Head to head: Ranking the Blues and Maroons backs
Will the all-out speed in the all-debutant three-quarter line for NSW be able to match or even dominate the far more battle-hardened veterans in the Maroons outside backs? NRL.com Stats broke down the numbers to see which state has the edge heading into the Holden State of Origin series opener.
The biggest strength for NSW is raw speed and the biggest strength for Queensland is Origin experience, and both are impossible to quantify in raw numbers. However the stats still make for interesting reading.
Each three-quarter line has one player in a different position from their weekly club role; Blues winger Tom Trbojevic boasts far more creative stats than a regular winger courtesy of his role as a playmaking fullback while Maroons winger Dane Gagai plays at centre for the Rabbitohs which pushes up his defensive workload while decreasing his responsibility for fielding kicks and running from dummy half early in sets compared to regular wingers.
With all that out of the way, who is putting up the best numbers so far in 2018?
The Blues backs blitz their Maroons counterparts in terms of tackle busts (203-117, with all four Blues busting at least 50 tackles this year versus none of the Maroons) as well as tries (26-21 – Josh Addo-Carr's 12 and Valentine Holmes's 11 lead the field but Will Chambers and Gagai have just three between them) and more than double the line breaks (33-15).
For all the talk of the young and fast Blues backs having defensive weaknesses, the numbers actually suggest they are the better defensive backs as well. They narrowly lead overall tackle efficiency (79% - 76%) in large part due to Holmes's missed tackle rate but they are easily better in line break causes as well with just 23 break causes against 37 for Queensland. Gagai's 14 are the major concern although he won't be defending at centre on Wednesday, while Holmes and Chambers also both have more break causes than James Roberts, the worst of the Blues backs.
Of the eight players, only Greg Inglis (90%) has a kick defusal rate to be happy about although Chambers (17%) drags the average down enough for the Blues to have a slight lead here.
The Blues' tally of line-break assists and try assists easily dominate Queensland's but this is somewhat misleading as Trbojevic accounts for the vast majority, which he accrued at fullback. However even if you remove all of his seven line break assists and seven try assists, the remaining three Blues are equal with the four Maroons three-quarters so NSW still have the edge.
Queensland's backs do make more metres, even with Trbojevic getting big numbers from fullback, with Chambers' 99 metres per game the lowest. The lack of involvement week-to-week by Latrell Mitchell (75 metres per game) and Roberts (81 metres per game) is actually more of a concern for coach Brad Fittler than their supposed defensive weaknesses – Mitchell in particular struggles to impose himself in games when the ball doesn't find him.
The head-to-head battle between relatives Roberts and Inglis will be one of the personal contests of the game, with Roberts' ability to contain the much bigger Inglis critical to the Blues' hopes. While Inglis will be hoping to steamroll Roberts every chance he gets, the new Maroons skipper doesn't move quite so well laterally as in his younger years and Roberts will be hoping to exploit that with his explosive pace.
On the other edge, wily veteran Chambers will be looking to show young buck Mitchell that his size and strength don't counteract Chambers' seven Tests and seven Origins of experience.
On the flanks, Trbojevic's edge defence will be sorely tested by the game's best finisher in Holmes but being a taller man will be looking for an advantage in the air. On the Blues' left, Addo-Carr will be hoping his blinding speed can make life hard for a winger in Gagai who has had some defensive issues this year and is used to playing centre.
Verdict: NSW. As mentioned at the top, the numbers don't include the intangible Origin experience factor. There is no question Chambers is the best centre in the NRL and Holmes is probably the best winger. A Kangaroos side picked tomorrow would likely include at least three of the above Queenslanders. But in recent form, going off 2018 numbers, the three-quarter positions are an absolute landslide win to the Blues.
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Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Bronze tickets available from $49 here.