Origin is a special competition, from its unique nature fostered by a state duopoly on the NRL to the passion it ignites that is generally reserved for only the fiercest international sporting rivalries.
The NSW halves picture has become a muddied mess after Mitchell Pearce and Cody Walker failed to fire and James Maloney came rocketing back into contention for a State of Origin recall.
It has been widely reported that Pearce’s name will be read out when Blues coach Brad Fittler announces his game two side in Sydney at 6pm (AEST) on Sunday.
However, Pearce was far from impressive in a badly beaten Newcastle side during Saturday’s 34-4 flogging to Melbourne, making just four runs for 23 metres and nine tackles while he missed four.
Yet he still looks set to replace Walker with Penrith’s Nathan Cleary to be shifted to five-eighth.
While ex-Blues players such as Michael Ennis and Braith Anasta have questioned the plan to pick two halfbacks, Pearce said he would get it done if it meant winning back an Origin jumper.
“If that’s the way they’re going to go then you make it work,” Pearce said.
“It’s a week preparation. You make things work in those teams. That’s what your job is otherwise there’s a lot of pressure when you lose.”
Soon after Pearce’s faltering performance, Maloney sent a resounding message to the selectors after nailing the decisive field goal in Penrith’s 19-18 win over South Sydney.
Importantly, he out-pointed opposite number Walker, who missed a field goal attempt just one minute before Maloney struck the winner.
Maloney also came up with a first-half try assist when he sent Viliame Kikau through a hole and he has now starred in consecutive wins over title fancies the Sydney Roosters and the Rabbitohs.
“What odds am I? Well let’s open a market, what about that? Because a friend of a friend love a punt,” Maloney said.
After guiding the Blues to a drought-breaking series win last year, he was overlooked in favour of Walker for game one after the Panthers dropped eight of their opening 10.
Maloney questioned whether he was back in contention after just two strong games.
“Personally I didn’t think I was in the worst form,” he said.
“But as a team we weren’t going that well, which doesn’t help. When you’re a senior player in a side and got a big responsibility and not getting the job done.
“I don’t think too much changes – I’ve played two games since Origin.”
The Blues will be forced into at least two changes with winger Nick Cotric (ankle) and David Klemmer (wrist) injured.
Manly star Tom Trbojevic, provided he can get through Sunday’s clash with St George Illawarra, is being considered along with Parramatta’s Blake Ferguson.
Newcastle’s Daniel Saifiti (eight runs, 64 metres) was quiet against the Storm but appears close to an Origin debut in place of teammate Klemmer.
Brisbane’s Matt Lodge is also in contention, along with Melbourne’s Dale Finucane and Penrith’s James Tamou, who both had outstanding games on Saturday.
Cronulla back-rower Wade Graham is also being considered despite being just two games back from an ACL.
Possible NSW side: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Tom Trbojevic, 3 Latrell Mitchell, 4 Josh Morris, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Nathan Cleary, 7 Mitchell Pearce, 8 Payne Haas, 9 Damien Cook, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Boyd Cordner, 12 Tyson Frizell, 13 Jake Trbojevic. Interchange: 14 Jack Wighton, 15 Daniel Saifiti, 16 Cameron Murray, 17 Angus Crichton.