Game 3 of the State of Origin series is almost upon us and again, team selections have caused some great debate. This time it was around the replacement for injured Maroons champion, Johnathan Thurston.
The 2017 campaign has been one of transition imposed on the Queensland side, with Thurston unavailable for the opening game, where Bronco Anthony Milford was handed his debut. Milford suffered an injury and has been unavailable since. Thurston returned for Game 2 but succumbed to a shoulder injury after the game, which meant Queensland had to find yet another half for Game 3.
Commentators and armchair experts alike were bemused to hear that both Cameron Munster and Ben Hunt had been called into the Maroons’ squad ahead of form half and former Test and Origin player Daly Cherry-Evans.
The talk leading up to the selection of Thurston’s replacement was nothing but mixed messages. A look towards a long-term replacement was first bandied about, followed by wanting someone who could employ a similar game-plan to Thurston to compliment Cronk, who is likely to farewell the Origin arena after the Brisbane decider.
So, it’s time to let the stats do the talking to determine if Queensland’s decision to pick Munster and Hunt was the right one.
All stats are from NRL games only, played this year, up until the end of Round 17. Only games played in the halves have been compiled (data for Munster’s games at Fullback are not included).
One player stands above the rest in this area: Cameron Munster. The Storm utility-back has played seven games in the halves this year and has the best averages for line breaks, tackle breaks and metres per run, while ranking third behind Anthony Milford and Thurston for runs per game.
Line Breaks: Munster 4 in 7 games and Morgan 8 in 15 games.
Tackle Breaks: Munster 37 in 7 games, Milford 49 in 12 games, Morgan 47 in 15 games.
Runs: Milford 155 in 12 games, Thurston 87 in 7 games, Munster 83 in 7 games.
Metres per Run: Munster 9.43, Norman 8.15, Nikorima 8.06, Taylor 7.86, Milford 7.62.
Form halfback of the NRL Daly Cherry-Evans tops this category, comfortably beating his Queensland contemporaries for most line break assists and try assists. Munster, Milford and Morgan all rank better in this area than Cronk and Thurston.
Offloads: Milford 23 in 12 games, Munster 7 in 7 games.
Line Break Assists: Cherry-Evans 14 in 15 games, Munster 6 in 7 games.
Try Assists: Cherry-Evans 15 in 15 games, Thurston 7 in 7 games, Morgan 12 in 15 games, Taylor 12 in 16 games.
Melbourne halves Cronk and rookie Ryley Jacks are the two best defenders, and along with Cherry-Evans, are the only players in this analysis with a tackle success rate over 88%. Kane Elgey, Milford and Thurston are the only players with less than 80% success.
Tackle effectiveness: Jacks 95.58 % (238 made, 11 missed), Cronk 92% (184 made, 16 missed), Cherry-Evans 91.97% (355 made, 31 missed)
Corey Norman averages 11.4 kicks per game, comfortably more than Cronk at 10.69, Ben Hunt on 10.3 and Thurston at 10.143. At the other end of the spectrum is Munster and Jacks, both of whom make less than 3 kicks per game.
Kicks: Norman 11.42, Cronk 10.69, Hunt 10.30, Thurston 10.143, Taylor 9.38, Morgan 8.4.
Cameron Munster’s running game and chance creation have been great this year and have made up for his lack of a kicking game. Daly Cherry-Evans has been phenomenal at creating opportunities with none of his Queensland colleagues coming close to him for try assists and line break assists. Cooper Cronk, Ryley Jacks and Cherry-Evans are the best defenders and have proven to not be a turnstile like most halves, while Corey Norman, Cooper Cronk, Ben Hunt and Johnathan Thurston shoulder much of the kicking responsibilities.
However, it is the Maroons’ starting five-eighth for the decider, Cameron Munster, who is rated as the best half, ahead of Milford and Corey Norman.
Morgan was fourth, with Thurston behind him. Then there’s a three-way tie between Daly Cherry-Evans, Cooper Cronk and Ben Hunt.
The remaining players were well back and in order were Ashley Taylor, Moses Mbye, Kane Elgey and Ryley Jacks.