Cold hard fact: New South Wales need a pack that will dominate the Maroons if they are to stop Queensland notching their unprecedented seventh straight Origin series.
They need mongrel and passion. They need skill and stamina. They need to be, above all, reliable. There are no second chances in Origin football: you miss a crucial tackle and you’re likely to see points scored. Pressure exists every second of every match.
Also, the forwards need to create a platform so the Blues’ backs have a decent chance to crack the Maroons’ tryline.
Last week’s look at the possible New South Wales Origin backs caused a lot of reaction from NRL.com readers. Plenty of you agreed with my assessment.
However, the consensus from a lot of fans is that Brett Morris deserves to stay in sky blue – while the majority are adamant that Jarryd Hayne shouldn’t get a start at all. (As I alluded last week, I have another potential plan for Hayne…)
First though, let’s have a look at the contenders for the Blues’ forward pack:
Contenders: Michael Ennis (incumbent), Robbie Farah, Ryan Hinchcliffe.
With Danny Buderus falling out of contention due to injury, hooker has become the most contentious position in the Blues’ line-up.
Robbie Farah? There is no question he is in decent form and he played well in the City v Country match… but the vibe from those who matter is he isn’t an ‘Origin-style’ player. Farah has played two Origin matches in his career and he made 74 tackles (37 a game). He was 96 per cent effective in defence, missing just three tackles (1.5 each match).
In attack he ran for an average 55 metres, kicked for an average 143 metres but failed to break the line. He did manage one line-break assist, plus one try assist. And he made just one error – they’re pretty sound stats!
In 2012 Farah has played seven games, averaging 53 metres running and 162 metres kicking. He has just one line-break, but four line-break assists. Other stats are: one try, two try assists, six offloads and six errors. In defence this year he is 91.6 per cent effective and is making 32.9 tackles a match.
Michael Ennis is the incumbent Blues rake. He has now played seven games for NSW, averaging just 17 metres running and 70 metres kicking. He is yet to break the line and has just one line-break assist and one try assist. While these numbers are low, he also has just one error. His defence has been 90.2 per cent effective and he averages 27.6 tackles every Origin encounter. But a major negative: he has conceded seven penalties.
In 2012, with injuries plaguing him a little but not restricting him from his nine game, Ennis is defending at 90.7 per cent effective, making 33.8 tackles a game.
He is running 19 metres and kicking 88 metres each week, has yet to break the line but has two line-break assists and three try assists. He has committed eight errors.
Ryan Hinchcliffe is the wild card. The understudy to Queensland hooker Cameron Smith at Melbourne, Hinchcliffe also plays plenty of second row. He is yet to play Origin football but could just be the perfect selection. Why? Well now Kurt Gidley is injured there is a place on the bench for a utility player… someone who can fill in at hooker, and perhaps slot in elsewhere. Someone like Jarryd Hayne.
By picking Hinchcliffe at hooker, Ricky Stuart could put Hayne on the bench and if needed move Hinchcliffe into the second row for periods he’s not playing hooker. It was a plan attempted with Dean Young but the Dragon’s knees just don’t play ball anymore.
In 2012 Hinchcliffe is running 60 metres a game, has one line-break and three tries. He also defends effectively at 92.3 per cent, making 26.7 tackles a game.
Stats Insider says: Ennis is ineffective this year and hasn’t been a proven winner. Farah deserves a shot but won’t get it. Go with Hinchcliffe, move Hayne to the bench, bring Brett Morris back on the wing.
Contenders: Paul Gallen (incumbent), Tim Mannah (incumbent), Keith Galloway (incumbent, bench), James Tamou, Kade Snowden, Trent Merrin, Michael Weyman, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Aaron Woods.
In somewhat of a relief given injury problems in other positions, plenty of players are putting up their hands to play in the front row.
Paul Gallen, barring problems with his knee, is a certain choice as captain of the side. During the Queensland dominance Gallen has played 11 games for his state, defending 89.6 per cent effective with an average 29.9 tackles a game. He has given up nine penalties though. In attack he averages 122 metres running, has made three line-breaks, two line-break assists, one try and two try assists plus 23 offloads and eight errors.
In 2012 Gallen is averaging 205 metres from nine games, has one line-break, six line-break assists, one try, two try assists, 38 tackle-breaks, 33 offloads and nine errors.
James Tamou’s recent appearance for the Kangaroos leaves him as the prime contender to partner Gallen. Yet to play for NSW, Tamou would be a rookie with plenty to prove. The Cowboys enforcer has averaged 149 metres from nine games, has busted two line-breaks and a try plus 28 tackle-breaks to go with just four errors. He has been used as a decoy 42 times. He is defending 91.4 per cent effectively, making 28.3 tackles a game.
Tim Mannah is another incumbent with support, despite the Eels’ woes and despite a modest average of just 48 metres gained from his four Origins. He defended at 95.1 percent effectiveness with 19.5 tackles a match in those four games in limited minutes.
This year in the NRL Mannah’s defence is 89.7 per cent effective with 22.3 tackles a match. He is averaging 115 metres gained, has a line-break and a try, four offloads, 24 decoys and four errors.
Keith Galloway played in the final game of last year and will be hoping he doesn’t end up a one-game wonder. In very limited time he made eight of eight tackles and ran three times for 16 metres… hardly anything to hang your hat on.
But in 2012, as the Wests Tigers struggle, Galloway is putting up his hand with an average 114 metres gained from his five games. He has just two errors and 22 decoys and is defending at 86.7 per cent effectiveness with an average 26 tackles.
Kade Snowden hasn’t hit the heights many expected he would under Wayne Bennett this year. In his two games for NSW in 2010-11 Snowden averaged 45 metres and 24 tackles at 82.8 per cent effectiveness – again, not something to trumpet from the rooftops.
For the Knights in 2012 he’s averaging 28 tackles a game at 87.8 per cent effectiveness and pumps out 115 metres. He has one line-break, one try assist, 10 offloads, 28 decoys and eight errors.
Trent Merrin played in two of the three games last season, making 18 tackles a game at a 90 per cent effectiveness rate. But he ran for just 23 metres a game.
In club footy in 2012 he is posting 135 metres a game from nine games for the Red V and has managed to notch a line-break, line-break assist and try assist. He also has 19 tackle-breaks, 16 offloads, 33 decoys and just six errors.
Michael Weyman’s 2012 numbers read an average 97 metres gained from nine games, two line-breaks, one line-break assist, two tries, one try assist, 45 decoys and six errors. He is defending at 90.4 per cent effectiveness and making 22 tackles each round. In his four Origin games Weyman has defended at 96.4 per cent effectiveness, making 26.5 tackles each game. He ran for an average 73 metres.
Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has four Origins under his belt with an average 81 metres gained and 17.3 tackles at 90.8 per cent effectiveness.
In 2012 he is averaging 20.6 tackles each week from eight games at 85.9 per cent effectiveness. In attack for the Raiders he is averaging 99 metres.
Aaron Woods could be a bolter for the bench after impressive games in recent weeks. He is averaging 118 metres from his nine games with the Tigers and makes 34.1 tackles a match at 91.6 per cent effectiveness.
Stats Insider says: Starting props are Gallen and Tamou. The rest can scrap for the bench spots.
Contenders: Glenn Stewart (incumbent), Ben Creagh (incumbent), Anthony Watmough (incumbent, bench), Ryan Hoffman, Tariq Sims, Tony Williams.
Glenn Stewart spent most of the start of this season out injured but his return has handed the Blues incumbent and 2011 Clive Churchill Medal winner the box seat to take his place for the Blues – even if his numbers aren’t overwhelmingly impressive. In three previous Origins, Stewart defended at 93.3 per cent effectiveness with 32.7 tackles a game and he averaged 64 metres running. He would be expected to lift his attack and perhaps increase his offloads.
In three matches in 2012 he averages just 53 metres gained but has a try, a try assist and a line-break assist – this odd bit of attacking guile is his weapon. His defence this year is 86.1 per cent effective with an average 31 tackles.
Ben Creagh has been somewhat forgotten in the Origin talk, despite being an incumbent second-rower. Creagh has played eight Origins in the dominance era, defending at 93.2 per cent effectiveness with 25.9 tackles a game. He has pumped out 64 metres a game, has made two line-breaks, two line-break assists, four tries but also six errors.
In 2012 for the Dragons Creagh is averaging 92 metres from his nine games and has tallied one line-break, one line-break assist, a try assist and three tries plus 14 errors. He has 41 decoys and defends at 87.1 per cent effectiveness with 30.2 tackles. These numbers aren’t exactly screaming for him to survive, despite being okay.
Anthony Watmough is your classic rocks-or-diamonds Origin player. He can either be a terror to the Queenslanders, or he can drift out of his role at times. However, his Origin numbers are impressive. In six Origins the Manly star has defended with 86.7 per cent effectiveness, with 29.3 tackles a game – not great, but not awful. In attack he averages an impressive 129 metres and has four line-breaks, one line-break assist, one try and two try assists. He also has 30 tackle-breaks and just three errors with 22 supports and 22 decoys.
In 2012 his defence, at just 84 per cent effective, remains a small concern. Can New South Wales afford to carry a player who is ineffective 16 per cent of the time? He makes 32.8 tackles each week and has given away five penalties in his nine games.
In attack Watmough averages 112 metres this season but is yet to break the line and has just two line-break assists and two tries. He has 31 decoys and 18 supports, with just eight offloads and just 16 tackle-breaks.
Ryan Hoffman has re-emerged as a possibility after returning from the UK. In five previous Origins the Storm player defended at 87.5 per cent with 21 tackles a match while contributing 96 metres a game and adding one line-break and one line-break assist. They aren’t overwhelming numbers but he was solid in the recent City v Country clash.
In 2012 for the unbeaten Storm Hoffman averages 101 metres from nine games, has three line-breaks, two line-break assists, four tries and a try assist. He also has 38 decoys and 23 supports, with eight errors.
Tony Williams hasn’t suited up since Round 3, which must surely jeopardise his chances of selection. Yet to play Origin, the man mountain has played just three games in 2012 with an average 121 metres gained, four line-breaks, two tries, 25 tackle-breaks, eight offloads and four errors. The bigger problem than lack of match fitness though is his defence: he has defended at just 72.9 per cent effectiveness; with just 17 tackles a game, he doesn’t look a likely starter… but the bench is another story.
Tariq Sims burst into contention with his killer instinct and a two-try performance for Country Origin. The Cowboys firebrand is like Williams: a guy who can lift a side with a huge hit, but is not necessarily reliable defensively. He is just 76.8 per cent effective in defence from five games this year, making 17.2 tackles a game. In attack he averages 77 metres but has just the one try. No other attacking numbers stand out.
Stats Insider says: Give the Manly boys the starting spots… and even one on the bench. Stewart, Watmough to start, Williams on the bench.
Contenders: Greg Bird (incumbent), Luke Lewis (incumbent, bench), Feleti Mateo.
Greg Bird can be handed his jersey right now. A favourite with coach Stuart, Bird could play second row with Luke Lewis starting at lock, or vice versa… but regardless, both players will make the side, perhaps with Lewis once again on the bench.
In eight Origins from 2006 onwards Bird has defended at just 80.8 per cent effectiveness, with 21 tackles each game. He’ll want to lift this. In attack he has averaged 103 metres, has added three line-breaks, one line-break assist, two tries, two try assists, 31 tackle-breaks and 11 offloads.
In 2012 for the Titans he is averaging 125 metres from eight games, has two line-breaks, two line-break assists, one try, 27 tackle-breaks, nine offloads and eight errors. His defence is still a worry at 83.4 per cent with 20.1 tackles.
Luke Lewis has been playing through some injuries but is still pumping out good numbers for the struggling Panthers. He is defending at 85.6 per cent with 31.7 tackles a game. He runs for 104 metres, has four line-breaks, three line-break assists, one try assist, 23 tackle-breaks, seven offloads and eight errors.
In his five Origin matches during the Queensland dominance he has defended at 82.5 per cent with 22.6 tackles a game. His attack has averaged 49 metres with a try and two try assists.
Feleti Mateo is an outside option for the Blues. He is averaging 77 metres for the Warriors, has three line-breaks, six line-break assists, three tries, three try assists, 26 tackle-breaks, 12 offloads and seven errors. In defence he is 88.3 per cent effective, with 22.7 tackles a game.
Stats Insider says: Both Bird and Lewis make the team. Bird to start, with Lewis on the bench.
I have already anointed Jarryd Hayne, Luke Lewis and Tony Williams to the bench so my last choice goes to a prop. I like Trent Merrin for his extra metres in 2012 – although he will need to rip in if he wants to keep Mannah and Galloway out of the mix.
Stats Insider’s NSW Team
1. Josh Dugan
2. Brett Morris
3. Josh Morris
4. * Chris Lawrence
5. Akuila Uate
6. Todd Carney
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Paul Gallen
9. Ryan Hinchcliffe
10. James Tamou
11. Anthony Watmough
12. Glenn Stewart
13. Greg Bird
14. Jarryd Hayne
15. Luke Lewis
16. Tony Williams
17. Trent Merrin
*Lawrence replaces Michael Jennings who cannot possibly be selected from NSW Cup.