Origin I is set to be one of the quickest and most intense matches ever played, with predictions that the six-again rule could increase the speed of the game by up to 15%.
While Origin is renowned for being played at a faster pace than NRL matches, the introduction of the six-again rule this year resulted in the speed of Telstra Premiership games being higher than last season’s series between NSW and Queensland.
The NRL finals were a step up again from the regular season, with the average distance players sprinted at high speed increasing by 30% to 312 metres compared to the 2019 premiership (241m).
There was also a 15% increase in the average distance of high speed running per player from last season (241m) to this year's premiership (277m).
Intensity, which is measured by metres per minute, and the total distance run by players in NRL matches were also significantly higher than last season and greater than the 2019 Origin series.
The time that the ball was in play during games this season also increased by 84 seconds to 56.3 minutes compared to last year’s premiership (54.9min).
Players, coaches and officials all expect the interstate series to be faster than matches in this year’s NRL season, with Queensland assistant coach Mal Meninga saying the increased pace and intensity was likely to be a key factor in the opening Ampol State of Origin match at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday night.
"Origin will be quicker, we know that," said Meninga, who oversaw nine series wins for Queensland between 2006 and 2015.
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 1 -
Venue: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
"The ball will be in play more too, so it is going to be interesting to see how it all pans out.
"Whoever handles it the best, is obviously going to come out on top."
NRL head of football Graham Annesley, former Dragons mentor Paul McGregor and Kangaroos assistant coach Michael Hagan expect Origin to be faster, while Blues stars Tyson Frizell, Nathan Cleary and Jack Wighton are bracing for the intensity to be "through the roof".
Hagan is a former Maroons player and coach, McGregor played 14 Origins and was a member of the coaching staff when the Blues won the 2014 series while Annesely is a former Origin referee.
"It is a bit like world swimming records," Annesley said.
"Just when you think that people can’t swim any faster they keep breaking records and you would think with the standard of the NRL competition continuing to rise that Origin will follow suit.
"It is a different Origin series this year, being played at the end of the season and the players have had a couple of weeks off, but I couldn’t see any reason why it won’t be played at breakneck speed."
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The fatigue factor
Hagan expressed concern the speed and intensity of Origin, coupled with the fact that some players haven’t played since the end of the regular season in late September, could result in a heavy casualty toll.
"Let’s assume that Origin is 15% quicker and more intense, the fatigue factor is already in play," Hagan said.
"Take into account that some players haven’t played for a month the risk of injury becomes much higher."
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NSW and Queensland have selected 27-man squads and with the Origin series being played over three weeks, there is a theory that Blues coach Brad Fittler and his Maroons counterpart Wayne Bennett may need to draw on every player.
McGregor said referee Gerard Sutton would play an important role in determining the speed of the series opener in Adelaide.
Blues v Maroons - Origin I
"How many times is he going to call the six-again?" McGregor said. "That will determine how under fatigue the players are.
"No one wants stoppages in Origin so the games are usually refereed a bit differently to club level. If a team is slowing the play-the-ball to control the ruck and the referee is willing to continually penalise that with a six-again call you will find it is very quick.
"If it is faster there will be more points scored because players will be making decisions under fatigue and there could be a greater risk of injuries just because players haven’t played for a while and there are some backing up from a grand final within 10 days."
Sutton refereed the grand final between Melbourne and Penrith in which there were seven six-again calls, while he awarded a combined total of 18 in the other three finals matches he controlled.
"Hopefully they take a similar approach to the finals, where it seemed to be invoked less," said Hagan, who told NRL.com earlier this year that he believed the six-again rule should not be extended to the Origin arena.
Players fear dreaded repeat sets
Players have told NRL.com it was almost impossible to defend against repeat sets under the six-again rule because even if a team kept the opposition from scoring, their forwards were often too fatigued to put kick pressure on the playmaker on the last play.
With the usual step up in pace and intensity of Origin, players are readying themselves for the series opener to be one of the fastest games they have experienced.
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"The intensity is just through the roof. It's always super-fast," Cleary said.
"The biggest difference is the lack of penalties, so the ball is in play for so much longer.
"You're out on your feet for so long, the intensity and just the impact of tackles and stuff like that is pretty crazy but I love it. It is fun."
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Wighton said: "Even in a normal year Origin's always a little bit different. Origin is its own beast."
Some NRL teams took time to adapt to the introduction of the six-again rule in round three after the Telstra Premiership was suspended for more than two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic but if the Blues and Maroons aren’t prepared on Wednesday night it could prove costly.
With Fittler selecting three debutants and Bennett set to hand up to nine players their first Queensland jerseys, some of the rookies are going to face a baptism of fire in the opening exchanges.
Even in a normal year Origin's always a little bit different. Origin is its own beast.Jack Wighton
"If you’re not ready for it, it can get away from you pretty quickly," Frizell said.
"Origin does hit you like that, no matter what - whether you’ve played the week before or come in fresh.
"There’s a couple of boys who have been a part of the squad for a while now so know what to expect and how to handle that initial start to a game."