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The topsy-turvey 2019 State of Origin series has been a rocky ride for all involved.
From Queensland being massive underdogs for Game 1 yet winning, to New South Wales making a swag of changes before belting the Maroons in Perth, which no-one expected, we now enter the third and deciding Origin match.
And the craziness isn’t done yet, because Origin 3 will see the return of Mitchell Pearce to the Blues. Pearce was a mainstay of the NSW side during the Maroon’s era of dominance, giving him the unwanted record of having never won a series, or a Game 3. Now, the Newcastle halfback has the chance, again, to right that error on his CV.
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» Queensland Maroons player ratings
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Pearce’s addition to the NSW side, along with Corey Norman joining the Maroons outfit, means that the 2019 series will have featured 12 players across both sides who have started a game in the halves in an NRL game this year: Daly Cherry-Evans, Nathan Cleary, Ben Hunt, James Maloney, Michael Morgan, Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Munster, Norman, Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, Cody Walker and Jack Wighton.
Let’s take a look then at how each match-up across the field stacks up statistically and whether there are any significant advantages for either side.
Fullback: James Tedesco vs Cameron Munster
Tedesco is the game’s premier custodian and in this match he’ll be up against arguably the game’s best five-eighth. Munster has played plenty of fullback in his career, so he’s certainly not out of his depth or position here. The numbers, though, clearly show the difference in the two positions.
Wing: Blake Ferguson vs Dane Gagai
Ferguson is regarded as one of the strongest ball runners in the game and his run and meterage stats back that up, however Gagai blitzes him when it comes to tackle breaks. Ultimately, Ferguson is the better attacker while Gagai is much stronger in defence.
Centre: Tom Trbojevic vs Will Chambers
Tom Trbojevic has only played a handful of NRL games this year, all at fullback, however he has been brilliant nearly every time. In Game 2 he started at centre and dominated the game with a near-man-of-the-match display.
Centre: Jack Wighton vs Michael Morgan
Wighton and Morgan are both halves at club level and play different styles. Morgan is a genuine creator of opportunities while Wighton is a damaging ball runner.
Wing: Josh Addo-Carr vs Corey Oates
Both these wingers have scored ten tries this year and most of their stats are very close. Addo-Carr is clearly stronger in defence, while Oates averages 20 metres more per game. The New South Welshman has the pace advantage while his Queensland opponent has the upper hand when it comes to strength and power.
Five-eighth: James Maloney vs Corey Norman
Maloney’s poor club form at the start of the year versus Norman’s red hot form at the same time sees this match-up tip in the favour of the Dragons five-eighth. The big difference here, though, is experience. Maloney is a clutch pressure player with plenty of experience in big games, whereas Norman will be on debut in a pivotal position with the series on the line.
Halfback: Mitchell Pearce vs Daly Cherry-Evans
The much-maligned Pearce returns to the Origin arena thanks to a run of magnificent form for the Knights and injury to incumbent halfback Nathan Cleary. His good form has been matched though by that of Maroons half and captain Daly Cherry-Evans. His running game and defence have been much improved this year.
Prop: Daniel Saifiti vs Josh Papalii
This was the most lopsided match-up in Game 2 and nothing has changed. Papalii’s numbers dwarf Saifiti’s in most areas, such as minutes played, runs, metres gained, line and tackle breaks, offloads and defence.
Hooker: Damien Cook vs Ben Hunt
Test rake Damien Cook comes up against Dragons halfback Ben Hunt once again. They are both fairly evenly matched when it comes to running and chance creation stats, but in defence Cook is superior.
Prop: Paul Vaughan vs Joe Ofahengaue
Vaughan posts big numbers every game which makes him hard to compete with. Much like his match-up against Dylan Napa in Game 2, he again outperforms his opponent Ofahengaue in this match. The Maroons forward, though, does have better numbers than Napa did.
Second row: Boyd Cordner vs Ethan Lowe
Matt Gillett has been a late withdrawal for the Maroons, so new Souths recruit Ethan Lowe has been rushed into the side. Lowe has been playing a fair amount of 2019 in the centres, covering for injuries. This sees Cordner dominate the stats in nearly every field.
Second row: Tyson Frizell vs Felise Kaufusi
One of the tightest battles up front. Kaufusi has an ever-so-slight advantage in stats, however nearly every field is separated by so very little that it’s hard to say either player has the upper hand.
Lock: Jake Trbojevic vs Josh McGuire
Trbojevic is a classy player who possesses a good amount of ball skills with tradesman-like workmanship, while McGuire is more of a hard grafter who likes getting his hands dirty. Trbojevic is a brilliant defender while McGuire is a strong ball carrier.
Bench: Wade Graham vs Moses Mbye
Something of a mismatch given Graham is an edge back rower and Mbye is a fullback/centre, however Game 2 saw Graham play as a utility half, and brilliantly at that. He’s very fresh given he’s only played three games for the Sharks this year but has been fantastic in every match he’s played so far. Mbye comes out on top statistically, largely due to playing nine more games.
Bench: David Klemmer vs Christian Welch
Klemmer is known for two things – making massive metres, even off the bench, and being a brick wall in defence. Welch is no match for Klemmer in these areas, but he is a genuine upgrade for this Maroons side and will bring plenty of impact off the bench.
Bench: Dale Finucane vs Tim Glasby
Finucane started at lock in Game 2 despite being named on the bench and was very strong. Glasby is a similar style of player, with both mobile locks capable of playing at prop. Finucane has the edge in running and tackling.
Bench: Cameron Murray vs David Fifita
The rookie forwards have been solid so far in this series and have retained their place for all three games. Murray plays more minutes on average, makes more runs, metres, line breaks, tackle breaks, offloads and tackles than Fifita.
In the head-to-head rankings (stats fields won), this is how the two sides compare:
Fullback: NSW 10-4
Wing: NSW 9-5
Centre: NSW 10-5
Centre: NSW 10-4
Wing: QLD 9-6
Five-eighth: QLD 9-6
Halfback: QLD 8-6
Prop: QLD 13-2
Hooker: NSW 10-5
Prop: NSW 10-5
Second row: NSW 13-2
Second row: QLD 10-7
Lock: QLD 9-8
Bench 1: QLD 9-7
Bench 2: NSW 10-7
Bench 3: NSW 10-6
Bench 4: NSW 10-6
Total: NSW 144-116
Backs (Including Bench 1): NSW 52-36
Halves: QLD 17-12
Forwards (Including Bench 2, 3 and 4): NSW 75-68
Spine (fullback, five-eighth, halfback, hooker): NSW 32-26
The stats fields in the halves and forwards are closer now than they have been in the previous two encounters.
The numbers still point towards a Blues victory, however with the series on the line, don’t be too hasty to dismiss the Maroons either. They’ve already showed this year that they can overcome the odds no matter how heavily they are stacked against them.