NSW pack leader David Klemmer has identified Newcastle teammate Mitchell Pearce as the field-marshal the Blues need to square the State of Origin series in Perth later this month.
Klemmer will miss the Blues' must-win game at Optus Stadium on June 23 after fracturing his left wrist in their 18-14 loss to Queensland in Origin I in Brisbane last Wednesday, but is confident he will be back for what he hopes will be the decider in Sydney on July 10.
While Klemmer was at the Bulldogs and Pearce was at the Roosters, they were NSW teammates in six games in the 2015 and 2017 Origin series.
Teaming up in Newcastle this year, they have transformed the Knights into a finals-calibre side riding a six-game winning streak into Saturday's game against leaders Melbourne at AAMI Park.
Pearce won five straight man-of-the-match awards during that stretch to rocket to the top of the Dally M Medal leaderboard, so if NSW coach Brad Fittler is considering changes to the halves for Origin II, Klemmer is backing the recall of his Newcastle captain.
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"Six weeks ago he wasn't even close to a Dally M point, where he was at, and now he's leading the charge up the top there, and so he should be," Klemmer told reporters in Newcastle on Wednesday.
"That's Mitchell. Mitchell's a great footy player and a great role model for our club and a great captain. I'd be that stoked for him [if recalled] because he deserves to be there.
"He should have been picked [for Origin I] but obviously had a [groin] niggle and didn't get to play, so if he's in contention, I hope he gets picked because he's been playing some outstanding football."
As for his own replacement in the NSW pack for Origin II, Klemmer nominated Knights front-row partner Daniel Saifiti as a bolter who would not let anyone down.
The 25-year-old international believed it was no coincidence that the Knights had won six on the trot since coach Nathan Brown promoted Saifiti to the starting side against Parramatta on April 28.
In Klemmer's absence, Saifiti stood up to the Burgess brothers in Newcastle's 20-12 victory over Souths last Friday and also led from the front in their 38-12 rout of the Roosters a fortnight earlier.
"He was awesome. I'm surprised he's not being talked about for Origin, and being in that mix," Klemmer said of the Fijian international.
"What he's done defensively, and the way he's changed his game, he's been awesome and he's going to be great for us for the next couple of years.
"He's mentally tough, he's a strong player, and if you go through the last six weeks with him starting football games for us, he's a big reason why we've got off to a good start, so he wouldn't look out of place in an Origin jersey."
Klemmer was expected to miss the rest of the Origin series when he was first diagnosed with a fractured wrist last Thursday.
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Deciding against surgery, he will have a protective cast removed a few days before Newcastle host Brisbane on June 29, so he is an outside chance of playing in that game and is backing himself to be available for NSW for Origin III.
"I want to play this week," he said.
"Whenever I get it right, I'm ready. I can't wait to play.
"It was disappointing to lose, then to find out I got injured as well was very frustrating because I'm a competitive person.
"But I rang Freddy and let him know that I'm going to do all I can to get to game three … I'd get back sooner if I could, it just depends how it heals, but I'm definitely aiming for game three."
Playing the first 51 minutes, running 14 times for 149 metres and making 30 tackles, Klemmer was one of the Blues' best in Origin I. News of his injury did not come to light until he rejoined his Newcastle teammates the next day to prepare to play Souths the following night.
"When I got to Parramatta, back in Knights camp, it started to get pretty sore and I tried to do some push-ups to see if it was no good," he said.
"I said to the physio at the time that I think we'll get a scan because it's pretty sore and it's aching me still. I got a scan at nine o'clock that night and it came back with that.
"I was a bit surprised … We weren't going to get the scan, we were just going to needle it the next day, but lucky that we did because it would have done some damage.
"I'm in a good mind space. It's obviously frustrating but that's part of sport, and I got some good news. I went for a run today and it felt pretty good moving around.
"We're looking at a couple of weeks so I'll probably miss game two of Origin then have a week off to get the body right and get some training done."