The top 50 rookie performances in State of Origin history revealed

By Chris Stead

In Game 1 of the 2019 series, 8 players will make their State of Origin debuts! With that in mind, Finder has crunched the numbers to reveal the best rookie performances in State of Origin history.

It’s the pinnacle of rugby league. The toughest, fastest, most skilful and most passionate arena you can find for this great sport. It’s where legends are born and reputations forged. If you can shine in the State of Origin cauldron, your name will burn brightly forever.

Such is the physical and mental toll of State of Origin upon its participants, experience is held in high regard. In fact, Queensland has won 11 of the last 13 series, putting faith in the belief that those who have been there and done it before are best suited to do it again regardless of club form. The sky blue and maroon jerseys are not lightly earned and when the time comes to blood a State of Origin rookie, no matter what their NRL club experience, fan scrutiny peaks.

In 2018 we saw a host of changes, especially with New South Wales where 12 players made their debuts on the State of Origin stage. With a further 4 in the Queensland team, we saw 16 new faces take to the field.

Due to injury, retirement and lack of form, 2019 is starting in much the same vein. Game 1 of the 2019 State of Origin series sees 8 rookies make their debuts. There are five from New South Wales and three from Queensland. How will they fare? How will their performances match up against the best State of Origin rookie performances we've seen since the first game way back in 1980.

Damien Cook's rookie State of Origin performance was one of the best of all time.

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Finder's State of Origin Rookie Hall of Fame

Making an impact in your first ever State of Origin outing is something fans will never forget. Finder, an official State of Origin partner for the 2019 series, set out to discover just who left the biggest mark in their rookie performance by comparing decades of data.

In order to do that, we assembled the player match statistics for every game to date, way back to 1980. It worked out to over 3,700 individual performances! We then got fantasy rugby league algorithm guru Jason Stead to put together a formula to rank these performances. He created the NRL SuperCoach Planner, which is a tool used by a previous winner of the competition.

His formula combines the fantasy rugby league scoring systems used by the NRL and SuperCoach to maximise the stats available. As you can imagine, records aren't quite as detailed as they are today for games that stretch right back into history. Still, we collected more than enough data from across the 37 series and 2 initial standalone games in 1980 and 1981.

(Note: We ignored the showcase game in the United States.)

The metrics measured include tries, goals, average metres per run, offloads, tackle busts, line breaks, line break assists, try assists, errors, tackles and missed tackles. In addition, the algorithm rewards bonus points on a sliding scale for run metres and tackles, which allows for extra credit to be given to those truly super-human performances.

Scoring the players

This alone did not give us the top rookie performances. We had to filter out all subsequent games by players after their debut. We also then cut out all rookie performances made from the subs bench, so we could offer 2 different top 50s. One is focused on the rookie debuts. The other is focused on the run-on rookie performances. The latter means a player didn’t count as having their "rookie performance" until they were in the run-on team. This ensured the comparisons were as fair as possible.

(Although as you will see, there was one player whose performance as a sub was so good it cracked into the list alongside the starting players!)

When we applied this formula across all the data we were stunned by the winning performance. Note: To help give you a sense of scale on the list below, the average score for a performance by any player in State of Origin according to our algorithm is 55 points. The average performance by a rookie in a State of Origin is even lower, at 46 points.

Top 50 performances from a State of Origin rookie

RankPlayerYearGame NumberTeamPositionPoints
1BRETT HODGSON2002Game 1NSWFullback222
2GARY BELCHER1986Game 2QLDFullback150
3ANTHONY MINICHIELLO2003Game 1NSWFullback146
4LES DAVIDSON1987Game 1NSWProp145
5IAN FRENCH1985Game 3QLDSecond row142
6DON MCKINNON1982Game 3NSWProp134
7BRAD MACKAY1989Game 3NSWLock127
8WILLIE TONGA2004Game 2QLDCentre124
9BILLY MOORE1992Game 2QLDLock123
10CAMERON MUNSTER2017Game 3QLDFive-eight122
11BRIAN JOHNSTON1984Game 3NSWCentre121
12LINDSAY JOHNSTON1983Game 2NSWProp119
13WAYNE PEARCE1983Game 1NSWSecond row117
14JIM LEIS1980Game 1NSWLock116
15STEVE HANSON1988Game 3NSWProp115
16DAMIEN COOK2018Game 1NSWHooker112
17NOEL CLEAL1984Game 1NSWSecond row111
18GAVIN MILLER1983Game 2NSWSecond row111
19PAUL MERLO1982Game 3NSWSecond row110
20PAT JARVIS1984Game 3NSWProp109
21CAMERON SMITH2003Game 3QLDHooker108
22CHRIS CLOSE1980Game 1QLDCentre107
23SCOTT PRINCE2004Game 1QLDHalfback105
24LUKE BAILEY2002Game 1NSWProp103
25ADAM MOGG2006Game 2QLDWinger101
26JOSHUA ADDO-CARR2018Game 1NSWHooker101
27MARK GASNIER2004Game 3NSWCentre100
28ROYCE AYLIFFE1982Game 3NSWProp100
29JOHN DOYLE2001Game 1QLDSub99
30ARTHUR BEETSON1980Game 1QLDProp98
31MARK O'MELEY2001Game 2NSWProp98
32BEN ELIAS1985Game 1NSWHooker97
33SAM BACKO1988Game 1QLDProp96
34PETER WYNN1984Game 3NSWLock95
35TREVOR GILLMEISTER1987Game 1QLDSecond row95
36RAY PRICE1981Game 1NSWLock94
37GARY LARSON1991Game 1QLDLock94
38STEVE EDGE1980Game 1NSWHooker93
39ROBBIE FARAH2009Game 1NSWHooker92
40MARIO FENECH1989Game 1NSWHooker92
41GEOFF BUGDEN1983Game 1NSWProp92
42ETHAN LOWE2019Game 3QLDSecond Row91
43DAVE BROWN1983Game 2QLDProp91
44DAVID WILLIAMS2009Game 2NSWWinger91
45PAUL GREEN1999Game 3QLDSub90
46GRAHAM EADIE1980Game 1NSWFullback90
47STEVE FOLKES1986Game 1NSWSecond row90
48CHRIS PHELAN1981Game 1QLDLock90
49BEN CREAGH2009Game 1NSWSecond row89
50REX WRIGHT1984Game 1NSWHooker89

1. Brett Hodgson (Game 1, 2002, Fullback, NSW) = 222 points
Far and away the greatest performance ever. His record 374 run metres led the way, but 14 tackle busts, 6 line breaks, a try, a try assist and a goal didn’t hurt either. Read the full untold story of Hodgson's origin heroics here.

2. Gary Belcher (Game 2, 1986, Fullback, QLD) = 150 points
One of Origin's most consistent performers, right from his first game Belcher was a threat in attack. His brilliant 321 run metres included a crazy 17 tackle busts and 5 offloads. He also supplied three line break assists.

3. Anthony Minichiello (Game 1, 2003, Fullback, NSW) = 146 points
2 tries on debut helped The Count to number 3, alongside a staggering 11 tackle busts and 224 run metres.

4. Les Davidson (Game 1, 1987, Prop, NSW) = 145 points
Feared enforcer Les Davidson took his intimidating presence in the NRL straight to the Origin arena, with 19 runs, 32 tackles, 7 offloads, a try and a line break assist heaping on the points.

5. Ian French (Game 3, 1985, Second row, QLD) = 142 points
One of the great forward debuts, he averaged 15 metres per run, scored a try and set up another, while stunning the Blues with 7 tackle busts and 3 line breaks.

6. Don McKinnon (Game 3, 1982, Prop, NSW) = 134 points
Controversially, this was Don’s one and only Origin appearance and boy did he make an impact. 30 runs for 200 metres, with 7 offloads alongside 32 tackles. What a performance.

7. Brad Mackay (Game 3, 1989, Lock, NSW) = 127 points
As well as holding up the engine room with 16 runs and 37 tackles, Mackay also made a big impact in attack with 2 offloads, 5 tackle busts, a line break and a try assist.

8. Willie Tonga (Game 2, 2004, Centre, QLD) = 124 points
One of the few centres to make an impact on debut, Tonga can thank his try, his 6 tackle busts and his 11 metres earned per run for his excellent points performance.

9. Billy Moore (Game 3, 1992, Lock, QLD) = 123 points
The quintessential Queenslander, Moore was a known workhorse. The 20 runs and mammoth 48 tackles he made in his debut game was topped off with a try.

10. Cameron Munster (Game 3, 2017, Five-eight, QLD) = 122 points
You don’t need a long memory to remember Munster’s exploits from two years ago. As well as averaging 12 metres per run, he provided 2 offloads, 5 tackle busts, a line break, a line break assist and a try assist.

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Top 50 performances from a State of Origin rookie
(in first run-on performances)

This ignores previous games as a substitute.

RankPlayerYearGame NumberTeamPositionPoints
1BRETT HODGSON2002Game 1NSWFullback222
2ANTHONY WATMOUGH2009Game 3NSWLock162
3GARY BELCHER1986Game 2QLDFullback150
4ANTHONY MINICHIELLO2003Game 1NSWFullback146
5LES DAVIDSON1987Game 1NSWProp145
6IAN FRENCH1985Game 3QLDSecond row142
7ANDREW FIFITA2017Game 1NSWProp140
8DON MCKINNON1982Game 3NSWProp134
9COREY PARKER2012Game 3QLDLock132
10BRAD MACKAY1989Game 3NSWLock127
11WILLIE TONGA2004Game 2QLDCentre124
12BILLY MOORE1992Game 2QLDLock123
13CAMERON MUNSTER2017Game 3QLDFive-eight122
14BRIAN JOHNSTON1984Game 3NSWCentre121
15LINDSAY JOHNSTON1983Game 2NSWProp119
16WAYNE PEARCE1983Game 1NSWSecond row117
17SCOTT HILL2000Game 2NSWLock117
18JIM LEIS1980Game 1NSWLock116
19STEVE HANSON1988Game 3NSWProp115
20DAMIEN COOK2018Game 1NSWHooker112
21NOEL CLEAL1984Game 1NSWSecond row111
22GAVIN MILLER1983Game 2NSWSecond row111
23GLENN LAZARUS1990Game 3NSWProp111
24PAUL MERLO1982Game 3NSWSecond row110
25PAT JARVIS1984Game 3NSWProp109
26CAMERON SMITH2003Game 3QLDHooker108
27CHRIS CLOSE1980Game 1QLDCentre107
28BOB LINDNER1984Game 3QLDLock106
29SCOTT PRINCE2004Game 1QLDHalfback105
30LUKE BAILEY2002Game 1NSWProp103
31ADAM MUIR1995Game 3NSWSecond row102
32ADAM MOGG2006Game 2QLDWinger101
33JOSHUA ADDO-CARR2018Game 1NSWHooker101
34MARK GASNIER2004Game 3NSWCentre100
35ROYCE AYLIFFE1982Game 3NSWProp100
36DAVID TREWHELLA1989Game 3NSWHooker100
37JOHN DOYLE2001Game 1QLDSub99
38LUKE RICKETSON2001Game 2NSWLock99
39ARTHUR BEETSON1980Game 1QLDProp98
40MARK O'MELEY2001Game 2NSWProp98
41ROBBIE KEARNS2000Game 1NSWProp98
42BEN ELIAS1985Game 1NSWHooker97
43MICHAEL HAGAN1989Game 3QLDHalfback97
44SAM BACKO1988Game 1QLDProp96
45PETER WYNN1984Game 3NSWLock95
46KURT GIDLEY2008Game 3NSWFullback95
47TREVOR GILLMEISTER1987Game 1QLDSecond row95
48RAY PRICE1981Game 1NSWLock94
49GARY LARSON1991Game 1QLDLock94
50BOYD CORDNER2016Game 1NSWSecond row94

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