His axing from the NSW side for game one might not even be enough to prevent Mitchell Pearce from again being the most scrutinised player of the series.
The Sydney Roosters halfback might not play a part in this year’s Origin campaign after his drunken escapade a fortnight ago, but given how bright the spotlight has shone on him for the past 11 consecutive Origin games, there’s no doubt he will continue to polarise opinion.
If NSW lose game one, the Pearce backers will come out in force and defend the 25-year-old to those who have for so long blamed him for the Blues’ misfortunes. If the Blues score an against-the-odds victory at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night, the talk might not all be about the selection masterstroke of Trent Hodkinson but rather the impact of Pearce’s omission.
Love him or hate him, it’s hard to turn your back on a success rate of three from 12 with Pearce in the No.7 jersey. But former Blues playmaker Trent Barrett, a much-maligned player during his time at St George Illawarra and NSW, believes Pearce hasn’t been to blame for the Blues’ inability to overcome the all-conquering Maroons.
“Being in that position at halfback, it’s a spot that comes under the most scrutiny,” Barrett said. “Given the situation we’re in with NSW having lost for so long, a lot of the blame comes back to the halfback, which I don’t necessarily agree with. My opinion of him hasn’t changed, I think he’s a great player.”
For the past few years it’s been Pearce, who will line up against the top-of-the-table Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Friday night, that has copped the full brunt of the frustration from a success-starved legion of NSW supporters.
The Blues aren’t expected to win game one at Suncorp Stadium without Andrew Fifita, Greg Bird and Boyd Cordner all missing, taking a lot of the pressure off the new-look halves combination of Josh Reynolds and Hodkinson. In a way it could prove a blessing in disguise for coach Laurie Daley, who will get an opportunity to see what life without Pearce could deliver for the Blues.
Pearce wasn’t dropped on form – even though he has been struggling for the Roosters – he was sacked because of his antics on the drink in town a fortnight ago.
That gives Daley a safety cushion of being able to reinstate Pearce for game two if it all goes horribly wrong north of the border on Wednesday night.
Pearce’s Roosters teammate Sam Moa admitted both Pearce and dumped five-eighth James Maloney haven’t been able to replicate the type of form that led the boys from Bondi to premiership glory last season but insists the rest of team hasn’t helped their cause.
“They’ve got our backing as a team and they’ve obviously been disappointed not making the Origin side as anyone would but they’ve responded really well,” the Kiwi international said. “We feed off them and they feed off us and we’re all trying to help each other find some form. We’ve all been lacking in certain areas. We’re hoping that they play their role and start to enjoy their footy over the next few weeks.”
Barrett insists Pearce will begin staking his claim for reinstatement at club level. “I felt for Mitchell, he’s a very good player Mitch, but given the circumstances Loz has made a decision and I fully support the halves he’s gone with to win game one,” Barrett said. “I hope people don’t compare him because we all need to get behind Trent Hodkinson and Joshy Reynolds and they will do a good job. The best thing Mitchell can do is go out and play well. I know Mitch’s attitude will be good because he’s a competitor. Mitch will bounce back, he’s certainly a terrific player in my eyes. It won’t affect him and if anything he’ll go even harder for the Roosters.”
While Pearce took the news of his axing to heart, Moa believes he’s overcome the ordeal of missing out on game one as well as being suspended for one game. “He’s back to his normal self and he’s starting to smile and crack a few jokes here and there,” Moa said. “It’s obviously been a really tough situation for him and everyone involved – his family especially. He’s got some good friends here at the club and he’s got a good family behind him, so he’s certainly turned the corner. We’re hoping for good things from Mitch and Jimmy and the rest of the team going forward. While it’s disappointing for him as an individual to not play in those big games, it’s certainly a bonus for us as the Roosters to have him and Jimmy back, they are two of our main players. It’s a really big bonus for us because they are two of our leaders and when they go well we go well.”
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