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Gagai firms for Kangaroos

Brad Walter, Chief Correspondent RLWC2017.com, NRL.com

Mackay's favourite son Dane Gagai scored two tries on the wing.
Mackay's favourite son, Dane Gagai, smashed the stats in this year's Origin series.

Dane Gagai is on the verge of winning his first Australian jersey at the Rugby League World Cup after a stunning State of Origin series for Queensland in which he made more tackle breaks than any player for almost three decades and ran further than any player this year.

Gagai, who won the Wally Lewis Medal as player of the series, made a phenomenal 25 tackle breaks – the most since former Maroons and Test fullback Gary Belcher in 1990.

Only 1987 NSW fullback Garry Jack (33), 1988 Queensland forward Sam Backo (31), 1985 Blues winger John Ferguson (27), 1987 NSW centre Michael O’Connor and Belcher (both 26) have made more tackle-breaks in an Origin series.

The only other players to feature in the top 50 tackle breaks in a series this century were injured Maroons superstar Greg Inglis (24 in 2012 and 23 in 2009), Jarryd Hayne (22 in 2009 and 2014, and 19 in 2007 and 2010), former NSW fullback Anthony Minichiello (21 in 2005) and current Blues No.1 James Tedesco  (19 in 2017).

Ran the farthest

Gagai, who played on the right wing for the Maroons, also ran the farthest with the ball of any player in the series and his 571m was the fourth most by a winger behind Wendell Sailor (715m in 1999), Hayne (629m in 2009) and Sailor (579m in 1998).

The 26-year-old Newcastle star, who has signed with South Sydney for next season, is also ranked 15th for the most metres in a series by any player, behind Dale Shearer (726m), Sailor, Jack (677m), Belcher (665m) and Hayne.

Mackay’s favourite son Gagai scored two second-half tries in Origin II to give Johnathan Thurston the opportunity to send the series to a decider with his 78th minute sideline conversion and then turned in a man-of-the-match performance at Suncorp Stadium last week.

Tracker

Data obtained from tracking devices worn by the players and made public through the Telstra Tracker revealed that Gagai ran 7.1km during Origin III (fourth furthest) and sprinted for a total of 481m – the most by any player in the match, won 22-6 by the Maroons.

“It’s not just the number and the quality of his runs but the tough carries he makes,” Australian assistant coach Michael Hagan said.

“Origin is all about kick reception pretty much because that is where you get the majority of your footy from so your first three plays have got to be really good so the fact that he can break tackles and make metres is unbelievable. I doubt he would have hardly made an error either.”

Tate clone

Hagan, who was a member of Mal Meninga’s Queensland coaching staff when Gagai made his Origin debut in the final game of the 2015 series, revealed he had modelled that aspect of his game on former Maroons and Test back Brent Tate.

“Brent Tate was nearly Queensland’s best at doing that sort of job on play one and play two,” Hagan said. “He was really aggressive, really strong and got our sets started really well.

“Dane and I actually went through those carries and I reckon he absolutely nailed that in that game and the six games since with that attitude.”

Intensity, speed

According to the Telstra Tracker, Gagai also recorded an intensity of 98 metres per minute for the match, which was the highest of any Queensland player except interchange forwards Josh Papalii (111.2mpm), Coen Hess (104.7mpm) and Tim Glasby (101.4mpm).

His top speed during the series was 33kph in Origin II, which was sixth overall, behind Maroons halfback Cooper Cronk’s 34.9kph when he crossed for a disallowed try in the Origin III.

Good character

After Gagai was last week named by Meninga and the Australian selectors in a Kangaroos Merit team based on Origin form, Hagan said he was likely to play for the Prime Ministers XIII against Papua New Guinea and in the end of season Tri-Series with the Kumuls and Fiji.

“He is making a pretty good argument for selection in that Kangaroos squad for the World Cup,” Hagan said. “He has got seven games of this year to go [for the Knights] and if he is fit and healthy the PNG game and the Fiji game give guys like him an opportunity to keep playing at a good level.

“I know Mal has got a high regard for him because he bought into the Queensland team for the third game in 2015, as do a lot of team-mates, coaches and his opponents too.

“He is a good character, he works hard, he is very humble and I think they are the type of qualities that Mal looks for in a Test player."

Top 50 tackle breaks in an Origin series:

Series

Player

Tackle Breaks

1987

Jack, Garry

33

1988

Backo, Sam

31

1985

Ferguson, John

27

1987

O'Connor, Michael

26

1990

Belcher, Gary

26

2017

Gagai, Dane

25

1991

Carne, Willie

24

1992

Hancock, Michael

24

1998

MacDougall, Adam

24

1999

Sailor, Wendell

24

2012

Inglis, Greg

24

1985

Meninga, Mal

23

1995

Brasher, Tim

23

2000

MacDougall, Adam

23

2009

Inglis, Greg

23

1995

McGregor, Paul

22

2009

Hayne, Jarryd

22

2014

Hayne, Jarryd

22

1983

Meninga, Mal

21

1984

Miles, Gene

21

1986

Cleal, Noel

21

1992

Ettingshausen, Andrew

21

2005

Minichiello, Anthony

21

1983

Lewis, Wally

20

1983

Murray, Mark

20

1985

Ribot, John

20

1991

Meninga, Mal

20

1999

Tallis, Gorden

20

1982

Ribot, John

19

1984

Cleal, Noel

19

1986

Jack, Garry

19

1987

Langer, Allan

19

1991

Hauff, Paul

19

1992

Lindner, Bob

19

1997

Brasher, Tim

19

1998

Sailor, Wendell

19

2007

Hayne, Jarryd

19

2010

Hayne, Jarryd

19

2017

Tedesco, James

19

1982

Price, Ray

18

1985

Jack, Garry

18

1986

Kenny, Brett

18

1988

Ettingshausen, Andrew

18

1983

Scott, Colin

17

1984

Jack, Garry

17

1986

Belcher, Gary

17

1987

Miles, Gene

17

1989

Hancock, Michael

17

1997

McGuinness, Ken

17

2000

Tallis, Gorden

17

* This article first appeared at NRL.com