As the clock continues to tick towards Gerrard Sutton’s opening whistle on Wednesday night, these are the mouth-watering match-ups which will decide Game One.
This is the battle that has rugby league fans licking their lips.
Two fleet-footed stars with electric pace and freaky agility, who are capable of turning a game on its head at the touch of a ball.
Despite Ponga’s headlines, Tedesco is statistically having a slightly stronger season. He leads the competition for linebreaks (14), has the fifth highest run metre average (176m), the most tackle breaks (61) and has crossed the stripe eight times. Ponga, on the other hand, has 13 linebreaks, averages 107m per game, has 44 tackle breaks six tries for the Knights.
Where both players will be most threatening will undoubtedly be through the middle, offering support for forwards and playing off fast play-the-balls. A prime example was Tedesco’s try to open the series last year, where the Roosters flyer supported James Maloney on the inside after Damien Cook opened up the Maroons from dummy half.
While Tedesco will no doubt be New South Wales’ best, this is the type of game Kalyn Ponga loves. He’ll do something special.
Damien Cook vs Ben Hunt
With this battle in the middle, the numbers can’t be compared. Damien Cook is the game’s most dominant rake currently, whilst Ben Hunt is a specialist halfback who has been thrust into the hooker role for Queensland – a position where Kevin Walters has been left short-changed.
Damien Cook was a revelation in last year’s series. He caused all kinds of damage to Queensland’s defensive line, relentlessly darting out of dummy half and catching tired forwards out with his speed.
The Rabbitohs star leads the competition in try assists (16) has 11 linebreak assists and has only missed 15 tackles. Hunt in comparison has nine try assists, ten linebreak assists and has missed the most tackles for his club with 41.
The Maroons will reportedly be relying on Hunt to play 80 minutes at hooker, where he hasn’t played all year. It will be a big ask of the Dragons star, particularly when trying to match Cook for speed all game.
The proven Origin star up against the heartwarming Origin story. This is arguably the most intriguing battle on field.
Cody Walker has set the competition alight with his form for the Rabbitohs and comes up against Cameron Munster, who has been Queensland’s answer to the retirement of the Big Three.
Cameron Munster will form a damaging left-side partnership with Michael Morgan, Matt Gillett and Corey Oates, with Kalyn Ponga chiming in in the background. Cody Walker meanwhile will sit within the left-side attacking combination of the Roosters which has sounded the alarms of all clubs the tri-colours have faced this season.
Between the two sixes, Cody Walker wins this battle as far as key playmaking metrics go.
Walker remarkably leads the competition with 11 tries, and has 11 try assists,15 linebreak assists and averages 113m with the boot. Meanwhile, Munster has five tries, 10 try assists, nine linebreak assists and average 208 kicking metres.
Munster is accustomed to the severe pace at which Origin is played, and it will be Cody Walker’s ability to adapt to this quickly which will deem who wins this battle. The numbers suggest Cody Walker will dominate in this game. But in Origin, experience is everything.
Two names that have dominated the headlines in the build-up to the series opener.
Whilst the narrative surrounding Cleary suggests the Penrith star is under immense pressure to produce on Wednesday night, this is the pressure he has coped with all season.
Whilst his effort can’t be questioned, Cleary hasn’t quite demonstrated the finesse that is expected of a halfback, and the numbers exemplify this. Cleary only has four try assists, nine linebreak assists and averages just 214 average kick metres – numbers which rank him towards the bottom of the league’s number sevens.
His opposite number in Cherry-Evans has barely played a part in Manly’s season thus far, going down injured in late April during his side’s defeat of the Raiders and not playing a game of NRL since. Despite this, however, Cherry-Evans has more try assists (5) and a higher kick meter average than Cleary (297m).
Whilst his class is immeasurable, asking Cherry-Evans to return to top grade football via Origin is a huge ask and could have a monumental impact on the Maroons. The stakes are even higher now he has been named as Queensland’s new skipper.
There’s a feeling around Daly Cherry-Evans’ return to the field, particularly with the (c) next to his name, and it could be his leadership capabilities that lead the Maroons to a win at Suncorp Stadium.