Matchups are everything in State of Origin. 17 men looking to one-up their opposing number, often those being some of the best players in the world going head-to-head. Win this battle and you are giving your side the advantage; lose it and you may find yourself out of an Origin jumper come the next game.
Injuries and exciting rookies have resulted in mass changes for both squads, with last year’s Player of the Series Tom Trbojevic one of the numerous players out of Game 1. Whether it be returning players, established stars or exciting rookies, this series shapes to be one of the best in recent memory.
It is anyone’s guess who will come out on top in Sydney, however, these are some of the biggest matchups to watch out for on Wednesday night.
Daly Cherry-Evans versus Nathan Cleary
The generals of the two sides, the 2021 State of Origin series was one to forget for Daly Cherry-Evans as he was comfortably shown up by Nathan Cleary. Whilst we all know what Cleary can do, his 2021 series was a breakout of sorts.
He was able to dominate the arena, controlling the tempo of the match with his boot. Cherry-Evans on the other hand struggled to do just that, giving the deadly New South Wales’ back five too much time and space to be able to work their magic.
If Queensland wants to win back the shield it needs to be off the back of a complete series performance from Cherry-Evans, who has found some serious form to begin the 2022 NRL season. So far, the 33-year-old halfback has recorded the second most 40/20s in the competition whilst kicking for the second most metres in 2022.
If Cherry-Evans can take a bit of this form into Wednesday night this will take an incredible amount of pressure off his teammates, including star five-eighth Cameron Munster. If he has a better performance than his New South Wales counterpart Queensland will likely be 1-0 up heading to Perth.
Kotoni Staggs versus Valentine Holmes
Whilst Valentine Holmes has played 10 Origin matches in his illustrious career, Wednesday night will be the first time that he lines up in the centre position. His opponent is slated to be rookie Kotoni Staggs, who after injuries to Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell is preparing for his first experience in the Origin arena.
Two explosive centres who are in sensational form heading into the series, their edge will likely be a key position that their sides will be looking to win come Wednesday night. The duo are both masters of the tackle break, recording a combined 99 this season, whilst the pair average almost 100 running metres per game.
Despite both being solid in defence, the duo have looked a little shaky at times this season, with neither completing over 85 per cent of their tackles. If one of them can get a roll on expect them to find joy down the left edge, with points likely to follow.
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui versus Payne Haas
Two of the most damaging players in the NRL and a pair who have come to blows in the Origin arena before, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui versus Payne Haas is worth the price of admission alone.
Many thought that the pair could hardly improve since they last pulled on their state’s colours, however somehow both have seemed to take their game to new heights in 2022. Between them, they average over 300 run metres per game, whilst a combined tackle efficiency rate of approximately 95 per cent proves their capabilities on both ends.
Often the most important period in an Origin match is the opening 20 minutes when one team can potentially gain control of the match. This comes about through dominant forward play, allowing the back’s to be able to find space through the metres their starting props have made.
Whoever blinks first between these two will be putting their team at a major disadvantage come Wednesday night, with it being anyone’s guess as to which one of them that will be.
Ryan Matterson versus Jeremiah Nanai
Two State of Origin rookies who will be asked to bring a spark off the bench, these forwards are the definition of an X-factor. At the beginning of the season, you would have been hard-pressed to have found anyone with these two in their squads, however, the pair now have deservedly an important role to play.
After the starting forwards have done the hard work, it is Nanai and Matterson’s time to shine, with the duo needing to bring a second life to their side after a hard-fought opening stanza. The interesting thing is that these two players, whilst given a similar role for their respective sides, have different strengths.
Nanai is a try scorer and has proven that this season, crossing the line a remarkable 11 times in 2022. Coach Billy Slater will be looking for the 19-year-old to bring this knack for the try line to game one, the rookie is the definition of a game-changer.
Matterson on the other hand has been one of the league’s best ‘metre-eaters’, averaging 163 run metres and 61.2 post-contact metres per game in under 50 minutes of football. His offloads have also been a key weapon for Parramatta, averaging two per match including 14 in his last four games.
This ability to get sets rolling and create second-phase plays will be a blessing if he can bring his NRL form into State of Origin, with coach Brad Fittler designating him as the team’s game-changer.
Despite their differing qualities, their jobs are clear, change the complexion of the match for their team when they enter the field. Whoever does that will be giving their team a major leg up on Wednesday.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard versus Patrick Carrigan
In the fast-paced game that is modern rugby league, we are seeing props tire out quicker than ever before. After around 20 minutes one of a team’s two big men will need a breather, with Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Patrick Carrigan being their state’s main prop option off the bench.
It is their role to make sure that they do not skip a beat when required, making metres against the tired legs of their opponents.
Campbell-Gillard has been one of the form front-rowers in the competition with Fittler hoping that he will be able to emulate his NRL form in State of Origin. The Parramatta prop has not run for under 100 metres once this season, bruising opposition packs on his way to a New South Wales call up.
Since returning from an ACL injury, Carrigan has been outstanding for a rejuvenated Brisbane side. The 24-year-old has averaged 143 metres with a tackle efficiency of 97 per cent, dominating on both ends of the ground. A leader both on and off the field, he can lead from the front and create the room that his back’s will need to shine.
When they come on at around the 20-minute mark on Wednesday both Campbell-Gillard and Carrigan will be expected to follow on from the work of their predecessors. Whoever can make the greatest impact off the bench will likely swing the game in their team’s favour.
James Tedesco versus Kalyn Ponga
Two game-breaking fullbacks who in some people’s eyes are having off seasons, both James Tedesco and Kalyn Ponga will be keen to turn their 2022 fortunes around when they square off on Wednesday night.
Tedesco is a stalwart of the Blues team, currently the squad captain. Whilst he was fantastic last series his role in the team is far more important this time around, being the main creative spark in a backline without Latrell Mitchell or Tom Trbojevic.
As always, his run metres are exceptional this season, and he will be hoping to have another 200 plus run metre performance this Wednesday. With two rookie centres likely to play much of the game in Stephen Crichton and Kotoni Staggs, it is vital for New South Wales that Tedesco steps up and is the link between the rest of the team and those two.
Ponga on the other hand has never been able to string a full series together, with the fullback only having played four matches since his debut in 2018. If the Maroons is any chance of defeating the Blues this series, the Newcastle captain will need to be at his destructive best, creating for his teammates whilst also breaking the line himself.
At times during the last series, it felt like star man Cameron Munster had too much responsibility to make something happen for the Maroons, so it is vital for not only Ponga himself but the whole team that he takes on some of the attacking burden.
The tried and tested versus the man full of potential who hasn’t quite lived up to the hype yet, it looks to be the best contest out of an incredible bunch.
Subscribe to our newsletter!