From a Queensland rugby league fan’s perspective, there are three certainties in life; death, taxes and Mitchell Pearce losing an Origin decider.
Mitchell Pearce is a polarizing figure when the discussion turns to State of Origin, and fans north of the border are feeling very confident with his selection for New South Wales, replacing an injured Nathan Cleary for this year’s game three decider in Sydney.
The reason Queenslander’s are confident is because Pearce has lost every one of the six Origin deciders he’s been involved in, and an overall record of just five wins from his 18 Origins – statistics which wouldn’t have Blues fans brimming with confidence either.Embed from Getty Images
Over the years, some the criticisms directed at Pearce during Queensland’s Origin dynasty has been somewhat unfair given his then-Blues teammates escaped criticism for their own shortcomings at Origin level.
However, some of those criticisms could be considered well justified. He was accused of going missing when games were on the line and his inability to manage and inspire the New South Wales side when they were under siege against the all-conquering Queenslanders.
Pearce made his Origin debut in a series decider back in 2008 as an inexperienced 19-year-old and later admitted he wished he never played Origin when he was 19 to 22.
State of Origin is a completely different beast compared to the regular NRL season, and we’ve seen many players selected when they were too young and not ready, leaving them mentally scarred. Cody Walker is an example from this year’s series and although he’s not a young man in rugby league terms, in hindsight he was not ready for Origin.
Take Cody Walker’s Origin experience and how it must be affecting him, then multiply it exponentially to get an idea of what Pearce has had to endure over a decade-long representative career.
But times have changed for the Knights captain and for New South Wales.
Pearce is arguably the best half in the NRL at the moment. His irresistible form in 2019 almost saw him selected for game one ahead of Origin series-winning incumbent, Nathan Cleary, only for injury to rule him out for both games one and two.
After years of origin failures, a suspension for a horrid off-field incident and being booted out of the Roosters in favour of Cooper Cronk, we are seeing a man who has put the dark days behind him. He’s matured into a great leader on-and-off the field and is in career-best form with Newcastle.
Pearce would know he’s the subplot story to next Wednesday’s decider and he’d also know he’ll be the most analysed and scrutinized player on the field.
One could only imagine the pressure he’s under to finally deliver for his state.
If he’s able to block out the mental demons and take a positive mindset leading into game three, he has an opportunity – perhaps his last – to right all the wrongs of his representative career and erase the decade long torment at Origin level.
Pearce is now part of a squad who’d be feeling confident and with the belief they can make it two series wins in-a-row after mauling Queensland by 32-points in game two in Perth. He’s playing alongside a resurgent five-eighth he’s well familiar with, winning a premiership with James Maloney at the Roosters in 2013.Embed from Getty Images
But perhaps most importantly, it’s the first time Pearce will play against a Queensland side which is no longer stacked with future immortals and hall of famers in the prime of their careers.
Then there’s the question of whether a New South Wales win will be enough for Pearce, from the perspective of fans and pundits. If he has a quiet game but the likes of Maloney, Tedesco, Cook and Klemmer have blinders, Pearce could be on a hiding to nothing.
Perhaps an influential and dominate performance in a New South Wales victory is the only way to appease the masses south of the border. But if Pearce can bring his club form to Origin, then he’s destined for a big game.
Surely his time is now. Game three has to be the Mitchell Pearce show.
There’s the famous Johnathan Thurston sledge to Pearce in an Origin decider in 2015 when New South Wales were being pummelled, Thurston suggested he take a picture of himself next to Wally (statue of Wally Lewis raising the Origin shield outside Suncorp Stadium), because that would be as close as he’ll ever get to the Origin shield.
The sledge is Origin folklore as far as Queensland is concerned; what would be Origin folklore for New South Wales, would be an image of the much-maligned Mitchell Pearce, finally holding the Origin shield after leading the Blues to victory in an Origin decider.