Mitchell Pearce insists there is nothing sinister or suspicious about the circumstances around him not playing in the first two games of the Holden State of Origin series.
Of course he wants to play for the Blues in the decider at ANZ Stadium on July 10, if NSW coach Brad Fittler chooses the 30-year-old Knights captain to replace injured halfback Nathan Cleary.
Having never won a series in seven previous attempts, for a career record of five wins from 18 Origin games stretching back to his Blues debut as a 19-year-old in 2008, it would give him the chance to pen one of rugby league’s great redemption stories.
The narrative writes itself, but Pearce only has eyes for the script at Newcastle.
After a 34-4 last-start loss to Melbourne ended a six-game winning streak, Pearce wants the Knights to get back on the horse against the Broncos at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
“Do I think about Origin? Yeah, I do [but] my focus at the moment is week to week ... I’m not going to come out and say some outlandish comment,” Pearce said on Tuesday.
“My focus is purely on Newcastle each week. I’m captain of the club, and I play my best footy when I don’t get distracted. I’ve been playing really consistent footy because I’m clear in my focus, I know what my role is, and I play my best footy when I play in the moment and I’m clear.
“This week against the Broncos is a big game for the club, and as captain, I need to drive the standards. We’ve got guys coming back from the last Origin … and as captain, it’s my responsibility with the leaders to drive another result this week.
“After that, I’ll focus on the week after that with whatever the outcome is, but if I got an opportunity to play in a decider alongside James Maloney for NSW, of course I’m pumped.”
A groin injury kept Pearce’s name off the selection table for Origin I in Brisbane, then he was poised to partner Cleary for Origin II in Perth last Sunday but he told the man nicknamed 'Freddy' he was unavailable because of a nagging hip flexor strain and a corked thigh suffered against the Storm.
That opened the door for his former Roosters halves partner Maloney, who sparked the Blues to a stunning 38-6 rout of the Maroons to level the series.
“It wasn’t the worst thing in the world but on a short preparation, I didn’t want to let anyone down, but I’ve had a good rest and freshened up and looking forward to hopefully a big game against the Broncos,” Pearce said of his injury.
He had no concern with any conspiracy theories and chat to the contrary, which is hardly surprising for a player who has attracted headlines for his entire career. Once he told Fittler he would have been unable to train sufficiently in the lead-up, he ruled himself out and his conscience was clear.
“I wasn’t going to go in and play game two and train one session. Whether people have their own opinions on that or whatever it is, in myself, I didn’t want to let the team down or myself down, and I think that’s a selfless act,” he said.
“At the end of the day, Jimmy Maloney came in and did a pretty good job, didn’t he. It was good to watch a guy I’m mates with, and played a lot of footy with, play so well.
“This situation, I haven’t really acknowledged at all, because I know my intentions have been right.
“I’ve said all along before the last game, it would be great to play again for NSW but obviously I had an injury and I was honest about that and I didn’t want to let anyone down.
“Now my focus is purely on Broncos this week, and I’m sure the coaching staff for the Blues will work out what they want is best for game three, and if that’s me, I’ll go in and do my best for the team.”
Pearce said he was still being troubled by his hip and thigh injuries but was confident of leading the Knights against the Broncos in the first of three straight home games.
After a first-up win against the Sharks, Newcastle slumped to five consecutive losses then rebounded with six successive victories before stumbling against the Storm.
“The first period was bad, the second period was good, and this next period is huge for us in the scheme of the whole season,” Pearce said.
“The good six games we had doesn’t mean anything unless we turn it on again in this next period.
“Around this period, there’s Origin and injuries … and the bye round, and it can break up your weekly routine, so for us it’s about getting back and getting our routine going again at training.
“You build momentum off the way you train and your repetition, so if we can get that focus going over the next six weeks, we’ve got three home games into a Roosters game down there, which is a obviously a blockbuster.
“So if we can nail this period here, I think it will set up the back end of the year for us.”