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Few are more qualified to delve into the severity of the scars that State of Origin has inflicted on Mitchell Pearce than Josh Rosenthal.

A nobody to almost everybody. But a somebody to Pearce.

Inside a place called The Cabin, alongside heroin addicts and sexual abuse victims at a luxury Thai rehab clinic in Chiang Mai back in 2016, Pearce was introduced to Rosenthal.

An Australian-based therapist who is the clinical lead for The Cabin's Sydney program, focusing on the integration and relapse prevention aspect of the program as much as the rehabilitation process itself.

So when Pearce returned to Sydney after his time in Thailand at the start of 2016, once a week before he moved to Newcastle to join the Knights in 2018, he would attend group or individual counselling sessions.

Still, and as recent as on the eve of the Origin decider, Pearce confides in Rosenthal – an addict turned therapist transforming the lives of many.

Blues v Maroons - Origin III

There were many versions used to recount Pearce's Australia Day antics that led to his time in Chiang Mai, but perhaps none better than what Rosenthal explained to Pearce in one of their first conversations.

"It was a gift, wrapped in shit," Rosenthal told Pearce.

"It might not have felt good at the time, but it has allowed him to have a look at himself and figure out what's important to him."

For so long, Pearce has been driven by a motivation to change the course of history.

For the best part of a decade, he has been NSW's punching bag. Blamed for all of the Blues' shortcomings.

"No one blamed him more than he blamed himself," Rosenthal said.

The Cabin in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The Cabin in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"He felt so much shame and guilt to his teammates."

But the journey of self-discovery Pearce embarked on, from the moment he set foot into The Cabin just over three years ago, has prepared him for what is about to unfold at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night.

Call it what you like. Unfinished business. A redemption story. A third chance, perhaps.

Regardless of the narrative being played out in the theatre that is State of Origin, you can be assured it's different to the narrative playing in Pearce's mind as he prepares for his 19th appearance in sky blue.

"He's learnt that he can put in the action, but the outcome isn't in his hands," Rosenthal said after Pearce granted him permission to talk about his recovery in the hope of helping others that may be struggling.

"He puts so much pressure on himself, and that's because he's a perfectionist. But he is not responsible for whether NSW win or lose. These high expectations he once put on himself, they can be dangerous. If they are harnessed in a healthy way it can be successful, but it can also go against you.

"He was so worried about the armchair critics and the armchair coaches and tried so hard to please people. In the past, he's been worried about how the media portrays him and how the people see him.

"But that's not important to him anymore. What's more important to him now is how he sees himself."

Pearce was born the son of a legend. From birth, life has all been about rugby league. It's been his world. It's also been the cause of what has often seen that world spiral out of control.

"He was the prince of the NRL, forced to try and live up to the standards his dad set from a young age," Rosenthal said.

"We're talking about a guy whose life was so revolved around rugby league that his general behaviour was 'win and be happy, lose and be unhappy'. To have that as your self-worth is not healthy."

Therapist Josh Rosenthal.
Therapist Josh Rosenthal. ©Supplied

But plenty has changed in Pearce's life. He's deeply spiritual, finding comfort in the study of Buddhism.

He speaks of finding a higher power. Finding peace in meditating for 10 minutes every morning to set intentions for the day, and repeating that again at night.

He speaks about playing "in the feel" and trusting yourself, not playing from the head. It's a Mitchell Pearce unrecognisable to the baby-faced teenager that burst on to the scene at the Roosters more than a decade ago.

"I spoke to him last night and I know how important this game is to him, but it's not the be-all and end-all," Rosenthal said.

"That's the biggest change he's made in his life. He's under enough pressure and doesn't need to put even more on himself.

"He's been the scapegoat for years, so it's been a challenging journey, but he's shown his resilience and proved to himself that there's more to life than rugby league."

For Pearce, his ability to deal with what may come from Wednesday night's decider will be his biggest challenge since being shown the door by his beloved Roosters last year.

Blues on the psychology of preparing for the Origin decider

That moment, like the one that hinges on the result of game three, had the potential to send Pearce down a dark path.

"I was concerned about the fear and anxiety that comes up," Rosenthal said of the Roosters' treatment of Pearce.

"I was concerned with the pressure he had on him, because it's a lot for a young person to cope with. But it's something he dealt with when he came back from Thailand having to face the media and the scrutiny.

"I honestly believe his time at The Cabin is the best thing that's happened to him. It was a necessary thing.

"He went there thinking 'I don't belong here'. Like anyone, there's always a level of denial. His problematic drinking could have seen him lose his career and those consequences are high enough. I take my hat off to him. He's also provided others with hope.

Mitchell Pearce and Andrew Johns at NSW training.
Mitchell Pearce and Andrew Johns at NSW training. ©NRL Photos

"The suicide rate among Australian males is one of the highest in the world. He's probably saved some lives without even knowing. I don't fear for him. He's not perfect. But progress is the aim, not perfection."

You couldn't blame Pearce for his pursuit of perfection. After all, it was what was almost required all those years the odds were stacked against the Blues taking on arguably the greatest rugby league team ever assembled.

But there's since been a changing of the guard for Queensland.

While that has been happening, a change of the man they mocked most has taken place in the background as the tormented looks to become the tormentor.

"He's a human being," Rosenthal said.

"He's a really nice guy. To judge him on his past is unfair. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s not how you fall it’s how you pick yourself up. Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, Mitchell Pearce will be fine."

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