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Stat Attack: How Cleary, Munster's numbers compare to 2020

For the Maroons to rebound from their biggest-ever loss and keep the Origin series alive, one suspects Cameron Munster will need to be among the best on ground.

Meanwhile, if the Blues are to reclaim the shield at Suncorp Stadium, halfback Nathan Cleary is sure to be a prominent performer.

As arguably the game's premier playmakers - despite assuming different roles within their teams - there's no denying Munster and Cleary's influence on results.

Both players enjoyed stellar Telstra Premiership last year - and statistics show Cleary has continued to improve while Munster is more involved for the Storm in the absence of Cameron Smith.

Here's how their 2021 figures stack up to 2020 at club level.

Creating points

Having crunched the numbers, Cleary has remarkably posted 14 try assists in 12 NRL games this year - three shy of what he produced in 21 matches as the Panthers reached the 2020 grand final.

The No.7 has also been credited with 10 line-break assists, just one away from equalling his output for last season, while his 17 try involvements are second only to Parramatta's Mitchell Moses (19).

And with 10 kicks that have led to tries, Cleary again only trails Moses (12) with North Queensland pivot Scott Drinkwater equal second.

It's been said that Munster hasn't reached top form this year, but the five-eighth's numbers have only dropped off slightly in some areas.

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Despite a foot injury limiting him to 11 NRL appearances - Munster's per-game try assist average has stayed relatively consistent (0.44 in 2020, 0.36 in 2021).

His line-break and line-break assist averages have remained almost identical year-on-year and Munster has increased his try involvement rate halfway through this season (0.5 in 2020, 0.63 in 2021).

The reigning Wally Lewis Medallist is also creating more tries with his boot. Four of his kicks have led to tries compared to only one in 18 games last season.

That's perhaps a result of the 26-year-old taking on more kicking responsibility - he is averaging seven kicks per game this year, up from 6.1 when Melbourne had Smith's left foot to call on in 2020.

Calling the shots

No halfback averages more receipts per match than Cleary's 71.25. And despite playing three club games fewer than overall receipts leader Luke Brooks (904), the prince of Penrith isn't far behind (855).

However, with so much talent around him in Origin I as NSW ran riot in a 50-6 win, Cleary only had 49 touches (keep in mind that he spent four minutes off the field while having a cut treated).

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Racking up possessions as he organises the attack is nothing new to Cleary, who averaged 71.1 touches per match last season.

Munster, meanwhile, has got his hands on the ball more this year.

The pivot's average receipts per game have jumped to 52.36 from 41.9 last year - maybe as a result of Smith's retirement.

Eels No.6 Dylan Brown (60.3 touches per game) is the only five-eighth to average more touches of the Steeden than Munster in 2021.

Munster's subpar performance - by his lofty standards - in Origin I wasn't through lack of trying - he had 55 receipts.

Given he was coming off a month on the sidelines due to injury, the Blues can expect a typically dangerous Munster on Sunday.

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Taking on the defence

They have different styles, but Munster and Cleary both possess lethal running games that have been effective this year.

The pair have taken on the line more frequently (Cleary - 15 runs per game, Munster - 12.8 runs per game) and with great impact.

With eight line-breaks, Cleary has equalled what he produced for the Panthers in 2020, and he busted the line twice in Origin I.

The 23-year-old averages the most tackle busts per game for all halves (3.5) - and Cleary's total of 42 has surpassed his 2020 sum of 39 - while Munster (3.3 busts per match, total 37) is not far away.

Based on those numbers and their shared penchant for seizing clutch moments, it won't surprise if a scything run from Cleary or Munster goes a long way to deciding the outcome in Sunday's clash.