, but the question is will he reach that potential first time out? It will be fascinating to watch.

    State of Origin 2 is here, with the Blues looking to wrap the 2018 series up and the Maroons hoping to keep it alive and force a decider. Follow along with our NSW vs QLD Origin 2 live scores and blog.

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    The Crowd Says (43)

    • May 31st 2016 @ 8:13am
      Dan said | May 31st 2016 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      Love the article mate.
      I still think Bird will start the game on the edge, Jackson bench, Gal at lock and tamou to start. Makes a lot more sense.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • Roar Guru

        May 31st 2016 @ 8:30am
        Lachlan Bickley said | May 31st 2016 @ 8:30am | ! Report

        I can definitely see a case for starting Gallen at lock with two genuine props. It would create a more sensible middle unit rotation and give NSW and chance to establish dominance early then bring on Klemmer and Fifita to run riot.

        But if you’re going to do that I’d start Bird on the left edge in place of Cordner rather than on the right edge for Jackson. The whole point of Jackson is that he’s a work rate/stamina player. He doesn’t offer any real impact off the bench whereas Cordner can bring something different.

      • May 31st 2016 @ 3:52pm
        Chris said | May 31st 2016 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

        The dogs have been using Klemmer at lock. So thats a option to start him there Bird to the bench

        • Roar Guru

          May 31st 2016 @ 3:57pm
          Lachlan Bickley said | May 31st 2016 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

          I know the Dogs have named Klemmer at lock but to me it always seems like he is playing the traditional prop role whilst one of the blonds Graham or Tolman is the nominal “lock”.

          Certainly if you think about a lock as having a passing role its not Klemmer as rarely passes it particularly compared to Graham, Tolman and even Kasiano.

    • May 31st 2016 @ 8:29am
      TrueBlue said | May 31st 2016 @ 8:29am | ! Report

      Great questions. The use of the bench can arguably win you a game. It’s about timing and impact but that’s easier said than done. From memory there’s been some baffling use of the bench in the past with some players getting 10minutes and others none!!! As for Q2 & 3 there’s one factor which isn’t mentioned and that’s Farrah. His delivery and option taking will greatly affect how the halves and the back line play. If he overplays his hand or his delivery is off the mark then the halves and Moylan will be under even more pressure.

      • Roar Guru

        May 31st 2016 @ 8:36am
        Lachlan Bickley said | May 31st 2016 @ 8:36am | ! Report

        Honestly I steered away from Farah deliberately because writing about Farah is like writing about Kobe Bryant – people have their opinions and no amount of evidence or nuanced discussion can sway them.

        But you’re absolutely right that whatever you think of Farah his choices at dummy half will have a profound impact on this game.

    • May 31st 2016 @ 9:02am
      Red Dog said | May 31st 2016 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Here are four questions .

      Q1….Can Daley coach ?

      Q2…..Is Gallen a Shiite captain ?

      Q3…..Will Farah prove his detractors right ?

      Q4…..Will Bird or Gallen turn the momentum of the game at a pivotal time with the stupidest of penalties ?
      A4….. More than Farkin likely.

      That’s were this series will be lost for NSW , the rest is just hot air .

      • May 31st 2016 @ 9:08am
        no one in particular said | May 31st 2016 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Sorry sir, you were on a roll but you got question four incorrect. The correct answer we were looking for was David Klemmer

        • May 31st 2016 @ 9:12am
          MAX said | May 31st 2016 @ 9:12am | ! Report

          Thought Kevin 07 was in the building.

          • May 31st 2016 @ 9:46am
            Red Dog said | May 31st 2016 @ 9:46am | ! Report

            Gee Max , that’s just low.
            I’ll be not talking to you for the rest of my fragile existence .

            • May 31st 2016 @ 12:53pm
              MAX said | May 31st 2016 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

              Incredible wave length.. Just had a Hot Dog before logging in. Actually, I agree
              with everything you say. May I add… can Moylan and Mansour handle the rise
              in class? No. Red Dog, I hope you would never have to endure a fragile
              existence but just in case I apologise for being politically abrasive.

              • May 31st 2016 @ 8:45pm
                Red Dog said | May 31st 2016 @ 8:45pm | ! Report

                Moylan and Mansour ,,,,mmmm , time will tell I guess , we’ve seen with Crapoate that the step up isn’t always easy .
                I hope both these kids shine like diamonds but the real question is do they have a game plan at their disposal to show what they are capable of .
                My main concern is Fergo , he tends to have buttterfingers and his defence is questionable .

          • Roar Guru

            May 31st 2016 @ 12:17pm
            Con Scortis said | May 31st 2016 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

            MAX, write “Detailed Programmatic Specificity” on the blackboard 200 times

            • May 31st 2016 @ 12:55pm
              MAX said | May 31st 2016 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

              Con, good one. I’ll bet you were a prefect.

        • May 31st 2016 @ 10:22am
          Griffo said | May 31st 2016 @ 10:22am | ! Report

          Nah, Andrew Fifita surely!

      • May 31st 2016 @ 12:29pm
        spruce moose said | May 31st 2016 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

        I always thought Gallen to be more of a captain with a Sunni disposition.

    • May 31st 2016 @ 9:09am
      Pomoz said | May 31st 2016 @ 9:09am | ! Report

      Brilliant article Lachlan. I only wish Lozza put as much thought into his coaching as you have into this article. His selections and game management are baffling. Lot’s of big boppers(with the exception of Woods who is a teddy bear) means he intends to continue Lozza ball and try and smash QLD up the middle. Well, that’s worked really well so far so why not try it again…..

      Perhaps Fifita will be used as a backrower on the edges and Gallen will play the full 80, saving two interchanges for the front row, or, alternatively moving him to the back row for a spell so a backrower can rest. It’s gonna be ugly…

      • Roar Guru

        May 31st 2016 @ 9:43am
        Lachlan Bickley said | May 31st 2016 @ 9:43am | ! Report

        It really is going to be fascinating to see how they manage five genuine big men.

        I would be surprised if Gallen played the full 80 if only because at Origin intensity its just simply a bad idea. It’s worth noting that Gallen hasn’t been playing 80 every week in the NRL this year so its hard to imagine he has enough in the tank to do it here.

        Definitely look for both teams to jump on any opportunity to get a player off with a free interchange whether via a concussion test or after an instance of foul play.

    • Roar Guru

      May 31st 2016 @ 9:14am
      turbodewd said | May 31st 2016 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      Im itching to see how Aaron Woods performs. Happy for him to utterly prove me wrong, but I predict lots of flopping in on tackles as 3rd man. Lots of modest runs, lots of upright grabbing tackles. I predict no hard hits and no runs which bowl anyone over. I predict he will give away 2 dumb penalties and come close to being penalized for late hits on Cronk or Thurston all game. I also predict he will twice be unable/unwilling to get his head down into the scrum.

      • May 31st 2016 @ 9:44am
        Red Dog said | May 31st 2016 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        With all due respect Turbo , the art of scrummaging was conceived in an era when footballers were not no conscious of their beautiful manes of hair.

        • Roar Guru

          May 31st 2016 @ 10:17am
          turbodewd said | May 31st 2016 @ 10:17am | ! Report

          hehe, true that! Ive noticed Aaron Woods is around everywhere on a lot of Telstra posters. He looks like a fun giant teddy bear. Im sure he is a fun bloke and great with kids.

          • May 31st 2016 @ 11:18am
            Red Dog said | May 31st 2016 @ 11:18am | ! Report

            Hey , Id expect Gallen is a great dad and outside some of his grubby antics onfield he’s more than likely a good bloke off the field , it’s easy to develop a disliking for a player due to their onfield behaviour or a perceived failure to satisfy your expectations.
            The same could be said for most players .
            After all they’re human like the rest of us .

      • Roar Guru

        May 31st 2016 @ 9:46am
        Lachlan Bickley said | May 31st 2016 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        Woods was genuinely epic in his first stint in game one last year but sadly he lost all impact when he came back on. Has to find a way to play at a high level but still keep enough in reserve to contribute in crunch time at the end

      • Roar Guru

        May 31st 2016 @ 1:18pm
        Emcie said | May 31st 2016 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

        I think the biggest concern with woods in origin is his lack of urgency, he’s never in a hurry to get back on side, to get clear of the tackle or to play the ball. It leads to him getting penalised and allows the opposition to set defensively.
        It’s one thing that the qld forwards seem to prioritise, the amount of times miles or thiaday come up with a loose ball or get a quick play the ball just when they need it is beyond luck.

        • June 1st 2016 @ 8:47am
          Red Dog said | June 1st 2016 @ 8:47am | ! Report

          ” A BIG SLUG” is the term your looking for .

    • May 31st 2016 @ 10:20am
      Ken said | May 31st 2016 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      Enjoyed the article, some interesting thoughts there.

      I have a suspicion though that Dylan Walker is a real chance of not seeing game-time. If the game doesn’t scream out for his inclusion, the extra interchange there may go to the forward rotation.

      I agree that Moylan will be an interesting factor. For all the skillful players involved, Origins are usually played with pretty simplistic gameplans. Compared to club teams, you’ve got ridiculous strikepower but far less rehearsed combinations and plays. Getting Maloney and Reynolds, who have never played together before, to gel with each other and direct the team around smoothly will be a challenge. To then find regular opportunities for a third virtual half in Moylan might be a bridge too far, he’s a great player but he may get few chances to play his preferred game.

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