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Blues star shakes off calf concern to set sights on stealing Origin shield from Maroons

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4 days ago
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Rachael Pearson has shaken off a calf injury and will line up as NSW halfback in the first match of the historic three-game State of Origin series.

Coach Kylie Hilder last week selected Pearson for Thursday night’s clash at Suncorp Stadium, despite the Parramatta playmaker managing a minor calf issue this month.

The 30-year-old completed the week’s preparation unencumbered, and Hilder confirmed on Wednesday she would line up alongside Sydney Roosters star Corban Baxter to form a new-look halves combination for Origin I.

“There is no issue whatsoever with Rachael’s calf,” the coach said.

“She’s ready to go. If there was an issue, we wouldn’t have picked her to be part of this team. She’s fully fit, completed every session and there hasn’t been an issue at all.”

Pearson ousted incumbent young gun Jesse Southwell from the halfback spot after both were among the 36 players to join NSW for a seven-week training camp ahead of the Origin series.

Neither Pearson nor Baxter lined up in the Blues’ game-two victory in Townsville last year, with the former dropped on form and the latter out of the game to look after her newborn.

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Despite the extensive training camp, neither woman has played a competitive match in months, given NSWRL has shifted its women’s premiership to run in line with the NRLW season this year.

Thursday’s match will also mark the pair’s first hit-out together at any level, but Hilder did not foresee teething problems for the halves, who have six games of Origin experience between them.

“I’m really confident,” Hilder said.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 17: Rachael Pearson poses during a New South Wales Sky Blues State of Origin media opportunity at the Ignite HQ Centre of Excellence on June 17, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Rachael Pearson. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

“They complement each other really well.

“Rachael controls the game really well and has a great kicking game, and then we’ve got Corban who’s that running five-eighth.

“They’ve been looking great together, working really well together, and I’m excited to see them out on the field tomorrow night.”

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In typical Queensland fashion, coach Tahnee Norris has adopted a “pick-and-stick” approach to selection for the series opener.

The Queensland spine is the same that won last year’s two-match series on points aggregate, with 14 of the 17 players who lost in Townsville backed in for Thursday night.

Makenzie Weale is the lone debutant, coming in for the injured Keilee Joseph.

“The stability that we’ve got in our playing group, I think it’s a true testament to what we did last year, to keep that combination together,” Norris said.

“The girls gel really well and I think we just owed the loyalty to what they did from the past two years.”

She rejected suggestions that the new NSW halves combination was a point of vulnerability.

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“They’ve played Origin before, so I think we’re always wary about the combinations that they’ll put out there. They’re quality players,” Norris said.

© AAP

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