NSW coach Brad Fittler has a plethora of options when it comes time to pick his pack for this year's State of Origin series, and getting the balance right after last year's shock loss could be the biggest challenge.
With plenty of eligible forwards putting their names forward for selection, NRL.com Stats has crunched the numbers to see who should line up in the June 9 series opener.
Blues forwards candidates
Candidates: Payne Haas, Junior Paulo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti, Paul Vaughan
Given several of the lock candidates are also capable of filling a bench prop role there may be as few as three specialist front-rowers in the 17 for the MCG series opener. With a wide variety of body shapes and playing styles among the candidates, getting the right fit may be as important as picking players in the best form.
Incumbents Haas, Saifiti and Paulo have been in good form this year but the ease with which Queensland won the forward battle in last year's decider must be taken into account.
Haas's performance in particular was something of an anomaly - the big Bronco averaged 175 metres from 72 minutes per game last year but made just 35 metres in 41 minutes in Origin III.
But with almost as many metres from fewer average minutes this year and easily the best metres per carry total of the candidates – along with the most busts and most average tackles at one of the best effective rates – he will demand inclusion once again.
While Saifiti's form has fluctuated a little along with that of his club, with too big of a gap between his best and worst games, his overall numbers are good.
His main strength –powerful carries that bend the line – remains, with 9.4 metres per hit-up excellent for a front rower. Combined with easily the quickest play-the-ball of those available,
Klemmer is something of a mystery - he started all three Origins in the 2018 series win and started in the 2019 decider win but was not used at all last year.
While his form, like Saifiti's, has been a bit up-and-down at Newcastle this year his numbers are impressive. His average minutes, tackles and run metres are all second only to Haas among the candidates.
He has the best effective tackle rate of those in the fame and second-quickest play-the-ball after Saifiti. If we're talking purely about the numbers, he is in the top two front rowers available.
Both Eels have claims on a spot, with second-placed Parramatta clearly a better side when both are on the park.
They have the lowest effective tackle rates of those in the conversation and two of the slowest play-the-balls. RCG has some sting in his carries while Paulo is a very different proposition to the rest of the props with his offloading and ball-playing but much lower defensive output.
It's basically a style question of whether Fittler wants to use a spot on a front rower who doesn't do a heap of tackling and has the lowest run metre average but who offers some second-phase and ball-playing threat.
Vaughan has been there before and done a good job and has been playing well this year but with the Dragons' recent woes, his strong defensive numbers may not be enough to carry him into the 17.
NRL.com verdict: Haas and Klemmer starting with Saifiti on the bench.
- Ranking the Maroons backs candidates
- Ranking the Maroons spine candidates
- Ranking the Maroons forwards candidates
- Ranking the Blues spine candidates
- Ranking the Blues backs candidates
Candidates: Angus Crichton, Tyson Frizell, Ryan Matterson, Tevita Pangai jr, Keaon Koloamatangi, Wade Graham
Second row has traditionally been one of the deepest positions for the Blues and while that isn't the case to the same degree this year, there are still plenty of good options without shoe-horning someone like Cam Murray or Isaah Yeo into a spot where they are far less effective than their preferred position.
In-form Rooster Angus Crichton will take one spot without question.
In a Tricolours side absolutely buckled by a horror injury toll causing frequent personnel changes on his edge, he has marshalled that side to keep opposition line breaks to a minimum. He is churning through plenty of metres, tackles, busts and offloads and had one of his best games of the year in round 10. Next.
Tyson Frizell is the other incumbent and has yet to let his state down in his 14 Origin appearances.
While Frizell appeared a little below his best last year, this year in an inconsistent Knights side he seems to have recaptured his mojo with his personal form.
His busts per game are up from 2.3 per game last year to 3.4 (with easily the most of the current Blues edge candidates), while his four line breaks and four try involvements are both one more than he managed all of last year.
His break causes are high in large part due to the Knights' woes but his own tackle percentage is the best of all the candidates.
Matterson has been a squad member in the past and is going well for the Eels, though his numbers aren't strong thanks to a long concussion lay-off while former Blues back-rower Wade Graham has given the state stellar service previously but has struggled for form this year in a team doing it very tough.
The bolters are Pangai at Brisbane and Koloamatangi at Souths, with each offering a big threat with ball in hand and plenty of X-factor.
One of the big knocks against Pangai is his discipline but he's actually only been penalised twice all season so far; however nine handling errors is a worry and his tackle percentage is lower than all the more likely candidates with 11 break causes.
Koloamatangi has had some very impressive games of late but his overall season stats don't jump out; the former junior Origin rep could force his way in sooner than later but probably hasn't done enough just yet.
NRL.com verdict: Crichton and Frizell
Soward and Chammas pick their Blues teams for Origin I
Candidates: Isaah Yeo, Cam Murray, Jake Trbojevic, Victor Radley, Nathan Brown, Dale Finucane
As mentioned above, it's possible more than one of these players finds a spot in the 17 as a bench middle but the depth of options is almost overwhelming.
All bar Radley have played Origin, with all five of the rest having featured last year – four of those in the decider with only an injured Cam Murray absent.
This is arguably the toughest selection bracket for either coach across any position, with strong arguments for all six players.
Murray, Brown and Trbojevic are arguably the most suited to a bench prop role if they miss the No.13 jersey.
Yeo and Radley are both players integral to their respective NRL sides' attacking structures with critical roles as ball distributors and occasional first receivers.
It's very tough to fit both into the side and whichever gets the nod is probably best suited in a starting role where they can work with the main ball-players (though most of the rest also serve a similar role to some degree at their clubs).
On this basis Yeo starts from in front; he was in the NSW 17 last year and has a deep connection with halfback Nathan Cleary and likely five-eighth Jarome Luai. His individual form has blossomed since migrating to the middle full-time at the start of last year and is among Penrith's best handful of players every week.
Trbojevic's club form has surged since his brother's return from injury but Finucane has earned precious few minutes since a belated return from a calf injury.
Another factor is versatility, which is a key component when picking a bench. Fittler went without a utility on the bench in last year's decider, which proved a hugely costly decision when James Tedesco was concussed early and Yeo had to slot in at centre.
Brown has been consistent for the Eels but given he was strangely used for only 17 and 12 minutes in his two Origins last series there has to be a question over why Fittler would include him again if he doesn't plan to use him and it left the side critically short of a utility last year.
Which forwards are picked may partly depend on whether a Ryan Papenhuyzen or Jack Wighton type earns utility spot on the bench.
Radley's ability to cover hooker and Murray's ability to shift to edge forward or centre will be looked at.
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Murray is arguably the most useful of all six in a bench role, not just through his versatility but his impact. His ability to accelerate into a defensive line and nudge between defenders has broken Origins apart in recent years.
Trbojevic's best Origins have arguably come off the bench when replacing a prop then punching out 55-60 minutes unchanged in the middle.
Given the variety in roles and play styles it's tricky choosing which stats to focus on but some notable points include Trbojevic's lightning fast play-the-ball, Radley's elevated metres-per carry and high line-break involvements, Yeo and Trbjevic's lofty tackle percentages while Yeo – and underrated ball-carrier – punches out the second-best metres per hit-up after Radley with the equal-most busts level with Brown.
NRL.com verdict: Yeo starting, with Murray and Trbojevic on the bench and Radley 18th man to come in for any player ruled out.
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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.