Knights coach Nathan Brown said Mitchell Pearce’s decision to rule himself out of State of Origin selection contention had cost the injured Newcastle captain $60,000 and two more NSW jerseys.
Brown insisted Pearce wanted to return to the Origin arena, and did all he could to make himself available for the potential series-decider in Perth on June 23, but did not want to let NSW down.
The veteran of 18 Origin contests was in line to wear the No.7 jersey in the Blues’ must-win game at Optus Stadium but declared himself unavailable because of a strained hip flexor and corked thigh.
The 30-year-old halfback took the hip flexor injury into Newcastle’s 34-4 loss to leaders Melbourne at AAMI Park last Saturday and suffered the corked thigh in the game.
Brown said Pearce adopted a similar attitude when he sustained a minor groin strain in Newcastle’s 38-12 victory over the Roosters in Newcastle on May 24.
Pearce told NSW coach Brad Fittler as much shortly after full-time, effectively taking his name off the selection table 48 hours before Fittler announced the NSW team for Origin I.
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Hosing down any suggestions Pearce did not want to play, Brown said his skipper should be praised for being so unselfish and putting the Blues’ needs before any personal gain or aspiration.
“There’s going to be all sorts of stories that come out of it but the reality is, if you look at it at face value, he’s given up 60 grand and two Origin jumpers,” Brown said on Monday, referring to Origin player payments of $30,000 a game.
“Not too many people do that, I would have thought, so you should admire him for doing it, in my opinion, and he’ll come back fresh for us and hopefully train next Saturday morning with us.
“It’s a pretty brave decision. The last thing ‘Pearcey’ wanted to do was go in there and let NSW down and let himself down as well.”
Brown explained Pearce and Knights team-mate Daniel Saifiti were made aware of their NSW selection for Origin II when they took telephone calls from Fittler at Melbourne Airport on Saturday night while lining up to board their return flight to Newcastle.
Pearce spent most of that night icing his injuries to expedite the recovery process and to convince himself he could navigate a week of training and tactical preparation, but conceded on Sunday that it was a lost cause and called his former Sydney Roosters coach to break the news.
“Pearcey knew he was selected on Saturday evening, back in Melbourne at the airport when he spoke to Freddy – as did Daniel Saifiti – and Pearcey was very excited,” Brown said.
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“… Pearcey understands his game now probably better than any of us, and Pearcey’s worry yesterday morning was, if he can’t train and get enough sessions in, he won’t be able to play how he needs to play, or more importantly get his players running where he needs them to run.
“Pearcey plays a very direct game and his runners need to run in the right areas to help Pearcey’s game, and he didn’t feel that without training every session that he’d be able to give himself the best chance, so he rang Freddy and told him.”
After having this week off to rest and recover, Brown hoped Pearce would be available for Newcastle’s next game against Brisbane at McDonald Jones Stadium on June 29.
“He’s fine. It’s not a major injury – he’s got a cork and he did carry a slight hip flexor strain in his kicking leg into the game – so they’re not major problems,” he said.
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“Again, if he was playing with us this week, he wouldn’t be training until Friday or Saturday and that’s just unfortunate the way it is. If it was a Wednesday Origin, he would have been right to go and get plenty of sessions in but it hasn’t turned out that way.
“I think he’s gone away and is relaxing with his partner so I think he’s happy.”
Brown was not surprised about Saifiti’s selection because Fittler sounded him out about the Fijian international’s Origin credentials after Newcastle’s 20-12 victory against South Sydney on June 7.
Including his debut in 2016, Brown’s first year at the Knights, Saifiti has played 75 NRL games and another two Tests for Fiji.
Brown believed Saifiti’s recent performances against the big-name forwards in the Rabbitohs and Roosters packs convinced Fittler he was the right man to replace injured Newcastle team-mate David Klemmer in the NSW front row.
“It wasn’t as big a shock to me because Freddy had flagged it with me that he was a possibility,” he said.
“It’s a great reward for him, from where he’s come. I’ve been with Daniel since I first got here … so to where he is today, it’s a big achievement for him.
“The job that Freddy wants Daniel to do, Daniel can do that job – he’s proven that against the best packs in the competition this year. It’s a pretty simple job what he needs from him, and I’m very confident Daniel can go out and do that.”
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 2 -
Venue: Optus Stadium, Perth