NSW selectors’ credibility on the line with Mitchell Pearce

Ryan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ryan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, this is not a recycled piece. You may look at the headline and surmise that The Roar is malfunctioning and serving up articles from 2015 – or earlier – but it’s really not.

    Instead, we’re once again staring down the barrel of a State of Origin series in which NSW selectors are leaning towards selecting Mitchell Pearce in the halves.

    The phrase déjà vu comes to mind quite seamlessly in this circumstance.

    Cynical NSW fans (is there another kind?) will be feeling like they’ve seen this horror movie already, and know how it ends. Pearce has played 15 Origins for NSW since 2008 and played in exactly zero winning series. In his last match for the Blues in 2015, the team lost the deciding match at Suncorp Stadium by a truly embarrassing margin of 52-6.

    That’s a record that does not make for pleasant reading. Unless you’re a Queenslander.

    As ever, the fate of a team does not rest on one player’s shoulders, nor should poor results.

    By the same token, Pearce is yet to take an Origin series by the scruff of the neck and display the potential he shows at club level. At some point, when the sample size is large enough, a player’s file should be marked with the damning judgment that he can’t step up to the next level.

    Pearce’s credibility is not on the line if he is selected. The vast majority of fans have made their mind up that he isn’t an Origin player, and should he once again fail I doubt it will be held against him. At this point, it’s not on him.

    The people whose credibility will really be under the microscope will be the NSW selectors. Given the history and the background, if they decide to pick Pearce and he disappoints, they will look like complete and utter idiots.

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    (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

    They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Though it’s a saying used to the point of saturation, it’s fairly apt here, because the risk the selectors take in picking Pearce is that they’re perceived to be ignoring history; always a dangerous and stupid thing to do.

    You can already imagine the fall out – not to mention the headlines – if NSW pick Pearce, he plays badly, and they lose. Yet that is the gamble the selectors seem willing to take.

    In their defence, there isn’t exactly a lot of competition for the Blues’ halfback jersey. It’s not like Joey Johns, Ricky Stuart, Peter Sterling or Steve Mortimer are running around in their primes. Heck, I’m sure the Blues would settle for John Simon or Jason Taylor at this point.

    Furthermore, Pearce is playing good football for the Roosters and has been chiefly responsible for a number of their wins this year. He’s definitely a different player to the one that was first selected in 2008, and at 27 years of age he should be just entering his prime.

    Additionally, after a string of off-field incidents, he appears to have cleaned up his act, with evidence to suggest he has matured greatly in the last 18 months alone.

    So there is certainly some merit in once again giving him a chance to lead NSW to a series victory.

    Yet to continue on with the ‘doing the same thing over and over again’ narrative, if chosen, Pearce has to mix things up. For the Blues, he’s been a shadow of the player he is for the Roosters. If given the opportunity to re-write his Origin career, he needs to do the things that make him good at club level; take on the line, bark orders at his teammates, and be the leader of the team.

    He can’t be meek. He can’t be conservative. He can’t think anything else but “I’ve got nothing to lose, so I’m going to roll the dice.”

    Mitchell Pearce. (Action Photographics, Renee McKay)

    (Action Photographics, Renee McKay)

    Though there is certainly a school of thought that he should simply be a complementary player and fulfil a role, given his baggage, he doesn’t have that luxury. The image of him standing around after a game, thinking he should have tried something is one I can’t even contemplate at present. He needs to be the reason NSW win.

    So, would I pick Pearce for Origin I?

    I wouldn’t. Yet possibly not for the reasoning you’d think.

    It’s not that I don’t believe he deserves it this season, because he does. I wouldn’t pick Mitchell Pearce because Queensland ‘grow a leg’ when NSW select him. Their confidence increases when they see his name on the run-on sheet.

    Combine that with the fact the Maroons have long memories and haven’t forgotten Pearce sledging Johnathan Thurston for being too old in Game 2 in 2015, and they’ll be motivated to rub his nose in it. Just like they did in Game 3 that year, the aforementioned massacre.

    Confidence and motivation? Not exactly the two qualities you want to be giving your opposition.

    I’d pick Matt Moylan. However, that’s hardly done without any fear, so I’ll put it in writing that I’d have no issue at all if the selectors do pick Pearce. As I said, he deserves it.

    It also means I can possibly recycle an old article or two.

    Ryan O
    Ryan O'Connell

    Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.

    The State of Origin teams for Game 1 at Suncorp Stadium have been announced - be sure to check out all of The Roar's expert reaction to the sides named for the NSW Blues and Queensland Maroons.