Chris Stead is the innovations editor at Finder. He is a gaming, tech and sports journalist with more than 24 years of writing and editing experience. He has previously worked at Game Informer, GamePro, Maxim, MCV Pacific, Gameplayer, Grab It, the University of New South Wales, Krash, It Girl and Fortnite Magazine. He has contributed to IGN, GameSport, NBN, Rooster Teeth, Fandom, Sydney Morning Herald, FilmINK, Brag, Popular Science, Foxtel, PC World, Hyper and Red Bull. Chris has a Bachelor of Advanced Science in Biology from the University of Sydney. A father of three, Chris has a passion for travel, photography and surfing.
The top 50 rookie performances in State of Origin history revealed
By Chris Stead
Finder has crunched the numbers to reveal the best rookie performances in State of Origin history.
Last update: After Game 3 of the 2023 State of Origin series.
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 started 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. The COVID ravaged 2020 saw even more fresh faces, especially in a Queensland side that looked so inexperienced on paper as a result.
More and more players join the legend of State of Origin every year. How did they fare? How did 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.
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
|1||BRETT HODGSON||2002||Game 1||NSW||Fullback||222|
|2||GARY BELCHER||1986||Game 2||QLD||Fullback||150|
|3||ANTHONY MINICHIELLO||2003||Game 1||NSW||Fullback||146|
|4||LES DAVIDSON||1987||Game 1||NSW||Prop||145|
|5||IAN FRENCH||1985||Game 3||QLD||Second row||142|
|6||DON MCKINNON||1982||Game 3||NSW||Prop||134|
|7||BRAD MACKAY||1989||Game 3||NSW||Lock||127|
|8||WILLIE TONGA||2004||Game 2||QLD||Centre||124|
|8||BRIAN TO'O||2021||Game 1||NSW||Winger||124|
|10||BILLY MOORE||1992||Game 2||QLD||Lock||123|
|11||CAMERON MUNSTER||2017||Game 3||QLD||Five-eight||122|
|12||BRIAN JOHNSTON||1984||Game 3||NSW||Centre||121|
|13||LINDSAY JOHNSTON||1983||Game 2||NSW||Prop||119|
|14||WAYNE PEARCE||1983||Game 1||NSW||Second row||117|
|14||HARRY GRANT||2020||Game 3||QLD||Sub||117|
|16||JIM LEIS||1980||Game 1||NSW||Lock||116|
|17||STEVE HANSON||1988||Game 3||NSW||Prop||115|
|18||DAMIEN COOK||2018||Game 1||NSW||Hooker||112|
|19||NOEL CLEAL||1984||Game 1||NSW||Second row||111|
|19||GAVIN MILLER||1983||Game 2||NSW||Second row||111|
|21||PAUL MERLO||1982||Game 3||NSW||Second row||110|
|22||PAT JARVIS||1984||Game 3||NSW||Prop||109|
|23||CAMERON SMITH||2003||Game 3||QLD||Hooker||108|
|24||CHRIS CLOSE||1980||Game 1||QLD||Centre||107|
|25||SCOTT PRINCE||2004||Game 1||QLD||Halfback||105|
|26||LUKE BAILEY||2002||Game 1||NSW||Prop||103|
|27||ADAM MOGG||2006||Game 2||QLD||Winger||101|
|27||JOSHUA ADDO-CARR||2018||Game 1||NSW||Hooker||101|
|29||MARK GASNIER||2004||Game 3||NSW||Centre||100|
|29||ROYCE AYLIFFE||1982||Game 3||NSW||Prop||100|
|31||JOHN DOYLE||2001||Game 1||QLD||Sub||99|
|32||ARTHUR BEETSON||1980||Game 1||QLD||Prop||98|
|32||MARK O'MELEY||2001||Game 2||NSW||Prop||98|
|34||BEN ELIAS||1985||Game 1||NSW||Hooker||97|
|35||SAM BACKO||1988||Game 1||QLD||Prop||96|
|36||PETER WYNN||1984||Game 3||NSW||Lock||95|
|36||TREVOR GILLMEISTER||1987||Game 1||QLD||Second row||95|
|38||RAY PRICE||1981||Game 1||NSW||Lock||94|
|38||GARY LARSON||1991||Game 1||QLD||Lock||94|
|40||STEVE EDGE||1980||Game 1||NSW||Hooker||93|
|41||ROBBIE FARAH||2009||Game 1||NSW||Hooker||92|
|41||MARIO FENECH||1989||Game 1||NSW||Hooker||92|
|41||GEOFF BUGDEN||1983||Game 1||NSW||Prop||92|
|44||ETHAN LOWE||2019||Game 3||QLD||Second Row||91|
|44||DAVE BROWN||1983||Game 2||QLD||Prop||91|
|44||DAVID WILLIAMS||2009||Game 2||NSW||Winger||91|
|47||PAUL GREEN||1999||Game 3||QLD||Sub||90|
|47||GRAHAM EADIE||1980||Game 1||NSW||Fullback||90|
|47||STEVE FOLKES||1986||Game 1||NSW||Second row||90|
|47||CHRIS PHELAN||1981||Game 1||QLD||Lock||90|
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. 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.
Where to watch State of Origin 2022 online in Australia
State of Origin is just around the corner. Make sure you’re able to grab a front seat to Australia’s greatest sports rivalry.
Top 50 performances from a State of Origin rookie
(in first run-on performances)
This ignores previous games as a substitute.
|1||BRETT HODGSON||2002||Game 1||NSW||Fullback||222|
|2||ANTHONY WATMOUGH||2009||Game 3||NSW||Lock||162|
|3||GARY BELCHER||1986||Game 2||QLD||Fullback||150|
|4||ANTHONY MINICHIELLO||2003||Game 1||NSW||Fullback||146|
|5||LES DAVIDSON||1987||Game 1||NSW||Prop||145|
|6||IAN FRENCH||1985||Game 3||QLD||Second row||142|
|7||ANDREW FIFITA||2017||Game 1||NSW||Prop||140|
|8||DON MCKINNON||1982||Game 3||NSW||Prop||134|
|9||COREY PARKER||2012||Game 3||QLD||Lock||132|
|10||BRAD MACKAY||1989||Game 3||NSW||Lock||127|
|11||WILLIE TONGA||2004||Game 2||QLD||Centre||124|
|11||BRIAN TO'O||2021||Game 1||NSW||Winger||124|
|13||BILLY MOORE||1992||Game 2||QLD||Lock||123|
|14||CAMERON MUNSTER||2017||Game 3||QLD||Five-eight||122|
|15||BRIAN JOHNSTON||1984||Game 3||NSW||Centre||121|
|16||LINDSAY JOHNSTON||1983||Game 2||NSW||Prop||119|
|17||WAYNE PEARCE||1983||Game 1||NSW||Second row||117|
|17||SCOTT HILL||2000||Game 2||NSW||Lock||117|
|17||HARRY GRANT||2020||Game 3||QLD||Sub||117|
|20||JIM LEIS||1980||Game 1||NSW||Lock||116|
|21||STEVE HANSON||1988||Game 3||NSW||Prop||115|
|22||DAMIEN COOK||2018||Game 1||NSW||Hooker||112|
|23||NOEL CLEAL||1984||Game 1||NSW||Second row||111|
|23||GAVIN MILLER||1983||Game 2||NSW||Second row||111|
|23||GLENN LAZARUS||1990||Game 3||NSW||Prop||111|
|26||PAUL MERLO||1982||Game 3||NSW||Second row||110|
|27||PAT JARVIS||1984||Game 3||NSW||Prop||109|
|28||CAMERON SMITH||2003||Game 3||QLD||Hooker||108|
|29||CHRIS CLOSE||1980||Game 1||QLD||Centre||107|
|30||BOB LINDNER||1984||Game 3||QLD||Lock||106|
|31||SCOTT PRINCE||2004||Game 1||QLD||Halfback||105|
|32||LUKE BAILEY||2002||Game 1||NSW||Prop||103|
|33||ADAM MUIR||1995||Game 3||NSW||Second row||102|
|34||ADAM MOGG||2006||Game 2||QLD||Winger||101|
|34||JOSHUA ADDO-CARR||2018||Game 1||NSW||Hooker||101|
|36||MARK GASNIER||2004||Game 3||NSW||Centre||100|
|36||ROYCE AYLIFFE||1982||Game 3||NSW||Prop||100|
|36||DAVID TREWHELLA||1989||Game 3||NSW||Hooker||100|
|39||JOHN DOYLE||2001||Game 1||QLD||Sub||99|
|39||LUKE RICKETSON||2001||Game 2||NSW||Lock||99|
|41||ARTHUR BEETSON||1980||Game 1||QLD||Prop||98|
|41||MARK O'MELEY||2001||Game 2||NSW||Prop||98|
|41||ROBBIE KEARNS||2000||Game 1||NSW||Prop||98|
|44||BEN ELIAS||1985||Game 1||NSW||Hooker||97|
|44||MICHAEL HAGAN||1989||Game 3||QLD||Halfback||97|
|46||SAM BACKO||1988||Game 1||QLD||Prop||96|
|47||PETER WYNN||1984||Game 3||NSW||Lock||95|
|47||KURT GIDLEY||2008||Game 3||NSW||Fullback||95|
|47||TREVOR GILLMEISTER||1987||Game 1||QLD||Second row||95|
|50||RAY PRICE||1981||Game 1||NSW||Lock||94|
|50||GARY LARSON||1991||Game 1||QLD||Lock||94|
|50||BOYD CORDNER||2016||Game 1||NSW||Second row||94|
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