Buoyed by the selection of his Sydney Roosters teammate James Maloney, New South Wales halfback Mitchell Pearce believes he is finally ready to guide the Blues to a series victory when State of Origin kicks off next week.
Speaking exclusively with NRL.com after the NSW team for Game One was named on Sunday night, Pearce said he was more confident than ever of ending Queensland’s seven-year dominance in 2013 after falling agonisingly short 12 months ago.
“I have some dark memories and some good memories with NSW over the last seven years but I definitely feel more comfortable now going into camp, knowing what it’s all about,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been saying it for a few years now – I keep talking into a recorder – but we’ve really got the team to do it now. It’s a great side the selectors have picked.”
Pearce is particularly pleased to have Maloney – who joined the Roosters this season and has played a significant role in their emergence as a genuine premiership threat – alongside him this time around despite the strong partnership he forged with Todd Carney last year.
Maloney has been widely credited with easing the pressure on his No.7 and Pearce admitted his job had become a lot easier since the former Warriors playmaker moved back across the Tasman this season.
“He has [helped],” he said. “His best trait is his communication. He’s got a good head on him when it comes to footy. I think he’ll make a great coach one day.
“But he has been great for me. He takes the pressure off me in that way – I don’t have to come up with all the calls. He understands arm-wrestle footy. He has been playing that for a while at the Warriors and he has brought that to us. In Origin I think he will have an edge because of that.”
Asked if he had felt burdened by the responsibility on his shoulders at both state and club level in recent seasons, Pearce said: “Oh yeah, at times I have, but as a halfback that’s your job. It does help having a dominant five-eighth. I had some success there (at the Roosters) with Todd a couple of years ago. But as a whole club this year, Jake Friend has improved out of sight out of dummy-half and he is taking a lot of pressure off me and Jimmy as well. And with guys like Sonny there, there are a lot of guys that have helped ease the strain.
But at times last year I probably… it’s nice to have someone that can share the role there.”
“Jimmy is a great player. Even last year there was talk that he was going to get selected for NSW. Obviously a few things went wrong before the final blow and that didn’t help him but this year he has been awesome for us. He is a great competitor and no matter which way the game is going he is always fighting. I think that’s really going to help him in Origin.”
The Blues didn’t spring any great selection shocks when the side was named on Sunday, with Jarryd Hayne moving to fullback in place of the injured Brett Stewart and Blake Ferguson coming in to make his debut on the wing after an impressive start to the season for the Raiders.
Captain Paul Gallen will return from injury in the front row with Sharks teammate Andrew Fifita earning a call-up following a series of stunning performances for Cronulla in Gallen’s absence over the past month. Fifita has run for a total of 644 metres at an average of 214 metres every game since Gallen was injured in Round 8.
“It’s a great side and I think we’ve got a great bench as well,” Pearce said. “Trent Merrin has been going great and Anthony Watmough is a freak. It’s all there ready to go.”
“I thought our forwards were really good (last year). They ran over the top of Queensland and a guy like James Tamou, it was his first couple of games but he was one of the best players in the whole series. It’s certainly a great pack.
“Ryan Hoffman, it’s good to see him there too. He’s been a great player for a lot of years and he deserves his shot.”
Pearce said he hadn’t forgotten the pain of last year’s one-point loss to Queensland in the decider but insisted it would only serve as greater motivation as the Blues look to win their first series since 2005.
“I’ve had a long time to think about it,” he said. “It’s not the best feeling in the world but if anything it gives you more motivation. It’s always in the back of your mind.
“We’ve come a long way the last few years under Ricky and I think with Laurie continuing that on and the squad we’ve got, it’s our time now.”