You’d have to be looking backwards to think Mitchell Pearce isn’t worthy of a return to State of Origin football this year.
The Sydney Roosters halfback, considered by most to be the state’s most in-form no.7, will pull on the sky blue jersey for a 16th time on Wednesday night – and despite a representative record which falls well short of his personal standards, Pearce has Laurie Daley to thank for an Origin recall.
“I feel really grateful, I’ve worked really hard and worked my way back to playing some really good footy,” Pearce tells NSWRL.com.au. “I’m really confident about coming back in here and have been given the reigns to lead the boys around.
“I’ll be doing my best.”
Having played a major role in a number of the Roosters’ eight wins, Pearce agrees with the common claim that he’s in career-best form.
“It’s what everyone keeps telling me!” Pearce laughs. “Yeah I do (feel in career-best form), I feel like I’m playing good footy. I feel clearer about my footy and I’m enjoying it – that’s the main thing.
“I think as a half you always have that (game-winning ability) in you, but I’ve probably been a lot more clear about my footy and taking more control in those tighter situations. When you’re doing that and put yourself in the frame, you come up with some pretty good decisions.
“For the Roosters it’s been working well so far, but obviously Origin is a bigger challenge.”
Pearce will line up alongside James Maloney once again after three seasons with him at the Roosters, which included an Origin partnership in 2013. The belief in that combination, Pearce says, is well deserved.
“We had a lot of success when we played with each other so I’m really excited about connecting with him again,” Pearce says. “Jimmy has played great his whole career – even last year he played for Australia and won the (NRL) comp.”
The Cronulla five-eighth echoes Pearce’s thoughts: “we’ve had three years together at club level and we understand each other’s games and how we both play,” Maloney says. “He creates plenty of room for guys outside him – he plays deep and direct into the line which keeps the defence guessing.
“I’m looking forwarding to rekindling that combination and putting in a really good performance.”
A fact often missed, of course, is that the pair’s first outing together in the State of Origin arena was a successful one; the series opener in 2013 ended 14-6 in favour of the VB Blues, who were more dominant than the final score line reflected. They failed to close off that series and would lose Game Three by just two points, but Maloney knows they are greatly improved players since then.
“I was in my first Origin series,” Maloney says. “I think I’m in a better place and better ready for an Origin battle now going into my third series than going into my first.
“‘Pearcey’ seems like he’s matured in his game as well. I’d like to think we’re in as good of place as ever to get a good result.
“I have no doubt he’ll be outstanding on Wednesday night.”
In just two days, Pearce will head to an unhappy hunting ground; he is yet to win an Origin at Suncorp Stadium and has emerged victorious just twice so far in his NRL career. None of that history will matter, however, as the 28-year-old aims to make history for himself and his state.