As David Klemmer watched on from the bench for the entire second half of Origin II, 2018, many fans were left wondering why they weren't seeing more of the 2017 Brad Fittler Medallist. When considering recent State of Origin trends, however, the giant front-rower's reduced game time should come as no surprise.
Afforded just one stint in Game Two - generally unusual for a starting front-rower in Rugby League - Klemmer admits it was a tough final 40 minutes.
"You want to play in those games," Klemmer tells NSWRL.com.au. "I know what I did in that first stint was a good job and I could sit on that, but obviously you want to keep playing.
"I think I was supposed to go on in that back end there, but 'Jimmy' [James Roberts] got sent for 10 and I think they wanted to put 'Peach' [Tyrone Peachey] on, just for a nippy little player.
"Whatever role I do play in this team, I've just got to do the best I can and help my teammates out."
The reduction of Klemmer's minutes has been an intriguing sub-plot to the tale of the victorious 2018 series, which will see a third different starting front-row combination in the series finale. An in-depth look at NRL Stats reveals that this is to be expected for the 24-year-old, who has earned his first two Origin starts this year.
Origin I, 2018 - Klemmer's maiden start for the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues - saw the new No.8 spend just 28 minutes on the field across two stints - his equal-least game time of his Origin career, alongside the second game of 2016. While Klemmer increased to 36 minutes in his sole stint in Game Two, it still fell short of the 43.6 minutes he had averaged throughout the 2017 series.
"It was hard to get him back on for that last bit but he's been fantastic, 'Klem', to start the games," assistant coach Danny Buderus explains. "He's got a huge motor; he can really punch out the first 30, 35 minutes straight, but it's just hard to get him back on at that stage (when there's been a sin-bin).
"His role in the team has changed, it's a change to him and once they all understand what their role is, they embrace it."
The rampaging Bulldogs prop, however, is merely the most recent indicator of a trend which has persisted for several seasons. Looking back as far as Origin I, 2015 - when Klemmer made his debut - it becomes clear that the total game time of NSW's starting props has decreased almost consistently; from 103 minutes in the first game of that period, it has shrunk to just 69 in the most recent outing. The Maroons' big men have followed a similar, albeit less consistent path, to register just 63 minutes in Game Two - a significant drop from 88 just two weeks earlier.
As there has been no shortage of quality in the 2018 front rowers' output, the recent trend has resulted in a shorter, but more intense 'softening-up' period in State of Origin football.
"The start's changed and as ferocious as it is, you can just blunt them a little bit by not making errors," Buderus says. "I think as they get more fatigued, you can play with these guys that can run all day.
"The agility of the players, the speed of how they can play the ball and get around the field are so important in the modern-day game. Some of the bigger guys do a really good job at the start and as the game wears on you just want your quicker guys getting on the field, especially through the middle-third and creating some opportunities.
"You need the big boys to start the game as hard as they can and get as much done - and that's where 'Klem' has been great - but it's also hard to get them back on at the back end. As the interchange drops, that will be a huge challenge."
He's got a huge motor; he can really punch out the first 30, 35 minutes straight, but it's just hard to get him back on.Danny Buderus
While 80 minutes in the front row - a feat Paul Gallen famously achieved in Origin II, 2011 - is likely a thing of the past at Origin level, the current crop's ability to produce a larger workload cannot be questioned. This became abundantly clear in NRL Round 16 when Klemmer, a leader of the Bulldogs' pack, ran out for a season-high 74 minutes against the Knights. In his first starting opportunity in clubland since Round 8, Klemmer rose to the challenge with 200 running metres, 33 tackles, five tackle-breaks and four offloads.
"As a whole team, we had to (increase our output)," Klemmer says. "We were struggling and we were losing players so I think I had to step up.
"Me and 'Jacko' [captain Josh Jackson] and everyone across the board stepped up. It was good to be a part of and I'm just enjoying my footy.
"Whatever the role is, I've just got to do it and nail it."