State of Origin 2021: Team Comparison - How Superior are the Blues?
The 2021 State of Origin series kicks off in Townsville as the New South Wales Blues prepare to right the wrongs of last year following their series defeat at the hands of 'the worst Queensland team of all time.'
Like last year, the Blues are significant favourites to take out the series. Brad Fittler claims to have learned from his mistakes and made the right changes, but has he? The team sheet for Game 1 suggests he might still have a few things to figure out before this side hits its straps.
The Maroons, meanwhile, thrive when awarded the underdog tag. Paul Green is in charge of this series but has named a similar side to that which completed the monumental upset in 2020.
Plenty are excited for the Blues backline and the superstar talent filling the 1-7 jerseys. However, there's an argument for the Maroons holding an advantage through the middle. It's perhaps that part of the field where the potential for any upset exists.
Valentine Holmes is expected to run out at fullback for Game 1 after Kalyn Ponga failed to recover from his injury. Regardless, the Maroons are chasing at this position with three superior fullbacks to Holmes and Ponga running out for the Blues on Wednesday night.
He might not be there on form right now, but James Tedesco is still considered the best #1 in rugby league. His form in Origin is unquestioned as he is repeatedly recognised as one of New South Wales' best, win or lose. Tom Trbojevic is the in-form fullback in the NRL, while Latrell Mitchell has a growing argument for being the third-best in the competition when he's fully fit.
When looking down the team lists for Game 1, there's no question that the first tick goes to the Blues in the head-to-head position battle.
Xavier Coates & Kyle Feldt
Brian To'o & Josh Addo-Carr
The wing position is an interesting one for this series.
Xavier Coates is an exciting young winger and has already proven himself at this level. While Feldt is making his Origin debut, he comes in with 96 tries in 114 games in first grade.
Josh Addo-Carr is among the best wingers in the NRL. So too is Brian To'o, but To'o is making his Origin debut with only 43 first grade games to his name.
On form, the Blues take this position comfortably. To'o, in particular, is doing incredible in Penrith, leading the NRL in total running metres (2,946m) and post-contact metres (1,175m). However, the Maroons are well-prepared to challenge To'o's biggest weakness: the highball.
This positional battle could go either way depending on how To'o deals with what is likely to be an early barrage of bombs sent in his direction.
Kurt Capewell & Dane Gagai
Latrell Mitchell & Tom Trbojevic
One of Queensland's best in 2020 and one of their best ever Origin performers are back out there for 2021. Kurt Capewell's versatility allowed the Maroons to dominate the centre position last year, while Gagai's consistency in this arena will see him notch up his 17th Origin appearance this year.
However, despite winning the position last year, the Maroons face a much tougher challenge in 2021.
Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic are two of the best players in the NRL right now. While they have earned their place in the side by playing at fullback, neither are unfamiliar with their role for Wednesday night. Mitchell is still one of the best centres in the game, despite the fact he hasn't played there since the Kangaroos loss to Tonga back in November 2019. Meanwhile Trbojevic has played three games in the centres for Australia and two for New South Wales. Unlike last year when Clint Gutherson was crow-barred into the position, Mitchell and Trbojevic have experience in the centres and are significantly better players overall.
Capewell and Gagai are reliable. Paul Green knows what he is going to get out of the pair throughout the series. Mitchell and Trbojevic, on the other hand, are match-winners. There is a good chance they both dominate a game at some point throughout the series.
Cameron Munster & Daly Cherry-Evans
Jarome Luai & Nathan Cleary
The headline battle: 2020's Player of the Series and the Queensland captain v arguably the best player in the game right now, along with his halves partner in clubland.
Cameron Munster hasn't played since Round 9, but that won't be a concern for Queensland. He is becoming a master of the Origin arena and is unlikely to miss a beat in Game 1. Likewise, Cherry-Evans is preparing for his eighth-consecutive Origin match after missing out on selection throughout 2015-2018. As we saw last year, the Queensland halves will bring everything out of this playing group regardless of the apparent disparity between the two states.
Luai's selection is a major talking point. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to pair Cleary with his Panthers halves partner following 18 months of domination at NRL level. On the other, regular reshuffles of the Blues spine have made it difficult to develop cohesion in a competition that - as Queensland proved throughout their dominant era and in 2020 - it can mean so much. Game 2 and 3 last year was the first time since Game 2 and 3 of the 2018 series that New South Wales had named the same halves pairing in back-to-back games (Cleary and Cody Walker).
There's every chance that Cleary and Luai link up to produce a Panthers-like attack in Game 1, but until we see that in action at Origin level, Queensland carry an advantage into the halves battle to start the series.
Harry Grant's injury acts as a leveller here. He hasn't played since Round 9 and has only featured in five games throughout 2021. However, Grant has looked excellent in the games he has managed to play, with a try, 5 try assists and 92 running metres per game. They're impressive numbers for a #9 that has only averaged 55.8 minutes out on the field this year.
Damien Cook, meanwhile, has 2 tries and 3 try assists with 63 running metres per game to his name across 12 matches this year, 10 of which he played the full 80 minutes.
The numbers weigh heavily in Grant's favour, and he is undoubtedly the better hooker overall right now. However, how will a month on the sideline impact his form?
Cook has scored a try, handed out a try assist and averaged 96.3 running metres per game in his last three matches. Will that recent form carry through to Origin I?
The winner of this head-to-head matchup will more than likely be decided by the forward pack in front of them.
Christan Welch & Tino Fa'asuamaleaui
Daniel Saifiti & Jake Trbojevic
This is where the Maroons can start to claim some advantage.
Christian Welch is an excellent prop and exactly the sort Queensland need to start this one. He's going to put Cleary under all sorts of pressure and is prepared to do the hard yards to get the Maroons up the field with the ball in hand. Likewise, he will contribute to their yardage game further out through his ability as a ballplayer. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui provides the Maroons with speed and strength from kickoff. He can cart the ball in behind the ruck or crab across the field in search of openings.
While Daniel Saifiti is a strong enough ball-carrier, he's one dimensional. If he isn't making his mark one-off the ruck in exit sets, the 25-year-old offers little else. Jake Trbojevic's selection at prop is a head-scratcher. His ball-playing could play a significant role in how the Blues get up the field, and he's an option to straighten the attack in good ball. However, questions remain over Trbojevic's ability to get the Blues up the field as a ball carrier.
The starting #8 and #10 for both states match up relatively well on paper ahead of Game 1, but Queensland are sending out the pair that is likely to come out on top.
Felise Kaufusi & David Fifita
Cameron Murray & Tariq Sims
Felise Kaufusi escaped suspension in Round 12 and is available for Game 1. He provides Queensland with a consistent line runner and quality defender on the edge. Kaufusi doesn't feature in many highlights packages and is rarely talked about as one of the better backrowers in the comp, but there is a reason he is consistently picked at Origin level and has chalked up 142 games for Craig Bellamy at the Storm.
What Kaufusi lacks in X-factor, David Fifita more than makes up for it. His numbers in 2021 tell the story.
|Games||Tries||Line Breaks||Tackle Breaks||Offloads||Running Metres per Game|
The Blues backrow doesn't offer quite the same confidence.
Cameron Murray has experience on the edge but has played predominantly at lock throughout his 92 first grade games. Meanwhile, Tariq Sims was barely in the conversation as an option for the 2021 series. Playing in his first Origin match since 2017, this is a big step up for Sims.
The unknown of what the Blues edge might produce is what leans this position heavily in favour of the Maroons.
They're two very different players wearing the same jersey number, but Jai Arrow and Isaah Yeo's selections go a long way to previewing the playing style of both teams.
Arrow is a tough ball carrier. He will feature heavily in Queensland's exit sets and pile up running metres through the centre-third.
On the other hand, Yeo is likely to spend more time moving the ball or tipping it onto support players. He will take plenty of carries himself, but Yeo's ball-playing is what will have appealed to Freddy Fittler when he also considered Murray and Trbojevic at #13.
Yeo will have a limited role as a ball player if the Maroons can get on top and force the Blues into a more conservative style. However, if the Blues move the ball wide and force the Maroons to work out of their own 20-metre line, Arrow will be running at a fast and front-footed defensive line, significantly reducing his yardage output.
Both top tier middles in their dominant skillset, this one is a coin flip.
AJ Brimson, Jaydn Su'A, Moeaki Fotuaika & Joe Ofahengaue
Jack Wighton, Junior Paulo, Payne Haas & Liam Martin
All four ticks go in favour of the Blues when it comes to the bench.
AJ Brimson has played better than Jack Wighton overall in 2021, but Wighton's versatility in this could be most valuable to the Blues should injuries strike.
Jaydn Su'A failed to make the South Sydney Rabbitohs 17 before heading into Origin camp. Meanwhile, Junior Paulo continues his rise as one of the best props in rugby league while playing a key role in Parramatta's dominance through the middle.
Moeaki Fotuaika is grossly underrated and has been for years. He has been toiling away on the Gold Coast with little recognition going his way. A lot of that is due to the bloke an hour up the M1 in Brisbane. Payne Haas is the best young prop in the game and has taken most of the spotlight away from Fotuaika over the last two years.
Few expected Joe Ofahengaue's name to be listed on the Maroon's team sheet. He has improved over the last six weeks, but you're picking Liam Martin if they're put side-by-side in this spot. Martin benefits from playing beside his halves club pairing and can be sent onto the field on the edge or the middle. Ofahengaue, on the other hand, has been exposed defending on the edge for the Tigers this year and will be a target for the Blues attack if he isn't filling in at lock or prop.
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