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From the moment he stepped onto a rugby league field, everyone knew Mitchell Pearce was going to be something special. An NRL debut at 17, not for the club many thought it would be, only advanced this belief.
Just a year after his NRL debut, 2008, Pearce was selected to made his debut for NSW. It was a series decider at ANZ Stadium, a venue at which Queensland had never won previously. Much of the pre-game hype surrounded the 19-year-old and whether he could live up to the expectation and pressure being placed on him. After all, his father was one of the best footballers produced by the proud Balmain club and one of the best leaders seen in rugby league, at club, state and international level. That alone would be immense pressure, notwithstanding an Origin decider in front of 67,620 people.
The Blues lost that game, and Pearce struggled to find his feet. He spent 2009 in the wilderness as the Roosters collected their first wooden spoon since 1966 and coach Brad Fittler lost his job.
The next year was when it all changed. Still only 20 years old, yet with 65 NRL games under his belt, Pearce formed a lethal combination with a reformed Todd Carney as the Tricolours charged towards the finals under Brian Smith. A shoulder injury in the lead up to the first Origin game saw him sit out for six weeks, but he returned to the fray in games two and three. Unfortunately, he again failed to take control as halfback, and two more losses consigned NSW to their first 3-0 series loss in 15 years. He regained his club form to lead the Roosters to the grand final, losing to the Dragons, but the struggles at Origin level cut deep.
Ricky Stuart threw his weight behind Pearce in 2011, backing him as the long term halfback option for NSW, and while they showed a lot more fight going down and Pearce was one of the side’s best during the series, he still couldn’t crack it for a series victory. The same followed in 2012, and questions began to be asked about Pearce’s mettle at Origin level as Rabbitohs youngster Adam Reynolds shone in his rookie season.
One thing that can’t be questioned is the facts. Pearce is just 24, but has played 140 NRL games and 9 Origin games. The face is, it doesn’t matter what your name is, you don’t play that many NRL games and Origins on a whim. While never being as dominant as superstars of the past, Pearce has never looked out of place at Origin level, and will get that opportunity again in 2013.
You can’t force people to mature, whether that is personally or professionally. Maturity takes time, and will naturally happen as you age. Wayne Pearce didn’t make his NSW debut until the age of 23, and didn’t win a series with NSW until the age of 25. Comparisons between the two aren’t particularly fair either, but if Mitchell is even half as successful as his father, he’ll be a special player.
Many people say the time is right for NSW to make all the changes they need to break the drought. As Queensland look to make it eight straight series victories, Pearce and the majority of the NSW side will be searching for their first. It has been said before, and it will be said countless times again in the coming weeks, but this is the time when Pearce is set to stand up and be counted. The time where he has really come of age.
Smooth Move of the Week
It was only his second NRL match, but David Nofoaluma proved to be a match-winner for the Wests Tigers on Friday night. Trailing by two points with less than two minutes to go, the young winger received an offload from Joel Reddy, managing to control it in the wet, shift the ball to his right hand and plant it down in the corner. All this whilst he was tackled and thrown over the sideline mid-air. The win ended a seven match losing streak for the Tigers, and lifted the roof off ‘Fortress Leichhardt’.