Pearce up to challenge in Origin return
NSW five-eighth Mitchell Pearce's club and state teammates say his combination with incumbent Blues halfback Trent Hodkinson is taking shape and have backed the maligned playmaker to bring his best to the Origin arena in 2015.
Pearce may have tasted success in just three of his 12 Origin matches so far but since his last appearance he has won a premiership, been appointed Roosters co-captain and grown and matured as a person and player.
He said as much himself on the day the side was announced and, 48 hours and two field sessions into the side's Coffs Harbour camp, Pearce's Roosters and Blues teammates Michael Jennings and Boyd Cordner said he had slotted back in seamlessly and is now better equipped to handle the criticisms that will come with the role.
"He's been really well. He's pretty pumped to be back in the Origin arena again, I'm so proud of him to see where he's come from to where he is now," Cordner said.
"It's been a lot of hard work for him. Obviously it's sad for Joshie Reynolds not to be here – he was a massive part of what the Blues achieved last year but like I said I'm really proud of Pearcey."
Cordner, a close mate of Pearce's, said the playmaker is able to use a lot of the criticism levelled at him as further motivation now.
"I think you've seen at the back end of last year and even this year he's shown that and put it into positives on the field," he said.
"I think he's more than capable to handle that sort of stuff. I think you've seen last year the headlines and what else he's been dragged through so something like that is something he's probably dealt with in everyday life."
Jennings said the Coffs Harbour camp had benefited Pearce, enabling him to get away from the spotlight.
"I think it's been really great for him, he's been really calm and just embracing the moment," Jennings said.
"He knows that he's got a big task ahead of him but I'm really confident that he's going to get the job done."
One of the big talking points out of last year's series was the way Blues coach Laurie Daley got the halves to address the team before a session, essentially getting the players who would be running the team out on the field to run the off-field sessions as well, and Jennings said this had continued this year.
"Communication between the players is a real key, it's good to have them up and really set the training standards and what's going to happen in the game. It's all coming from them and it's a good way to get them to talk," he said.
Jennings said he had noticed little difference so far in how the side was being run with Pearce having replaced Josh Reynolds at five-eighth.
"They're both quality players and Juju [Pearce] coming in, he's slotted into that position and finding his feet, I think Loz and the boys are helping him out.
"That combination between him and Hokko [Hodkinson] is working good. They've played Origin level, I don't think anyone's got doubts that they won't do their job."
Jennings added Pearce seemed calm and relaxed and now knows what's needed in tough games at crucial moments.
"That's a positive that he's staying calm now so come game time he's ready for it."
At club level Pearce focuses more on the Roosters' right side while James Maloney runs the potent left edge that features Blues Daniel Tupou, Jennings and Boyd Cordner.
With Hodkinson having a left-edge focus at both club level and in last year's Origin, it is expected that each will focus more heavily on their preferred edge on Wednesday night. After the Blues' second field session Pearce was seen practising kicking to the right corner for Tupou, while Hodkinson was practising drilling it to the left.
However Jennings said each would have a licence to roam come Wednesday night.
"We've got our set plays, we've got our plays where we want to get around and I think with Juju and Hokko they're both going to share the workload.
"It's good to have two halves that are really good on both sides of the field, that's a bonus for us to have Hokko and Juju floating around both sides of the field, we'll be getting a lot of ball."