State of Origin Game 3 is here and so is Your Edge. This week we’re digging into the numbers and some of the selection decisions from both sides ahead of the decider.
Billy Slater has turned to Tom Gilbert as the replacement for Felise Kaufusi who misses Game 3 for personal reasons.
Remarkably, David Fifita didn’t get a look in…
Fifita has struggled with fitness and form in 2022. Although, the form of the players around him at the Titans hasn’t helped. Still, Fifita is a match-winner and it wouldn’t hurt to carry him on the bench and unleash him for 20-25 minutes at some stage in the match.
Nonetheless, Slater has opted for Gilbert, who, unlike Fifita, is in career-best form at the Cowboys. His versatility is another tick in the selection box with his ability to play in the middle or on the edge. He’s a strong carrier of the football and will provide a spark off the bench when introduced. It’s where Queensland turned the match in Game 1 but they couldn’t repeat it in Game 2. Slater has no doubt circled the period either side of halftime as one they need to win and Gilbert’s intensity on both sides of the ball will help in that regard.
It’s the defensive side that is a concern when it comes to Jeremiah Nanai.
Excellent with the ball, Nanai has produced a handful of rookie moments in defence. He has missed 52 tackles already this season while making 425 tackles. Gilbert, on the other hand, has missed only 34 tackles while making 463. Missed tackles aren’t the most accurate measure of defence, but the eye tests suggests Gilbert is far superior in his reads and contact in defence while Nanai has been caught on his heels a few times throughout the year.
It won’t be a surprise to see Jai Arrow start on the edge in place of Nanai either. He has been there and done it before at State of Origin level and while he might not have the same speed and mobility Nanai does, he can be trusted to hold down the edge attempting to contain New South Wales’ lethal left side.
McLean Out, Saifiti In
With Payne Haas ruled out and Reagan Campbell-Gillard seemingly not an option for Game 3, Brad Fittler looked to Jordan McLean. The North Queensland Cowboys prop has turned his career around in 2022 and having been close to making his State of Origin debut in the past, was named to start in this one. However, rugby league is a cruel game. Since ruled out with a hamstring injury, McLean will be forced to wait another year to feature at Origin level if he is ever to play in the arena at all.
Still, Campbell-Gillard failed to find his name on the teamsheet with Jacob Saifiti called into the squad. Statistically and by the eye-test, it’s difficult to grasp Fittler’s logic behind the decision. Campbell-Gillard has been excellent for the Eels to average 147 running metres per game this season and certainly didn’t cost the Blues the result in Game 1. Meanwhile, Saifiti has cracked 147 metres only eight times in his 113-game NRL career and not once in 2022.
Fittler talked about Saifiti’s “aggressive game” suiting his style. Again, aggression isn’t something most consider an issue for Campbell-Gillard but Fittler may be alluding to the defensive side of the ball.
Saifiti makes more tackles and misses fewer tackles than Campbell-Gillard at NRL level. Fittler recalled Jake Trbojevic for the impact he can have in defence and it paid dividends in Game 2. The Sea Eagles lock led the line speed and set the tone defensively before the Blues attack built their lead on the back of it. The aggression and consistency Saifiti has shown in defence may have been what got him over the line at the selection table.
Fittler is known for his ‘big calls’ and this is another one of them. Campbell-Gillard looks the better option on paper but he has put his faith in another debutant with the series on the line.
Papalii’s Last Ride?
Josh Papalii is a State of Origin legend and has been one of Queensland’s most consistent performers since making his debut back in 2013.
He hasn’t been given the chance to be a consistent performer this year, though. Billy Slater has kept the 30-year-old to just 22 and 26 minutes in Game 1 and 2. He is averaging a meagre 36 running metres per game and has barely been noticed throughout the early exchanges. It has been one of the bigger surprises out of the Maroons camp this series. Perhaps it shouldn’t be?
Papalii’s numbers are down overall as he averages only 119 running metres per game for the Radiers – his lowest mark since 2015.
He seems to be on the outer at Origin level. Slater certainly hasn’t been impressed with his output and it looks as though this might be his last ride with the Maroons unless he stands out and contributes to a win in Game 3.
State of Origin Gagai
There has long been a joke in NRL circles about State of Origin Gagai. It’s the same Dane Gagai that plays for his club at NRL level, but this version flicks a switch and regardless of his form in club land, becomes one of the best players in the game at Origin level. In 2022, however, Gagai’s Origin form is mirroring his club form.
Gagai has missed 50 tackles in 12 games for the Knights this season. He finished 2021 with 49 missed tackles in 23 games. With nine misses in Game 1 and eight misses in Game 2, the 21-game Queensland veteran hasn’t flicked the ‘Origin Gagai’ switch in 2022.
In Gagai’s defence, he is defending a lethal Blues left edge. He is in a position that is asked to make split second-decisions and he’s not always going to make the right one. His decisions are based on those inside him, too. Daly Cherry-Evans, in particular, hasn’t helped him. Still, Gagai’s missed tackle numbers and overall impact in defence will play a big part in the result on Wednesday night.
State of Origin Value Plays
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