A new era of Origin is upon us and the always-crucial forward battle will be as important as it's ever been on the road to interstate glory. NRL.com Stats broke down where the middle battle in the Holden State of Origin series opener will be won and lost.
This analysis includes only the starting packs – the bench will be covered in a follow-up analysis.
The Blues will field two debutants (Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Jack De Belin) against just Felise Kaufusi for Queensland but in what is a very inexperienced NSW side, the presence of Boyd Cordner, David Klemmer and Tyson Frizell makes this the most experienced facet of the NSW team.
The Blues' big boys are racking up many more metres than their Maroons counterparts this season, with an average 123 metres per game versus 94. Klemmer is a runaway leader here with his 173 metres per game the best of any forward in the NRL and third best of any player behind Blues fullback James Tedesco (180) and former Blues winger Blake Ferguson (196).
Unsurprisingly this also generates a heavy lead in tackle busts for NSW (107-60). De Belin's 35 are the best on show and he is one of four Blues (Frizell's 23, plus Klemmer and Cordner's 19 each) to have more busts than the best Maroons starting forward (Gavin Cooper, 17).
The Blues register double the offloads (73-36) with De Belin (31) again leading the way and Frizell (17) and Klemmer (15) heading the best Maroon (Kaufusi, 11).
Defensively, the overall tackle efficiency is almost identical at around 90%; the Maroons boast both the best (Jarrod Wallace, 95%) and worst (Dylan Napa, 85%) of the 10 players listed. However, the Maroons starting five forwards have a whopping 28 break causes against just 16 for the Blues pack. Kaufusi and Napa (eight each) are the main contributors.
The contest between the two hard-running firebrands Klemmer and Napa will be key. Josh McGuire is a fine player of Origin calibre but hasn't played in six weeks while his opposite, De Belin, has been recently troubled by a hip pointer injury but been in tremendous form otherwise.
Frizell will be tasked with protecting his half, rookie Nathan Cleary, from Queensland's big left-edge players Cooper and Greg Inglis and form-wise you'd have to say Frizell has a comfortable edge through 12 weeks of NRL action this season. On the other flank, Cordner is coming into a bit of form at the right time against Kaufusi, who has been good without recapturing his stunning 2017 form since returning from injury.
Verdict: NSW. The Blues simply have more in-form players and fewer fitness worries than the Maroons in the starting pack. With the possible exception of Cordner, the rest of the Blues forwards have been among the best players in their position virtually every week this year whereas almost the entire Maroons starting pack is a bit down on form or, in McGuire's case, returning from a long lay-off. The NSW pack is more dynamic and harder to handle, and well-balanced across the board. Of course, that doesn't guarantee success - on paper the Blues pack has the edge but the game isn't played on paper.
- Head to head: Ranking the Blues and Maroons backs
- Head to head: Ranking the Blues and Maroons spines
- Origin I preview: A new era dawns for Blues or Maroons
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Bronze tickets available from $49 here.