Mitchell Pearce declared Wednesday night’s epic State of Origin series win had helped erase years of "guilt" as Blues players spoke of creating a dynasty to rival Queensland’s era of domination.
Pearce ensured the ultimate Origin redemption story by throwing a cut-out pass to Tom Trbojevic that led to James Tedesco’s match-winning try 23 seconds from full-time after being recalled to the NSW team for the series decider following a two-year exile in place of the injured Nathan Cleary.
It was Pearce’s first series win after debuting in 2008 and the 30-year-old conceded being a key member of so many defeats in his previous 19 appearances for the Blues had taken a toll, but he was now keen to continue playing at representative level.
"I’ve had some guilt," Pearce said. "There has been plenty of games where I haven’t finished the job off so to get the result and be a part of a good team, it just feels nice.
"You feel guilt when you lose and you let people down but walking that lap of honour I felt good and it just felt good that I did my job for the team.
"I have had plenty of moments in this [dressing] room where you just want to duck for cover when you lose. It just feels good that there are so many happy people.
"Honestly, I am not thinking of myself, I am thinking about how good it is for everyone else."
Asked if the monkey was now off his back, Pearce said: "It feels nice to win. I suppose if the monkey was that I had never been a part of a winning series, then the monkey is now off."
'No one deserves it more'
On stage during the first presentation of the State of Origin shield he had been involved in winning, Pearce embraced Cleary and the pair later got their photo taken together in the dressing room.
He told Cleary: "You played the first two games, took all the brunt and did all the tough stuff. I came in and got the lucky one at the end just to finish the job off."
Pearce later said: "It would be great to play with Nathan one day, he is a tough kid and he did all the hard work."
While admitting he had been slightly envious not to have been part of the series-clinching win, Cleary was happy for Pearce.
"I don’t reckon anyone deserves it more," Cleary said. "It is a credit to him, with all the things that have gone on, for him to have the confidence to throw that perfect pass that pretty much won us that game. That was pretty special and I am so happy for him.
"He has been a massive part of NSW for the last 10 years and although it wasn’t successful it is a credit to him to come back, fight off those demons and play a game like that and get a win.
"I have had a few chats with Junior and he is pumped and I am pumped for him. It was a team effort."
Pearce also celebrated the win with his father Wayne, who captained and coached NSW to series victories.
"Dad was pumped, he has had plenty of success with NSW as well so he would be hurting every time we lost so it was nice to share that moment together," he said.
'It was really emotional'
The night before the decider, Pearce told his teammates how much it meant to him to be given another opportunity to help NSW win a series after the torment of playing for more than a decade without success against a Maroons team boasting some of the game’s greatest all-time players.
"It was really emotional," Cameron Murray said. "We had guests come in and present the jerseys for the first and second games but this time it was just ourselves and everyone spoke about what the jersey meant to them, how hard they were going to work for the team and a little bit about their story coming into Origin.
"A lot of the players spoke the night before about how much it hurt playing through that Queensland dynasty. It really inspired me hearing Pearcey’s story, hearing Boyd [Cordner] and how passionate he was about the jersey, and hearing Jimmy [James Maloney] as well.
"I was really looking forward to playing with Pearcey, he is a competitor and he showed how much it means to him to play in that Blues jersey. I thought he had a hell of a game and led the boys from the front. It will definitely go down as one of the best moments in my career."
'We want to build our own legacy'
Winger Josh Addo-Carr said the way NSW snatched the 26-20 win was "the sign of a great team", and after winning back-to-back series for the first time since 2005 the Blues players want to dominate Origin for years to come.
"We want to try and build our own legacy," Addo-Carr said.
"When you put that Blues jersey on you have got to put the team first. Freddie and the coaching staff don’t put any selfish players in this side, they are building something special here and it is great to be a part of it.
"Queensland came back but we fought to the very, very end. Mitchell Pearce hadn’t won an Origin series and we wanted to do it for him and those boys who hadn’t won before."
Murray added: "I think we have really turned a new page in Origin history and it has set up pathway to lead NSW to something great.
"To turn a dream of a dynasty like Queensland had into reality takes a lot of hard work but it is definitely something we can work towards off the back of our success over the last two years."
'Everyone was bagging us'
Besides finally winning an Origin series, Pearce also proved wrong the critics who suggested his representative career was over when he left the Roosters to join Newcastle last year.
"It’s nice to be back here because I remember when I went to Newcastle there was plenty of people coming out in the media - players etc. - saying ‘that is the end of it, he won’t be playing rep footy and he won’t be playing finals footy’," Pearce said.
"There were plenty of knockers and they said it wouldn’t work out so for me so my first thought when I got back to NSW, was being appreciative of Newcastle because we were able to get these opportunities.
"We had six players in rep footy when everyone was bagging us three years ago.
"I love playing for Newcastle. Newcastle has made me a better player since I went up there and they have also given me an opportunity to play here so that makes me grateful and I want to do well for them."