Queensland have added a further five players to their squad for next month’s State of Origin series.
We are down to the last four teams of the competition and it has resulted in two mouth-watering match-ups for spots in the grand final.
With two top four teams now eliminated, it’s the Raiders and the Rabbitohs looking to defy the odds on their way to a premiership.
It’s quite fitting that these two teams along with the Panthers and Storm are remaining. If you think about it, we may very well be seeing the four best playmaking pairings in no particular order.
Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes, Jack Wighton, George Williams, Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds. All eight of these players are stars of the game and can easily change the outcome for their respective teams. As a result, for their team to advance into the grand final, it will rely mainly on their shoulders.
The preliminary finals will provide two contrasting games.
With the Panthers hosting the Rabbits, the passing game of both halves will be on display. They have more assists for tries and line breaks compared to the Storm and Raiders.
The Panthers are extremely effective in generating repeat sets as both Luai and Cleary have forced 40 dropouts in total. While the Rabbitohs are deadly in attack, they can be suspect defensively and Penrith will be looking to have as much possession on the Rabbits goal-line as possible.
Cody Walker is the x-factor as he can utilise his strong running game to mix things up. Not only does he have 19 try assists but also has 15 line breaks and averages 100 running metres a game on his own.
Expect Adam Reynolds and Jarome Luai to be targeted on defence as Reynolds has the lowest tackle efficiency out of the remaining halves while Luai misses the most tackles.
On the other hand, the playmakers of Melbourne and Canberra are mainly about their running game.
Jack Wighton has been great this season having scored 13 tries, made 11 line breaks as well as running 103 metres per game on average. Meanwhile, Cameron Munster is always threatening the defence with his ability to dummy and break tackles.
George Williams and Jahrome Hughes have been great complements for Wighton and Munster. While they haven’t necessarily been spectacular and eye-catching like their partners, they make the right plays and perform their roles competently.
While Munster and Hughes haven’t been the best at forcing dropouts, having Cameron Smith to help out from dummy half gives the Storm a dynamic edge.
Cameron Munster is the liability in defence and if he isn’t able to be 100 per cent should he play this weekend, he could really struggle. On the other hand, Williams and Wighton have been strong defensively as both players have a tackle efficiency of at least 88 per cent.
All the remaining forward packs are strong and we shouldn’t discount the forwards and their impact on the game. But ultimately, it comes down to the five-eighth and halfback.
Going back to the qualifying finals, we saw Nathan Cleary destroy the Roosters, Jack Wighton and George Williams carrying the scoring load against the Sharks and Cody Walker with Adam Reynolds continuing their red-hot form producing points.
Then in the semi-finals, it was Williams and Wighton who helped create something from nothing to distance themselves from the Roosters.
When it comes to clutch moments and situations, it’s always going to be the playmakers that create opportunities. Having a strong forward pack certainly helps, but it’s up to the halves to capitalise on the forwards efforts and they’ll have to make the right decisions.
It’s certainly going to be intriguing to watch how all four halves combinations operate and how they adjust to counteract each other. We undoubtedly have the best four teams remaining and the games could end up being decided by a moment of magic and brilliance by these stars that wear the 6 and 7 on their jersey.