Sunday 18 March 2018 / 04:56 AM


Since 1980, a total of 457 players have played State of Origin football – but only 27 of them have debuted in the Game 3 decider pressure-cooker, 12 of those as a reserve/interchange.

Contentious Queensland picks Cameron Munster and Ben Hunt will add to that modest tally on Wednesday night.

Incredibly, of the 15 decider debutants to be pitched into the run-on side, just three – Blues centres Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier (both 2004), and Maroons winger Dane Gagai (2015) – have got their hands on the Origin shield at fulltime.

Someone ominously, Munster will become just the fourth Queenslander to make a debut in a decider in the starting line-up, and just the third player to debut in the halves (or the spine, for that matter) in a live Game 3 for either state after NSW duo Cliff Lyons and Mitchell Pearce.

Here’s how the full gamut of decider debutants from 1982-2015 fared:

1982 – Tony Currie (Qld), Don McKinnon, Paul Merlo, Phil Duke (NSW)

The first-ever Origin decider produced three Blues one-game wonders. Tough Norths prop McKinnon and Wests back-rower Merlo never represented again (though McKinnon did win selection on the Kangaroo Tour at the end of the year), while Moree Boomerangs winger Duke was involved in an infamous in-goal mix-up with Phil Sigsworth that sealed his place in Origin infamy and handed Queensland a 10-5 win. The versatile Currie came off the bench for the Maroons and went on to play 13 Origins.

1983 – Bruce Astill, Gavin Jones (Qld), Kevin Hastings (NSW)

Astill and Jones came off the bench in the Maroons’ 43-22 romp; it was Astill’s only appearance, while Jones later featured in the 1986 series after joining Norths. One of the finest halfbacks of the era, Roosters stalwart Hastings never received another Origin opportunity after his sole appearance as a reserve.

1987 – Cliff Lyons, Phil Daley (NSW)

The only half selected to debut in a decider in Origin’s first 28 seasons, Lyons opposed Wally Lewis in a nail-biting 10-8 loss, but was one of NSW’s better players in the first of his six Origin. Daley’s three-game Origin tenure is best remembered for being kicked out of the Blues’ team for leaving camp to visit his pregnant wife during the 1988 series.

1991 – Craig Salvatori, David Fairleigh (NSW)

Easts prop Salvatori and Norths back-rower Fairleigh both came off the bench in the classic ’91 decider, each having a hand in second-half tries before the Maroons sent Wally Lewis out a winner 14-12. ‘Salvo’ eventually played five games for NSW, while ‘Daisy’ racked up 10 Origins.

1992 – Tim Brasher (NSW)

The first genuine decider debutant success story despite starting on the bench, Brasher kicked two crucial goals and made a brilliant try-saving cover tackle on Mark Coyne to help the Blues to a 16-4 victory. The Balmain utility-back went on to become one of the Blues’ best-ever custodians, playing the next 18 straight Origins in the No.1 jumper and retiring with 21 appearances to his name.

1994 – Jason Smith (Qld)

The first Queenslander named to start on debut in a decider, Smith’s night ended early when he was KO’d by a controversial Ian Roberts tackle. Brother Darren came off the bench to replace him in the 27-12 loss, but Jason went on to carve out an outstanding 16-game Origin career.

1998 – Tony Butterfield, Robbie Kearns (NSW)

The 32-year-old Butterfield was handed a debut for the injury-ravaged Blues in ’98 and the Newcastle stalwart let no one down starting in the front-row, though the Maroons romped to a 19-4 win. Kearns was solid off the bench in the first of eight Origins for NSW – which would have been more if he didn’t fall off a horse during one of coach Wayne Pearce’s novel bonding sessions in 1999.

2002 – Jason Ryles (NSW), Brent Tate (Qld)

Dragons enforcer Ryles was a popular inclusion for the ’02 decider after suspension ruled him out of the first two games, and the Test prop was one of the Blues’ best in the 18-all draw, the first of eight outings for a player that never played in a losing series. Tate, a veteran of just 17 NRL games for the Broncos at that stage, played a bit-part role off the bench but went on to became a bona fide Origin great in 23 appearances.

2004 – Mark Gasnier, Matt Cooper (NSW)

Probably the greatest decider debutant poster children, the Dragons centre pairing contributed strongly to a 36-14 thrashing of the Maroons at ANZ Stadium. Gasnier, who was kicked out of the team for the series opener after a drunken bonding session went awry, scored two first-half tries, while Cooper was excellent in attack and defence. Cooper went on to play 13 Origins and Gasnier 12.

2005 – Danny Nutley, Ashley Harrison (Qld)

One-game wonder Nutley had few answers to the power game of opposing prop starters Jason Ryles and Luke Bailey, while interchange Harrison endured a three-year Origin hiatus before being recalled by the Maroons and chalking up 15 appearances – the most by a Queensland player that didn’t go on to represent Australia.

2006 – Paul Gallen (NSW)

It seems almost apt that Gallen’s Origin career started in the same game that kicked off the Maroons’ dynasty – though one of the greatest Blues servants, the Cronulla lock’s tenure was played almost exclusively in the shadow of Queensland’s record-breaking reign. Gallen played 24 games for NSW and captained his state to a drought-busting series win in 2014.

2008 – Joel Monaghan, Mitchell Pearce (NSW)

The only player to debut in a decider in the No.7 jersey, one of the most troubled Origin careers began as a 19-year-old in Game 3 of the ’08 series. Pearce was sound in the gripping 16-10 loss – showing few signs of the horrors of later years despite being the second-youngest Blues player ever. He has played in 17 Origins for five wins, and is chasing his first series victory in seven attempts. Meanwhile, Monaghan had a quiet debut after coming into the team for the injured Mark Gasnier, but recovered to notch two more Origin jerseys and five Test appearances.

2011 – Keith Galloway (NSW)

‘Big Keithy’s’ Origin career consisted of nine minutes in the Blues’ convincing loss as the Maroons saluted Darren Lockyer’s last game in style. The towering Tiger’s rep career highlight came later in the year, when he played all five Tests of the Kangaroos’ post-season campaign.

2012 – Ben Te’o (Qld)

Souths back-rower Te’o made his presence felt in 20 minutes off the bench in Queensland’s nerve-shredding 21-20 victory, and went on to play six Origins before heading over to rugby union.

2015 – Dane Gagai (Qld)

The only Queenslander to start on debut in a decider and win, Gagai had a blinder in the record-shattering 52-8 triumph in 2015. Setting the tone for an extraordinarily action-packed Origin career to date, Gagai scored the first try and ran for a truckload of metres in a non-stop display on the wing. The Knights flyer was stiff to miss out on the Wally Lewis Medal last year and should go close to winning it if the Maroons get up on Wednesday.

[YouTube – NRL Hub]

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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