Former Blues halfback Peter Wallace believes Roosters No.7 Mitchell Pearce deserves to be re-instated by NSW selectors for this year's Origin series.
The Panthers skipper gave his opposite number the ultimate compliment ahead of their clash this Monday by saying he would choose the in-form playmaker ahead of South Sydney general Adam Reynolds and incumbent halfback Trent Hodkinson.
"I think he's going great. The back half of last year he was one of the best in the comp," Wallace told NRL.com.
"He's looking really fit and he looks confident, so he's obviously taken on the captaincy role really well. If I was a selector, I'd have him halfback of NSW at the moment."
Wallace confirmed on Tuesday that the competition's early ladder-leaders will go to Randwick this weekend minus five-eighth Jamie Soward, who is expected to miss up to a month of football with a back problem.
"He's just had a little bit of a back issue that he's been carrying for a while. I think he's going to a see specialist today. He just needs to get it fixed now rather than waiting during the year when it could blow up to something bigger," he said.
"He's been carrying it for a while. He's just being managing it just with training load. I think the plan was to try and manage it until a bit later in the year when we had a few byes. But it just got to the point now where he needs to get it done so he's feeling 100 per cent going into games rather than worrying about that.
"It's not ideal, but I suppose you've got to look at the bigger scheme of things. It's a long year and it's only Round 2. We'll hopefully get him back in three, maybe four weeks."
NSW Cup halfback Isaac John is expected to get the call-up from coach Ivan Cleary, a classy playmaker who spent most of last season on the sideline with an Achilles injury.
"'Ice' will come straight in. He's done the job before and he had a really good game on the weekend for reserve grade, so he'll be ready to go," Wallace said.
"He pretty much had a full pre-season so he's got a lot of training under his belt, which is good. I only watched the first half on the weekend, but it seems like he's over it now and he's confident. So he'll do a good job."
Wallace said he was excited to take on the competition favourites after missing Penrith's one-point win over them in last year's qualifying final.
"I'm looking forward to it, actually. It's going to be a good test for everyone, especially the team itself," he said.
"[The Roosters] were really good on the weekend. Obviously them and Souths are the benchmark at the moment, so it's going to be a good test for us."