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Ranking the Blues backs candidates for 2020 Origin

The Blues will have at least one change in the three-quarter line from last year's series but also have plenty of candidates pressing for an Origin debut.

NRL.com Stats has crunched the numbers to work out what the NSW backline could look like on November 4.

Because several candidates are in the running for positions they do not play at club level, such as Jack Wighton and Clint Gutherson, their statistics in certain categories will be inflated compared to other candidates.

Otherwise players have mostly been assessed in their best position where possible, but it is possible the final team will include two wingers from our left wingers list and none from the right, for example.

Blues backs candidates

Left wing

Candidates: Josh Addo-Carr, Josh Mansour, Daniel Tupou

One of the most competitive positions across either team. Incumbent Addo-Carr has had a wonderful season for the second-placed Storm, capped off with a stellar game against the Eels to help his side book another preliminary final berth. He has the most tries and line breaks of any of the wing candidates and the third-most busts.

His error count and kick defence are a little shaky and his metres – particularly coming out of trouble – could be higher but as an in-form incumbent his position is all but guaranteed.

If coach Brad Fittler isn't worried about playing a usual left-side winger on the right, both Panthers left side flanker Josh Mansour and Roosters left-edge weapon Dan Tupou are making serious claims for recalls.

Mansour played all three Origins in 2016 before a torn ACL then horror facial fracture set his career back, but has returned to something like career-best form at the table-topping Panthers this year. The 30-year-old is trucking the ball out of yardage like a machine with the third-best metres of any winger and the second-most line breaks of any player in the competition.

Tupou played the last of his four Origins in 2015 but was picked very young and played by far and away his best footy in the years since his Origin selection.

Now 29, Tupou has put together three stunning campaigns for the 2018-19 premiers and is arguably the biggest aerial threat in the competition. He is one of just two wingers in the NRL making more metres than Mansour (Ken Maumalo at 188 metres per game is top) with almost as many busts, and is reliable in defence.

There is a very strong case to recall one of the two opposite Addo-Carr.

NRL.com verdict: Addo-Carr

Left centre

Candidates: Jack Wighton, Stephen Crichton

Fittler raised some eyebrows last year when he discarded superstar Latrell Mitchell and promoted Wighton to start at left centre but the Raiders five-eighth repaid him in spades with a towering two games. As one of the ball-players at the Raiders he adds an extra passing and kicking threat and as a big, athletic body his strong carries are the equal or better of any centre running around in the NRL.

Defending at three-in for Canberra, he handled the shift one spot out with ease and this year is maintaining the best effective tackle percentage of any player being considered for centre spots.

Rookie Crichton is having a serious breakout year at the Panthers, with the equal fourth-most tries in the NRL. He is a strong chance to make Fittler's extended squad and would likely handle a shift to the right edge if required. He is also providing good service to his outside man Mansour, with seven try assists.

However as a rookie at the end of a gruelling season, fatigue will be a consideration and his defence isn't as strong as the other centre candidates and Wighton already has the left edge spot locked down barring injury.

NRL.com verdict: Wighton

Right centre

Candidates: Zac Lomax, Campbell Graham, Clint Gutherson

The injury withdrawal of Tom Trbojevic plus the representative retirement of Josh Morris and injury to Latrell Mitchell has opened the door for a new centre on the right edge for NSW.

Dragons young gun Lomax was a late addition to the extended squad after Trbojevic's withdrawal while Graham has been in terrific form on the right edge for the in-form Rabbitohs and Gutherson has been the best player for the third-placed Eels this year. He has experience playing at centre and was in the Blues' extended squad last year.

Gutherson's metres and assists are outstanding even compared to other fullbacks let alone centres, but don't make for a like-for-like comparison. He does very much fit the mould of what Fittler wanted from his centres last year – very high energy and involvement with the ball-playing skills of a fullback or five-eighth and a bigger body who can take tough carries out of yardage. He is also a candidate for a bench utility role if he doesn't start in the backline.

The other two are genuine right side centres at their respective clubs. Graham is more of a runner with no assisting stats to speak of but with 13 tries and 13 line breaks he is a huge threat with ball in hand. However that edge for Souths has leaked plenty of tries this year and 23 try causes in defence is a worry.

Lomax is in a similar boat; his work in attack has been outstanding, he adds a back-up goal-kicking option if Nathan Cleary is injured and defensively he very rarely misses a tackle. However he also has plenty of try causes at a Dragons team that has leaked a lot of points and his 40 handling errors is easily the most of any player in the NRL.

NRL.com verdict: Gutherson

Right wing

Candidates: Nick Cotric, Blake Ferguson

Ferguson is the incumbent and was actually recalled for game two last year in place of Cotric when Fittler decided he needed players better suited to helping carry the team out of their defensive end.

Ferguson did a mighty job as the Blues clawed back a series win and despite the naysayers pointing to his try-scoring woes this year he has actually been a key pillar of lots of what the Eels have done well in 2020.

As usual it's his big carries out of trouble that help his side start sets well and while much was made of his failure to score a four-pointer in the first 16 rounds, he had plenty of near misses and has since scored four in five games. A recent tweak of an old knee injury could be a concern but Ferguson is very much a known quantity for Fittler with a play style that suits what the coach wants to achieve.

Statistically his metres are again strong, and although his error rate is a little high it's actually slightly better than the past two seasons. His try causes have jumped with his stuttering defensive partnership with Waqa Blake leaking plenty of points but in an Origin system that shouldn't be an issue.

Cotric has had a solid season at the Raiders but despite his running game helping him to the third most busts of any player, and second most of any winger, it is not translating to metres with just 109 gained per game ranking him easily the lowest of any winger in the conversation for a Blues spot.

Despite Canberra's defence looking staunch for most of the season, his try causes are also higher than Ferguson's and his kick defence numbers are only slightly better than Mansour's. His 12 tries are the second best of the candidates after Addo-Carr, one better than Tupou and Mansour.

NRL.com verdict: Ferguson

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