The definition of madness: to do the identical factor again and again and anticipate a special end result.
Exhibit A: Mitchell Pearce.
Pearce has misplaced seven State of Origin collection within the NSW halves. He has a win charge of 28 per cent, with simply 5 victories from 18 video games.
He averages a strive help each three video games in Origin, a pressured dropout each six video games, a line break each 9 video games, on a mean 52.5 possessions per sport.
Pearce has performed extra Origins than Peter Sterling, Steve Mortimer, Ricky Stuart, Geoff Toovey and Brett Kimmorley; champion Blues halfbacks all.
History tells us, with a megaphone, that Pearce is an outstanding NRL No.7 who hasn’t been good enough at Origin level.
Yet here we are again, discussing Pearce for a NSW comeback, when it’s not even clear that he wants one.
Blues icon Andrew Johns has been on the phone to Pearce, reportedly telling him that he has the opportunity to rewrite his Origin story. That he can rescue NSW in this series.
“Leading the Dally Ms, leading the Knights around, career-best form, six or seven man-of-the-matches in a row,” Johns said on Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and the Eighth.
“I spoke to him during the week: he said the game has just slowed down for him. He’s in total control out there. Total control of the game, total control of his emotions and it’s great to see.
“He’s been through bits and pieces over his career where he’s been hammered in certain situations, but so pumped to see him go well; especially in Newcastle. He loves being up there, the town loves him up there.”
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown reckons that Pearce can excel for the Blues if he’s given the job as dominant playmaker, feeding Cody Walker.
Yet cast your mind back to 2017, when Pearce was handed the keys to what was touted as the best NSW team for 10 years. He was recalled after NSW unsuccessfully tried Adam Reynolds in 2016.
He was made the dominant playmaker, to the extent that Robbie Farah’s Origin career was ended to ensure no-frills service from dummy-half (Nathan Peats was the new hooker). Pearce was playing alongside his 2013 Roosters premiership halves partner James Maloney, who was coming off another grand final win with the Sharks.
Victory was there for the taking. Pearce couldn’t deliver, again.
NSW won the opening game 28-4 at Suncorp Stadium, with Pearce scoring a try before leaving the field concussed in the second half.
The Blues just had to win in Sydney to claim the series and when Queensland champion Johnathan Thurston busted his shoulder, they had a gift-wrapped opportunity. Yet with Pearce running the show, NSW produced a stinker.
Having led 16-6 at half-time, partly thanks to a Pearce try, they were rudderless and scoreless in the second stanza and lost 18-16. Thurston kicked the winning conversion, having been barely targeted by the NSW attack despite carrying a season-ending injury.
“It’s the dumbest half of football NSW have played,” Johns fumed at full-time, before cornering Pearce for an awkward Footy Show interview in which he essentially asked: “Mate … what the hell were you doing?”
Joey blasts the blues
There was still hope as NSW headed back to Brisbane for the decider. Only there wasn’t, really. The big opportunity was already lost.
The Blues trailed 12-0 at half-time and lost 22-6, barely firing a shot. There was another damning post-script for Pearce.
In Origin III, Peats didn’t run the ball. Not one single time. Zero runs for zero metres. The hooker gave every single attacking opportunity to Pearce and Maloney, who had 66 and 57 possessions respectively and produced precious little; albeit behind a badly-beaten forward pack.
Little had changed from two years earlier; another decider at Suncorp Stadium, though Pearce was wearing No.6 with Trent Hodkinson at halfback.
As Queensland finalised a 52-6 win, Thurston hit him with an all-time great sledge: “I just let Pearcey know he should probably get a photo with Wally [Lewis’] statue, because that’s the closest he was going to get to holding the shield.” So far, JT’s been spot on.
Pearce figured his time in Origin was over after the 2017 defeat. So did NSW fans. If fans had a tortured relationship with Pearce, the halfback certainly had a love-hate thing with Origin.
Pearce’s Origin debut was madness: he was chosen to play a decider at age 19, replacing an injured Peter Wallace in Craig Bellamy’s side. NSW lost 16-10 in Sydney.
“In hindsight I wish I never played that early when I was 19 to 22. I definitely wasn’t ready,” Pearce told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2015.
“As a halfback in Origin at 19, it was way too early. I probably developed some bad doubts from that period in those first few games. It’s a daunting thing.”
Yet again, we’ve hit rewind; another possible wildcard pick for Pearce, now at age 30. NSW coach Brad Fittler has kept the Knights No.7 in the selection mix throughout.
So has Johns, his biggest critic in 2017 but a key advocate amid his form spike this season. The eighth Immortal is part of Fittler’s coaching staff and worked with incumbent halfback Nathan Cleary ahead of Origin I.
So what of Cleary? He won last year’s series as halfback, an extraordinary achievement at age 20, and offered the same kind of performance when he retained his spot for Origin I this year.
The Panthers No.7 did nothing wrong, kicking and defending strongly, but he also did nothing to find the try-line for NSW. In four Origin games, Cleary is yet to register a single key playmaking stat (try assist, line break assist, line break or try).
And it’s not a problem exclusive to Origin. Cleary is tied-last for try assists among regular starting halfbacks in the NRL this season, with four from 11 games.
He trails Mitchell Moses (17) and Pearce (14) as the stat leaders, while Luke Keary – who would have been chosen as NSW five-eighth but for a concussion – has notched five try assists in three games as a fill-in halfback for the Roosters. Cleary is level for try assists with Storm prop Kenny Bromwich and rookie Manly five-eighth Cade Cust (from four games).
To be fair, Cleary was not chosen to be an attacking dynamo. He was asked to provide rock-solid organisation and kicking, which he’s done.
As iconic NSW coach Phil Gould pointed out – and as Wide World of Sports explored before Origin I – not even the all-time greats did what Cleary has finished as such a younger age.
Gould is satisfied that Cleary nonetheless wants a veteran five-eighth alongside him to win; which implies Penrith halves accomplice Maloney, not 29-year-old rookie Cody Walker.
“They’ll bear the fruits of Nathan Cleary in two, three, four, five years’ time, of all this experience he’s gaining at the moment,” Gould stated on his Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“However as far as profitable the Origin video games, I nonetheless consider he wants that older, skilled particular person with him. Somebody that may are available and take the reins at important occasions.
“And in the event you look again on final yr’s collection, it was Maloney who stepped-up to the plate when it was wanted most and took strain away from Nathan, with some kicking sport and a few route stuff.
“And that is what he is there to do. We noticed it once more on the weekend with the Panthers, who’re beginning to discover some type in the mean time, but it surely’s on the again of Maloney and his skill to calmly direct that crew across the paddock and push Nathan into the correct positions and be of nice help to him.
“If they need the very best out of Nathan Cleary, I consider Maloney’s obtained to be with him. It does not matter what [jersey] numbers.”
However there’s one other query to be requested. Do you decide Maloney at halfback, if he is a dominant playmaker whose job is basically to babysit Cleary, and maintain both Walker or Jack Wighton at five-eighth? Is NSW, down 1-Zero and beginning at defeat, higher off with fixed attacking threats in each halves jumpers?
Cleary is unlikely to be dropped, after Fittler made a pact with Gould to maintain religion within the younger No.7, however Maloney was the match-winner for NSW in final yr’s collection. He threw two strive assists in Origin II alone because the Blues went 2-Zero up with a win in Sydney. He is additionally performed halfback for NSW earlier than: 2016’s Origin III lifeless rubber, which NSW gained 18-14.
And Gould says that even at Penrith, there have been obvious indicators that Maloney stays the No.1 playmaker; the halfback in jersey No.6.
“[Last season] Nathan Cleary was out for eight weeks. James Maloney performed halfback and we gained six of these video games. In the event you reverse it, if Maloney had have been out and we had Nathan Cleary enjoying, we would not have gained these six video games. That is a reality,” Gould stated.
“Maloney is an excellent dominant, skilled playmaker and game-manager. I stated [last year] that there’s a rising thought course of right here that Maloney directing the crew, and Nathan Cleary simply enjoying his attacking soccer and help play and all of the issues that he does good, may be the correct mixture in the mean time.
“I believe you see a little bit little bit of that at Panthers at occasions: Maloney steps-up to the plate and does these issues. He’ll kick his area objective, he’ll kick his 40/20, he’ll put his little grubbers in behind the road, he had three strive assists on the weekend and the crew actually appears extra stable in its strategy than if Maloney solely takes a again seat.
“Nathan’s sport is constructed round effort. He is all effort in the mean time. He’ll run the ball, he’ll help play, he is an awesome help participant by way of the center of the sector. He isn’t scared to run and have contact as a halfback, which is a good trait.
“He is a terrific defender, he is a fierce competitor, he is an awesome goal-kicker, he is obtained the excessive bombs which he is engaged on rather well. His brief kicking sport is not so good as Maloney’s, however nor ought to it’s on the levels their careers are [at].
“And generally the [way that] crew capabilities … it is simply the distinction between a 30-year-old halfback and a 20-year-old halfback. It does not matter who it’s.
“You go and ask [Queensland halfback] Daly Cherry-Evans now whether or not he is aware of greater than when he was 20 years of age. They’re all the identical. Cooper Cronks, Johnathan Thurstons.
“I used to say to Nathan, ‘Be sort to your self. Give your self time. These different blokes weren’t doing this at 21 years of age.
“He is 21. He is had 70 NRL video games and 4 Origins. None of these blokes had been doing that on the time. None of them.
“This expertise is effective however for the sake of the crew, I consider he wants that older head with him.”
However does the older head want the youthful head? Does NSW want Cleary on this do-or-die scenario, honour-bound although Fittler is?
The Blues will title their Origin II crew on Sunday evening. The mix will likely be one thing from Cleary, Walker, Wighton, Pearce and Maloney. If Fittler desires to maintain Cleary and decide Pearce, the Knights star may merely play in jersey No.6, as he did in 2015.
NSW would be the defending champions, however like yearly since Johns dominated the roost in 2005, the Blues halves stay a maddening drawback.
The truth that Pearce is a few likelihood of constructing a comeback reveals simply how mad issues have one way or the other gotten, proper when NSW was tipped to win consecutive collection for the primary time since 2003-05.
But when he is picked and it one way or the other comes off, what an insane story. Gamers to make a shock Origin comeback and triumphantly win a collection: Allan Langer, Fittler, Johns … Pearce.