This week for ‘Your Edge’ we look into how the New South Wales Blues are approaching State of Origin, the difference between the back lines, who might fill the void at club land, and the best value plays of the weekend.
Blues Looking To Shift It
Freddy Fittler has said he knows what went wrong throughout the 2020 State of Origin series and has made the changes to correct it all. While he has remained somewhat coy on what those changes actually are, he did provide some indication of the style of play he’s working towards with the forwards he has named in the starting pack.
The Blues are looking to throw it around in Game 1 with Fittler talking during the week about his preference for shifting the ball rather than taking the hard path through the middle of the field.
“I sit there and watch games of footy and the only thing that comes out of my mouth normally is, ‘pass, pass, pass’. They don’t a lot but we have got good players in Origin, so you want to see a good brand of footy.” – Freddy Fittler
Fittler has certainly named the team capable of moving the ball. Jake Trbojevic is a ball-playing lock by trade but will line up as the starting prop on Wednesday night. He had his #13 jersey pinched by Isaah Yeo who has played a big part in the Penrith Panthers attack with his ability to act as a pivot and shift the ball from one side of the field to the other. Cameron Murray is another lock forward being crowbarred into the side while Junior Paulo is the best ball-playing prop in rugby league.
The Blues pack is set up in stark contrast to that of the Maroons.
Paul Green doesn’t have the sort of pack that is going to play expansive footy. Christian Welch, Jai Arrow and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui can all throw a pass, but they tend to do so behind full-time ball-playing locks at club level. The Queensland pack is working towards an arm-wrestle, and the backline reflects that further.
When it comes to attacking involvements per game throughout the 2021 NRL season so far, the Blues backline is head and shoulders above the Maroons. Harry Grant is up there and Kalyn Ponga is in the conversation, but Grant hasn’t played since Round 9 and Ponga won’t feature in Game 1 at all. The Blues, meanwhile, are stacked with in-form talent as Tom Trbojevic tears through his return from injury, Latrell Mitchell continues to grow as a fullback, James Tedesco is the best fullback in the game and Nathan Cleary carries the same reputation in the halves.
The Blues are significant favourites to win Game 1 ($1.51) and to take out the series ($1.54). While deserving favourites, they need to make sure this fast and wide approach down the edges with the ball works, because if it doesn’t, the Maroons look better prepared for a three-game scrap in the middle of the field.
Back 5 Battle
Kalyn PongaValentine Holmes
- Xavier Coates
- Kurt Capewell
- Dane Gagai
- Kyle Feldt
New South Wales
- James Tedesco
- Brian To’o
- Latrell Mitchell
- Tom Trbojevic
- Josh Addo-Carr
One of those back-five’s isn’t like the other…
If there is one massive disparity between the two states for Game 1, it’s the quality of players in jersey’s 1-5.
Brian To’o is the best metre-eating backline player in the NRL right now and makes his debut in this one. Meanwhile, Tom Trbojevic sticks out as the most influential player in the game with over six attacking involvements (try, try assist, line break or line break assist) per game. But somewhat surprisingly, nestled in there among the blue circles filling the more dominant areas of the graph, is Valentine Holmes.
The North Queensland Cowboys fullback has quietly put together a very nice season since making the #1 jersey his in Round 3. With two tries, six try assists, seven line breaks and 46 tackle breaks along with 183.6 running metres per game, Holmes has been one of the more productive fullbacks in the NRL this season. Starting on the wing took some of the shine off his first full season back in rugby league. Playing in a horrible side for the opening month didn’t help either. However, the 25-year-old has been a key feature in North Queensland’s rise into the Top 8 and will need to feature heavily in Game 1 if Queensland is to open the 2021 series with an upset.
Stepping Up In The Middle
The NRL isn’t for everybody during the State of Origin period. It’s a time to rest up from rugby league and one of the better weekends to fill in the timesheet with family or a significant other. For many of the players running out this week though, it’s an opportunity to taste first grade or put their hand up for more.
While Jayden Campbell, Izack Tago and Selwyn Cobbo headline a list of interesting debutants this week, benchies and reserve graders are also being handed extra responsibility with teammates away on Origin duty.
Jaimin Jolliffe rated a big mention when we checked in with metres per run and metres per minute back in Round 9. He is still one of the most efficient forwards in the game a month later, but this week, he has been named to make his first start of the season. This will be a big test for the 24-year-old after averaging just 30.8 minutes per game so far in 2021.
Three other names shape as players to watch with some extra responsibility this week.
Oregon Kaufusi has been excellent in short stints so far this season. He is averaging 92 running metres in 31.8 minutes per game and will be asked to share some of the load in the absence of Junior Paulo on Sunday.
Similarly, Thomas Mikaele has the potential to provide the Wests Tigers with some spark and extra minutes off the bench with Joe Ofahengaue unavailable. Mikaele started the season slowly but has averaged 111.5 running metres in 33.5 minutes per game across his last four.
Matt Eisenhuth has been given the task of replacing Isaah Yeo for Round 13. A handy performer off the bench for his 95 running metres in 33.7 minutes per game, Eisenhuth is stepping into a #13 jersey that typically spends 64 minutes out on the field every week. Lucky for him, he has Spencer Leniu on hand to shoulder some of the yardage load on Friday night.
Leniu is comfortably the best metres per minute interchange forward running out onto the field in Round 13 with 101 metres in only 24.7 minutes per game.
The fresh faces and young players on debut will occupy much of the pre-game chatter, but it’s the more seasoned players looking to take the next step in their careers that are the focus here this week.
Some big prices fill the first try scorer value list this week, but it’s Mikaele Ravalawa that deserves the most attention. The Broncos play with the second-worst defence in the NRL with Ravalawa sure to be a chance at going over early on Thursday night.
Matt Burton is the main man in Penrith this weekend and shapes as the model’s best anytime try scorer option while Jahrome Hughes is a regular here and features again against a flimsy Titans edge defence. Maika Sivo also rates a mention after scoring in six of his last 11 games as a road favourite per the Sport Tech Daily Try Scorer Portal.