Game 1 of the 2022 men’s State of Origin series will be the 124th meeting between New South Wales and Queensland since the concept began in 1980. The first instalment of this campaign will take place at Accor Stadium in Sydney, and the Blues will come into the match having won their last three matches at the Homebush venue. The last and only time the Blues recorded a longer unbeaten run at the venue was an 11-match span from 1999 to 2006 (W10, D1). Despite that, the battle ahead becomes less imposing for the Queenslanders when you consider the Maroons have won Game 1 in two of the last three series (L1) and six of the last eight such fixtures outside their home state (L2).
Queensland will be under the stewardship of their third coach in as many years as Billy Slater steps into the hot seat despite having no previous head coaching experience at NRL level. He comes up against a New South Wales team under Brad Fittler gunning for their fourth series victory from five campaigns under the Penrith Panthers and Sydney Roosters legend. Fittler’s seven victories as coach of the Blues is second only to Phil Gould (W14) in Origin history.
Will Slater seize the opportunity or will Fittler forge another pair of back-to-back series victories? Join us as we preview this State of Origin series through the power of Stats Perform’s NRL data.
State of Origin is the ultimate proving ground for any rugby league player and in 2022 seven more players will be given their opportunity to show what they’re made off. Across the two first XVIIs, there are seven players primed to make their State of Origin debut. Brisbane Broncos trio Kotoni Staggs, Selwyn Cobbo, and Patrick Carrigan, North Queensland Cowboys duo Reuben Cotter and Jeremiah Nanai, Penrith Panthers’ Stephen Crichton, and Parramatta Eels forward Ryan Matterson are all set to play on the interstate stage for the first time.
Ryan Matterson is the only one of the seven to have played more than 100 NRL games with his Origin debut set to take place 130 games deep into his domestic career. At the other end, Jeremiah Nanai (16) and Selwyn Cobbo (19) are each remarkably set to make their Origin debuts with fewer than 20 NRL games under their belts.
The Queensland side come into this series with more experience at the State of Origin level, their starting XIII boasting 33 games more experience than their New South Wales counterparts. Nearly one-third of Queensland’s total State of Origin experience comes through Josh Papalii (20 games) and Dane Gagai (19 games), while James Tedesco (16 games) and Damien Cook (12 games) are the only players on the New South Wales first XVII to have played more than 10 games in the tournament.
The New South Wales team might give a lead to the Queenslanders in experience, but they are certainly not rookies by any stretch with their experience at NRL level steadying them in comparison to their northern rivals. The New South Wales first XVII has a total of 2,308 games of NRL experience combined (136 games per player) which is 271 more games than Queensland, who have an average of 120 games per player. The bench in particular is where the Blues experience shines, with all four players playing more than 60 NRL games – including two above 100 – while not a single player on the Queensland bench has played more than 60 NRL games.
Neither team is short of big game experience or a history of producing clutch plays in historic moments, but it will be a battle of NRL experience against State of Origin experience when the two teams meet for the first time in 2022.
Historically the closest of the three-game series with an average winning margin of just nine points, the first game presents an opportunity for the best goalkickers in the competition to gift their team an early lead in the series. The 2022 campaign will be no exception with some of the competition’s most efficient kickers on display.
While New South Wales will lean heavily on the ice cool Nathan Cleary to do the bulk of their kicking – a career 88% success rate in State of Origin speaks for itself – they can rest easy knowing that they have also included Kotoni Staggs in their starting XVII as well. The Brisbane Broncos centre has announced himself as one of the best goal kickers in the 2022 NRL season.
The Opta Kick Predictor has analysed all 14 of Staggs’ attempts at goal this season, assessing the difficulty of each shot and allotting 19.2 expected points from those attempts. Staggs has outperformed that mark this season and slotted 12 of those 14 attempts for a points tally of 24 – 4.8 more than was expected. On a per goal basis, Staggs has gained 0.34 points per kick in the 2022 NRL season and while that may not sound like a lot, it all adds up and it is more than any other player has managed this campaign.
Staggs’ opposition centre Valentine Holmes will be tasked with goal kicking for the Queenslanders and, if his NRL form is anything to go by, they can all but rely on two points when he steps up to the tee. Holmes has gained 7.9 points from kicks in the 2022 NRL season, picking up 90 points where only 82.1 were expected. When the pressure is on, Holmes is on, too. When trailing or level with their opposition, only South Sydney Rabbitohs’ Blake Taaffe (100%) has a better goal kicking success rate in the 2022 NRL season than Holmes, who has slotted seven goals from eight attempts when the chips have not been in the North Queensland team’s favour.
The ‘Origin Gagai’ trope has been one of the most talked about phenomena of the rugby league world since Dane Gagai debuted in the tournament in Game 3 of the 2015 series. Gagai is a man seemingly built for the State of Origin arena whose performances in the maroon jersey lift to levels not often seen in his NRL career.
One of the most damaging centres in the game on his day, Gagai is already among elite company in the top try scorers in State of Origin history. He’s dotted down 11 times in his 19 appearances in the tournament thus far which is the joint fifth most of any player and more than any other currently active player in the competition.
Two more four-pointers would see Gagai become the outright third most prolific try scorer in men’s State of Origin history behind only Greg Inglis (18) and Darius Boyd (17), two stalwarts of the unstoppable Queensland juggernaut that reigned throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s. It may not be as likely as the historic ledger looks, though. Gagai has not scored a try in his last eight State of Origin appearances, last finding the white line in the form of a double in the first game of the 2019 series.
The Art of a Forward
A positional battle in the forward pack that will play a key role in determining the outcome of Game 1 is Payne Haas (NSW) against Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Queensland) in the front row. Both just 22 years of age, they have already had some fiery exchanges in the State of Origin arena in the past and will lock horns once again.
Haas (seven games) has the edge when it comes to experience at this level over Fa’asuamaleaui (six), although the Gold Coast Titans’ captain has certainly made an impact. Fa’asuamaleaui has made three more tackles (30) and run for 10 more metres (110) per game than Haas (27 tackles, 100 metres) in their Origin careers. However, Haas (95%) does boast the higher tackle success rate (Fa’asuamaleaui – 87%).
It’s not just over Haas that Fa’asuamaleaui holds an edge when carrying the ball. He has made nearly 100 more hit up metres (653) than any other player since making his debut for the Maroons in 2020 (Daniel Saifiti next on 565).
Selfless in his actions, only Queensland team-mate Josh Papalii (39) has made more decoy runs amongst all players in that time than Fa’asuamaleaui (38). Billy Slater will be looking to him to get at the Blues kickers in general play: Fa’asuamaleaui’s 18 kick pressures is the joint-most by any player across the last two series (also Damien Cook – 18).
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Design by Briggs Clinard.