All the haters can drink a warm glass of shut the fuck up.
All along, critics of Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce have said the Roosters would never win a premiership with him as the halfback.
They looked at his Origin record. They tried to point out he has not made a significant contribution to a winning side. They say he has not had a memorable moment in the NRL.
They say he has a shit kicking game, that his passing game — without question among the best in the NRL — is overrated. They say he couldn’t find grass in Byron Bay, that he crumbles under pressure and can’t win the big games.
Brian Smith, his former coach, said in his blog following Origin III that:
“His critical-play production is low. He struggles technically with passing. Yes, he is at times the best in the game with exquisite precision but unfortunately he gets stuck in the decision-making process between his sensational spiral for distance and his easy-to-catch traditional pass, which his runners love to hit hard and straight.
“He did this again on Wednesday night, and also when he needed to pass early or kick early but not run and kick as he did when the Queenslanders were on the back foot.
“More importantly, Pearce struggles with situational decision making for strategy changes within the match requirements.”
At the time, the criticism came at the height of Pearce’s role as a lightning rod. This writer got into it with him after the Cronulla game when he said (to paraphrase) at halftime that it was the game where Mitchell needed to prove he was a halfback by leading his team to victory.
The Roosters were down 26-0 at the time. That’s what they call “setting someone up to fail”.
I said “gee, if only he’d been coached during his career”.
Well, he’s been coached this year. By one of the best. And the results, my friends, have been incredible.
His long kicking game throughout the finals has been nothing short of exceptional, almost always finding grass and always being well placed. His running game was on song last week against the Knights, and his passing game and long kicking were superb against the Sea Eagles.
On his decision-making, he’s been exceptional since Origin, choosing the right kick, the right pass and playing for the most part an error-free game. It’s been not just a poised second half to the year, but a coming-of-age breakout three months which ultimately led to a premiership.
The most maligned halfback in NSW history can now claim to have as many legitimate premierships as Cooper Cronk, and as many as Jonathon Thurston.
He is without doubt the best halfback NSW has at the moment, and whether he represents again is determinant on whether NSW big wigs would rather listen to the media or base their selections on form and ability.
If it’s the former, then Adam Reynolds will be the NSW halfback in 2014. But if you are to base it on any metric, including big game experience and delivering when it matters, then it’s Pearce. And really, it’s not even close.
Mitchell Pearce, as it stands, is a premiership-winning halfback at 24 years of age. Andrew Johns, an immortal, won his first at the age of 23. And this is not comparing the two; rather, it’s stating that there is more left in Pearce than his critics give him credit for.
Johns said once that the penny “drops” for halfbacks when they are 26 or 27; that’s when they start to put it all together. Well, Pearce has had a head start, and this season we’ve seen him starting to put it all together.
With the continued coaching from Trent Robinson and Jason Taylor, he is destined for another premiership at some point in his career. Shit, he’s already played in two Grand Finals.
But most importantly, he has a ready-made middle finger for the haters who say he doesn’t have it in him.
Well, he has a premiership. Fuck yeah.
And fuck the haters.