Pressure's off: This time it's different for Pearce

Mitchell Pearce is now better equipped to handle the pressure of Origin than at any other stage of his career.

There has been no shortage of attention on the Knights' No.7 since he was named to replace Nathan Cleary but compared to the pressure he faced earlier in his Blues career this is something he is can handle.

It's a long time since I ran out alongside Pearcey in his NRL debut, back in 2007 at the Roosters. He made his Origin debut the very next year and it's been a bumpy road for him at times since.

He's certainly worn more than his fair share of criticism for the Blues' lack of success in that period.

I don't think he's been anywhere near as bad as some people like to think during his 18 Origins.

There's probably been a few bad kicks or wrong options that have got all the attention but in a lot of those games, NSW were a whisker from winning against probably the best team in Origin history.

They got to plenty of deciders with him and if they won one or two of those games everyone would be saying completely different things about Pearce in Origin.

People are expecting this decider to be one where all the pressure is on Pearce but that is not the case.

It's a more balanced team than he's had before and there are a lot of people in the team to take the pressure off.

In the past, he needed to be the conductor and the kicker and it was easier to mark up on him. But there are a lot of kickers in this team.

James Maloney, Jack Wighton and Tom Trbojevic in the centres and Wade Graham coming off the bench can all create in attack all across the field. Most of those guys, and Damien Cook, can kick as well which takes pressure off Pearce.

He's there to fill a role. He doesn't have to do anything special or win the game himself. He just needs to make his tackles and when he touches ball make sure he executes well.

He'll have a simple game plan which allows him to play really well.

Things will open up for him; there will be a lot of focus on other players after what guys like the Trbojevic brothers and Maloney and James Tedesco did to Queensland in game two.

Pearcey will find himself one-on-one in situations where he can go himself or put someone else into a hole and once again Queensland will really struggle to contain the NSW attack if the Blues have the momentum.

Even though he's late to the party in terms of this series you can't discount the wealth of origin experience he's had.

I was at his first session on Thursday after he was called in late and he looked like he'd been there the whole series.

Everything flowed really well, his combination with Maloney was there straight away. The pair seemed to not need to communicate much, they knew where each other needed to be and who was going to take the lead.

The other players seemed to flow off the back of him.

The most encouraging thing was having a chat with him at training and he had a smile on his face.

He looked genuinely excited and hadn't put any unnecessary pressure on himself. 

He had a spring in his step and seemed excited about the game. Given his form this year for Newcastle, there's no reason he can't play well on Wednesday.

Pearce is a lot older and wiser now, he's more mature and I'm sure things are starting to slow down for him on the field.

Mitchell Pearce and Andrew Johns at NSW training.
Mitchell Pearce and Andrew Johns at NSW training. ©NRL Photos

By that I mean, as a half, he sees things as they unfold and instead of letting the adrenalin get to him he can maintain his composure on the field in the way great players like Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston have been able to do.

I think having Brad Fittler as his Origin coach for the first time will be really good for him as well.

One of Freddy's strengths is stripping things back, taking out all the noise and giving you clarity. Freddy and Pearcey will work well together.

I think things will be a lot closer in the decider than in game two but I'm tipping NSW and hopefully, Pearcey can get that long-awaited series win.