Ranking Blues spine candidates for Origin
With the Holden State of Origin team selection announcements less than three weeks away and plenty of spots up for grabs, NRL.com Stats crunched the numbers to look at who is putting their hands up for selection - starting with the key positions in the NSW spine.
Candidates: James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic, Josh Dugan, Clint Gutherson
Realistically this is a two-horse race between incumbent James Tedesco and rising star Tom Trbojevic. Dugan has done the job well in the past but is currently racing to get back on the field from a broken foot in time to challenge for a centre spot and while newly minted Eels skipper Clint Gutherson shapes as a Blues bolter his best hope for an unlikely Origin debut this year appears the bench utility role.
The stats show Tedesco is easily the leader of the four as a running fullback while Trbojevic – whose form has slipped somewhat along with his team's in recent weeks – is easily the best creator of the quartet but has had a few issues under the high ball recently.
Tedesco's 170 metres per game, 32 supports and decoys per game are miles clear of the rest while his 5.5 busts per game are also comfortably the best of the four.
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Trbojevic's eight line breaks are one clear of next-best Tedesco, his six line-break assists are well ahead of Dugan's three and Tedesco's one, and his five try assists are also the best of the four (Dugan and Tedesco three apiece).
The biggest concerns over Trbojevic for new coach Brad Fittler come in defence – just 79% of kicks defused after a poor game against the Roosters in round 10, while Tedesco sits at 89%.
If Trbojevic misses the No.1 jersey he remains a big chance of selection on the wing (or even possibly centre) whereas for the Roosters custodian it is likely fullback or bust.
NRL.com fullback verdict: Tedesco
Candidates: James Maloney, Blake Green, Luke Keary, Jack Bird
Maloney has been included in the analysis in his preferred five-eighth position despite shortening to play seven for NSW (where he is filling in at club level for the injured Nathan Cleary). Jack Bird presents an intriguing option as a big-bodied running five-eighth with prior Origin and grand final experience. Bird has been a little down on form and fitness this season and has had limited chances in the halves this year, combining to seriously dent his stats compared to the other candidates.
Green easily presents the best second kicking option even including Maloney with 10 forced drop-outs and two 40/20s this year. He also has the best effective tackle percentage of any NSW halves candidates other than Nathan Cleary, with 84.3%.
Keary's nine try assists are almost double Maloney and Green (five apiece) despite his club's inconsistent form. He has close to the best passing game of the four candidates but gives a lot of ground to Maloney and Green in terms of a kicking game.
Maloney often cops criticism over his defence and while seven missed tackles per game looks bad, he gets his body in front and generally makes good decisions in defence. He gets initially bumped off a fair bit but he or his teammates generally finish off the tackle – it's actually rare he gets trampled over for a line break or try so the missed tackle count is nowhere near as costly as it sounds.
The stats don't reflect it so far this season but Bird has the best running game of the four – however Maloney has upped his metres to 95 per game so far this season and is no slouch when he takes on the line.
Candidates: Nathan Cleary, Adam Reynolds, Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses
As mentioned above, Maloney is most likely to nab this jersey. Of the rest, Cleary would have been short odds had an early-season knee injury not sidelined him for what will be at least seven games. Reynolds has struck a bit of form at the right time but is starting from a fair way back despite having Origin experience. Brooks and Moses have each been touted from a young age without really going on with it. Brooks is having an absolute breakout season despite a recent wobble for his Tigers. The way Moses finished 2017 for Parramatta and Lebanon (under Blues coach Brad Fittler) had him rocketing up the rankings but an awful start from Parramatta looks to have all but ended his hopes for Origin I this year.
On 2018 form, Brooks has produced easily the most dangerous running game of the four as well as the most assists despite the Tigers not piling on a ton of points. Cleary – as has been the case right from the time he debuted – is one of, if not the best, defensive halves in the game and at full fitness he has arguably the most complete game of all available halves. Fully fit, he would be a shoo-in but throwing a 20-year old debutant into Origin off a one- or two-game preparation seems like an unnecessary gamble.
NRL.com halves verdict: Maloney and Green (or Maloney and Cleary if he makes a strong comeback)
Candidates: Cameron McInnes, Damien Cook, Api Koroisau, Nathan Peats
A poorly timed injury to incumbent Nathan Peats looks to have all-but ended his chances of retaining his jersey and Manly's recent woes have majorly dented the impressive Koroisau's hopes of an Origin debut.
McInnes is playing in an in-form team that is likely to have the largest NSW representation of any club and is statistically the most reliable defender. Cook's running game, statistically, is peerless among all dummy-halves this year with a whopping 114 metres, six line breaks and 32 busts.
However McInnes is also third among all NRL hookers for metres and busts behind only Cook and Issac Luke so despite his reputation as a good defender who offers little more than crisp service in attack he is close to the complete package.
NRL.com hooker verdict: McInnes, with Cook on the bench
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Tickets available at NRL.com/tickets.