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Who replaces Cleary for NSW? NRL.com experts have their say

The Blues are set to go into the State of Origin series decider without their first-choice halfback, with Nathan Cleary likely to miss out due to an ankle injury. Who should replace him in the halves? The NRL.com experts have their say.

NRL.com's experts view

Jamie Soward (Former NSW five-eighth)

Jack Wighton. His defence is great and it would allow James Maloney to run the side and allow Latrell Mitchell to return to the line-up in the centres. Wade Graham can slot into the halves if it's not working.

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

Mitchell Pearce has been playing the house down for the Knights and on form deserves a chance. This will be a great chance for Origin redemption for Mitchell.

Brett Kimmorley (Former NSW halfback)

There will be no need to find a replacement – I am backing Nathan Cleary to make a quicker than expected return and play in the series decider. As a result, no headache for coach Brad Fittler.

Tamou picks Pearce for Origin recall

Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)

Mitchell Pearce has previously played with James Maloney for the Roosters and NSW, he is in top form for Newcastle and has State of Origin experience.

Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)

Chad Townsend. He has won a premiership with Maloney at the Sharks in 2016 and he brings no Origin baggage. He also brings organising skills and a strong kicking game.

Graham grateful to be back in Blue

Brett Keeble (NRL.com reporter)

If fit, it should be Mitchell Pearce reuniting him with former Roosters halves partner James Maloney. Pearce was considered for the first two games but ruled himself out because of injury. A recall would allow him to write a ripping redemption yarn by leading NSW to the Origin series win that has eluded him throughout his career.

Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)

It's Mitchell Pearce's time to come in and help the Blues win the series. Wade Graham is the perfect man to come off the bench again as injury cover.

Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)

Wade Graham was all class filling in for Nathan Cleary at five-eighth alongside James Maloney in Origin II but Mitchell Pearce has been the form halfback of the NRL this year. He's won a premiership alongside Maloney and if he returned to the side to help clinch a series win it would be a well-deserved change in the narrative for one of the most tortured Origin careers of all time. It was not Pearce's fault that Queensland had a dominant golden generation over the past decade.

Michael Chammas (NRL.com chief reporter)

Mitchell Pearce is the best half in NSW and deserves his chance to play in the decider. You can't blame him for making himself ineligible for the first two games through injury, especially given his history. Wade Graham won't let anybody down but the Blues cannot afford to go into the game with one recognised half. If James Maloney gets injured with Graham as his halves partner, NSW can kiss the series goodbye. Pearce needs to be in.  

Blues left edge sends Addo-Carr in for his second try

Maria Tsialis (Big League editor)

Easy fix - move Wade Graham to the halves, David Klemmer back to the starting line-up, Jake Trbojevic to lock and Dale Finucane to the bench. Everyone will be defending in the same spot and you won't need to introduce a new member to the team to disturb the flow.

Tony Webeck (NRL.com reporter)

So many of Origin's greatest storylines are dominated by Queenslanders; let's give Mitchell Pearce his shot at some type of redemption. Relying on Maloney to solely run the attack makes the Blues vulnerable to being predictable so Pearce shapes as Maloney's ideal foil. It's the perfect Origin III storyline.

Graham puts a kick in for Addo-Carr to score

Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)

I'd go left field with Chad Townsend. Great defender, very consistent and reliable, has a combination with Maloney and won't upset the apple cart. Pearce has too many scars while Wade Graham and Jack Wighton are too important in their current roles. 

Lone Scout (NRL Fantasy expert)

Injury may have forced NSW to pick what would be their best and most experienced halves pairing; Mitchell Pearce has been arguably the form halfback of the NRL in the last couple of months and like James Maloney's he's got a wealth of experience at this level. 

Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)

Wade Graham showed in Game Two that he has the game smarts and the confidence to partner James Maloney in the halves. Selecting the versatile Graham in the starting lineup also gives NSW more options for their bench.

Zac Bailey (NRL.com reporter)

Mitchell Pearce. He's one of the in-form halves of the competition and has matured a fair bit since his last Origin match for NSW. He won a premiership alongside James Maloney with the Roosters in 2013 and I'm confident their combination would work again in the Origin arena.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

Call me crazy, but why change a winning combination? Within the squad, Brad Fittler has several players that could play alongside James Maloney in Jack Wighton and Wade Graham. Jack Wighton would also give Clint Gutherson an opportunity to play at centre.  

Match Highlights: Maroons v Blues

Kenny Scott (NRL.com podcaster)

Mitchell Pearce is the choice for those who love a good story but Brad Fittler's best option when it comes to established halfbacks that are in form is Adam Reynolds. He's played Origin, won a premiership and knows how to steer a team around the park. His club experience with Cook will also be an added bonus.

Jonathan Healy (NRL.com reporter)

It's got to be Mitchell Pearce. He's got experience at that level and can do a job for Brad Fittler.

Tanisha Stanton (NRL.com reporter)

Mitchell Pearce should join James Maloney in the halves. Pearce has a wealth of experience in the Origin arena so it should be easy for him to slot in and not be overwhelmed by the occasion. The halves combination is crucial for this decider clash and with Pearce and Maloney side by side Freddy should have no concerns seeing as the pair have already spent two Origin series and three NRL seasons together.