Opinion

The Halfback Conundrum: Moses vs Reynolds

Who should Brad Fittler select at halfback for State of Origin game three? Mitchell Moses or Adam Reynolds?

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Let me get this out of the way first. I’m an Eels fan and would absolutely love to see Mitchell Moses play game three for New South Wales. First, because we haven’t had an Origin halfback since Peter Sterling. Second, because I think the experience would take his game to another level.

Onto the actual cases for and against Reynolds and Moses, and I’ll openly say I’d be happy to see either play for the Blues. I like Adam Reynolds as a halfback, he’s been one of the game’s best for close to a decade and has been unlucky not to play more State of Origin.

I think Souths have made a mistake allowing him to walk to Red Hill, but that’s a discussion for another time.

I don’t think Moses has deserved some of the comments directed towards him by fans who oppose his possible selection. 

This piece is going to be part facts and statistics, part opinion.

The Cases For

Both Moses and Reynolds are auditioning to effectively be Cleary’s future backup. Nathan Cleary is the best halfback in NSW and the game. Neither are supplanting him at the moment.

They’re also incredibly close to each other in terms of statistics this season.

At the time of writing Moses’ Eels sit third while Reynolds’ Rabbits sit fourth.

Parramatta’s for and against is 96 points better than Souths’ but they sit level on competition points, the Eels’ upcoming bye notwithstanding.

Mitchell Moses

Moses has been called a flat track bully for much of his career, and there is some truth in the fact he really turns it on when he’s got room to move. But most halves are like that.

Statistically though, Moses is in outstanding form this season. His 21 try assists stick him at the top of the tree in the NRL. In fact Parramatta is tied with Penrith for the second most number of tries this season, and a lot of that is down to Moses.

The Eels halfback also has taken his kicking game to another level in 2020. He sits second to only Nathan Cleary for total kick metres with 5,997 metres to Cleary’s 6,107 metres.

Reynolds sits in sixth position with 4,256 metres.

Turning to averages, as Moses has played more games than Reynolds. The Eels number seven averages 375 kick metres per game, putting him in fourth position. Reynolds is in 10th with 327 metres.

In the game against Penrith on Friday night, Moses booted the ball a whopping 636 metres according to NRL.com.

Brad Fittler has previously spoken about a long kicking game being important in Origin and in Moses, he has perhaps the second best long kicker in the game.

There was talk on Friday night about the Eels being unable to match it with the big teams. That’s despite Parramatta beating Melbourne earlier in the season. The Storm were only missing Harry Grant (he’s only played six games this season anyway) while Parramatta were playing middle forward Marata Niukore in the centres.

Moses’ kicking game was the difference in that game as his pinpoint bombs led to two tries, one of them being the match winner to Maika Sivo.

In the New South Wales team Moses has ample targets to aim at with Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic and James Tedesco all being experts in the air.

Moses is also a threat with the ball in hand, running 77 times for 699 metres this season. Reynolds has run just 30 times for 298 metres. In terms of averages, Moses runs for 44 metres per game, Reynolds for 28 metres.

Phil Gould, during his Six Tackles With Gus podcast during the week, said he believes the way Moses plays is the closest to the way Cleary plays.

In his view, Moses is the more dangerous ball runner and has a similar long kicking game. 

And for those saying Moses runs too much, or is too much like Luai. Cleary is second only to Jahrome Hughes in terms of runs per game.

While it has been pointed out that you don’t get time and space in Origin, a current aggregate score of 76-6 indicates that New South Wales has been giving their halves and backline plenty of room.

Adam Reynolds

Reynolds has been one of the best halves in the competition for close to a decade. He’s a premiership winner and has played Origin before.

I will mention that he only has four try assists this season according to Fox Sports Lab, but he plays a different role to Moses in that he simply acts as the distributor to the likes of Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell.

Walker incidentally has 16 try assists this year.

I’m not counting that against Reynolds.

Now, as many will likely point out, Reynolds is a better goal kicker than Moses. He’s kicking at 83 percent this year. Moses is kicking at 75 percent.

A fair difference and it could be the difference in a close game.

That being said, the question would be whether or not Moses would kick in Origin if he were on debut, or if that responsibility would be handed to Latrell Mitchell.

In terms of total points, Reynolds leads on that stat by eight points. 134 to 126.

The main argument for Reynolds is his reliability and experience. He’s played big games, performed in big games and won a premiership.

It’s a fair point and one I won’t argue against. He has the runs on the board and I believe he should have played a lot more Origin than he has.

Both Moses and Reynolds are good general play kickers. They’re among the upper echelon of NRL halfbacks this season.

I haven’t spoken much about defence. There isn’t much difference between the two of them. Moses has a tackle efficiency of 86.8 percent. Reynolds is at 89.2 percent.

Reynolds is a slightly better defender when it comes to tackle efficiency. However a 2.4 percent difference equates to roughly three tackles per match for a halfback.

If the Blues are looking to replicate Cleary’s 90+ percent tackle effectiveness, neither half is going to do that.

And just as a comparison, Cameron Munster has a mere 84 percent tackle effectiveness.

The Intangibles

It would be intriguing if we left this selection up to an algorithm of some sort.

However, Brad Fittler is an intangible factor in this conundrum and has shown to be unpredictable in his selections.

The argument for Reynolds is pretty simple. He’s been there, done that and playing at the required level.

The argument for Moses is a little more nuanced. He would be selected on potential. 

That being said, he did win the 2019 Dally M halfback of the year award and, in my opinion, he’s playing better now than he did then.

As Gould said, “if not now, then when?”. It’s a dead rubber in Sydney with an incredibly dominant NSW side. Fittler is an unabashed fan of Moses. You won’t get a better opportunity to debut a player in Origin and prepare him to be a backup to the incumbent.

Because that’s what this really is about. Regardless of who the Blues pick at halfback, they should still beat Queensland and collect the whitewash they deserve.

This selection is really about who is next in line should Cleary go down when the series is alive in the next few years.

Do you blood Moses now, knowing he can get an Origin game under his belt and not have to debut him in a pressure cooker should that situation arise?

Or do you play it a little safer and go with the steadier hand of Adam Reynolds, knowing he could likely do the job regardless of the situation, but only have that type of security for another year or two.

Reynolds is about to turn 31. Moses turns 27 at the end of the year and is coming into his prime as a playmaker.

Courtesy of the Rugby League Eye Test, Reynolds is statistically about to go into the downward trend for his career as a playmaker. He may not immediately, but it’s something to be mindful of given that playmakers begin to see a drop off in linebreak and try assists in their early 30s.

Part of a strong winning Origin culture is having players ready to fill the breach when members of the top 17 are unavailable.

While some people have said the future plans of the Blues shouldn’t play a factor here, I’m of the opinion they absolutely should.

Why should we wait until Cleary is injured or suspended during a live series to find out if Moses is ready?

As I said at the top, I’m fine if either is chosen. In my opinion, both players deserve to be in this conversation and have their own claims at the position.

I’d like to see Reynolds given a shot to redeem the two losses he’s suffered against the Maroons.

I’d also like to see Moses given a chance to prove he belongs in the conversation as one of the best halfbacks in the game.

As you can probably guess though, I want to see Moses play for the Blues in game three.

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