NSW’s halves conundrum: When the best isn’t good enough

Dr Chop Roar Guru

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    Yet another Origin series has ended grimly in defeat for NSW, and yet another case of Mitchell Pearce being hung out to dry. Yet, for a change, I’m not so sure that I’m in the Pearce-hating camp.

    Pearce is a very good player. He’s in great form for the Roosters, he’s a premiership-winning halfback and he’s an experienced (albeit unsuccessful) representative player.

    I’d be over the moon if my team signed him. But that’s NRL football. Origin, as we’ve all heard many times, is a totally different beast – a beast that Pearce has never been able to tame.

    Pearce is simply not in the class of Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk. He’s the next level down, along with the likes of James Maloney.

    But the fact is that Thurston and Cronk are so far ahead of Pearce that they make him look completely incompetent.

    By Pearce’s age, Thurston had played the same amount of Origins, losing one series and winning the rest. By Pearce’s age, Cronk had played in five grand finals, winning three (two with salary cap rorting, one without). Cronk also would likely have had a similar Origin record to Thurston had it not been for one Darren Lockyer.

    Pearce is simply not as good as either of them, nor will he ever be.

    But if Pearce is so clearly not up to the job, why does he keep getting picked?

    The answer is quite simple: he’s the best we’ve got. He and Maloney have by far been NSW’s best halves this year.

    Adam Reynolds hasn’t really played consistently well since 2013-2014, with injuries seeing him struggling to find his groove. Nathan Cleary is a great prospect, but he’s also 19. Give him time to mature and he’ll be a fine player. Throw him to the wolves at 19 and… see Mitchell Pearce.

    This time next year, we could be talking about Mitchell Moses in a very different way if the Eels keep travelling as they are. But for this year’s series, way too soon.

    I feel sorry for Pearce. Sure, he was thrust into Origin way too early and was probably undeserving of his spot for his first few years, but since 2013 he’s been the best we’ve had, which makes this situation difficult, because he’s obviously not up to the task.

    So where to now for the Blues? Jimmy Maloney’s had a good series. He’ll be there next year, but he’s 31. We can’t rely on him forever.

    It looks like Matt Moylan is now Penrith’s long-term five eighth. Perhaps he and Maloney could reprise their partnership from Game 3 2016 next year.

    But with all things being equal, unfortunately I can’t see anyone other than Pearce and Maloney being NSW’s two best halves this time next year.

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