It must be Origin time again, because out of the woodwork comes any and all experts on Rugby League to decry the potential re-selection of Mitchell Pearce at halfback for NSW.
First in line is Steve Mortimer, who had this to say to NewsCorp yesterday:
Daley was keen at that time, from the point of view of continuity, to keep Pearce and Roosters premiership No.6 James Maloney in harness for the 2014 series, but Maloney’s shoulder injury has made that a call to be made closer to selection time.
When I asked Mortimer if Pearce, after 12 games including the past 11 in a row, now had the experience to take a team around the field in an Origin game, he said: “I wouldn’t say that so much. There may be others knocking on the door to be competitive with Mitchell.’’
The captain of the series-winning 1985 Blues was mindful that Daley did not necessarily need one more public suggestion on how to go about ending Queensland’s reign in the series which begins in 23 days’ time.
Does he say anything overly critical of MP7 in an interview probably initiated by the journalist? Not at all, and Turvy, as much as any former NSW great, is entitled to his opinion.
But the fact he had to answer the question means the pressure is already on Pearcey to perform, with journalists already out in force and ready to pounce at the first mistake.
What Turvy didn’t say in that interview, though, is the most telling part and perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with the Pearce bashing. To repeat one line from Turvy:
“There may be others knocking on the door to be competitive with Mitchell.’’
That’s it. he says there may be alternatives — but who the fuck are they? He doesn’t mention a single player who might be worthy of taking Pearce’s place, and that lack of an answer is the best way to describe the circle jerk-fests these arguments against Pearce at Origin have become.
There is no real, viable alternative, as much as most want there to be.
Mitchell’s flaws are evident. We have seen largely what he is and isn’t at this point: he’s a decent kicker of the ball who has improved his short kicking game and can throw a flat or spiral pass better than most — if not all — halfbacks in the premiership.
His running game is nowhere near as dangerous of Queensland’s Cooper Cronk, Jonathon Thurston or Daly Cherry-Evans, but he does know when to use it and he bas a decent offload.
But his defence has slipped a fair bit this year. He’s making just 4.87 tackles for every miss and is missing 3.75 a game this season.
It’s a big concern. He’s far from a creative wizard, and clearly the Blues haven’t won a series with him. He’s proven that he is an excellent club halfback whose game has not yet fully translated to the Origin arena; a system-running halfback that hasn’t been adept at adapting to the ebbs and flows of Origin — and his Game III last year certainly did not help that perception.
But give me an alternative. Give me someone who has burst into contention that offers something more than Mitchell Pearce does at this stage of their careers.
Here are the percieved contenders.
He’s a five-eighth, pure and simple. He thrives on the extra room one wider of the half, he is best throwing looping spiral cutouts to his wingers and his kicking game works well with the extra time afforded to him out wide.
You could throw him in at halfback, but the results may — nay, WILL — differ. He’s the front-runner for the five-eighth spot after his City/Country performance, but halfback is not his game. He’s also recovering from an offseason hamstring injury and he deosn’t look fully fit when he’s running.
Do we really want an underdone, out of position player in the number seven for the Blues?
Take us back to last year, when behind a dominating forward pack Reynolds was braining them with perhaps the best kicking game in the league. Even then, though, people were questioning his defence and wondering if he had a running game, but by and large he was seen as the main contender.
You know what happened? He started to use that running game, which is actually quite good, especially in tight spaces — but what it has done is create a confusion in his game, and his decision-making has suffered as a result.
Watch his game closely now; he seems to struggle more with whether to run, pass or kick. Before, all he had to do was pass or kick, and the running game really was a last resort. In an effort to show he has a complete game, he’s actually made it worse.
I look at a halfback now that may be struggling with a bit of a knee injury whose defence has not improved one bit in the past 12 months, and has yet to prove he can step up to the plate in a big CLUB match let alone something as big as Origin at Suncorp. Re-watch the second half of the Grand Final qualifier if you don’t believe it.
As early as the end of Game III last year, this was Reynolds’ spot to lose, and he’s lost it.
Defence wins championships and Origins, and for all Kelly’s attacking wizardry he remains a matador in defence — and even accounting for Pearce’s slip this year you’d trust him more in a defensive line than the Titans’ halfback. This year Kelly has missed 34 tackles at 4.25 a match per NRL.com, and he makes just 4.15 tackles for every miss.
Kelly’s running game is sublime, but will that ever translate to the Origin arena, typically a much tighter game?
Seriously, people are already asking for Brooks. This kid is 18 years of age, and just nine games into his career. Can we give the kid a chance to grow some chest hair before throwing him into a game that will singe it?
Besides, he’s not ready, and it’s largely to do with his defence, which needs A LOT of work. Did Mitch’s defensive efficiency mentioned above make you woozy, and did you nearly faint when you compared it to Albert Kelly’s?
Then you better have a seat.
He’s missed 43 tackles in eight games this year (per NRL.com) to lead the NRL. That’s an average of 5.38 a game. He’s completed 82 tackles at an average of 10.25 a game. I’ll save you the maths: that’s 1.91 tackles completed for every miss. Against the Warriors he completed nine tackles and missed 10, an equation that just broke my calculator and nearly caused a “crossing the streams” effect.
He’s young, and his defence will improve. He has all the makings of the game’s next great halfback. But to say we should just throw him in against the smarts of Thurston and Cam Smith in some weird effort to “blood” him (like he’s a fucking greyhound) at an age he can barely drink and when he couldn’t tackle a plastic bag is just plain dick-headedness.
This is not an argument: Wallace is not better than Pearce. If you can argue anything, it’s that Peter Wallace is actually less creative than Mitchell.
With a big, creative five-eighth this could work. Hodkinson is not horrible defensively and his kicking game is quite strong. Conversions would also become his responsibility, and he’s played well under Dessie for the comp-leading Bulldogs.
But there aren’t any big, creative five-eighths for NSW unless Daley decides to run with John Sutton or if you think Josh Reynolds is big enough. And with either of those five-eighths inside him, you’d back Pearce to do better with the experience of Origin under his belt to go along with a bit more to his game than kicking.
Is there truly an alternative from this bunch?
I’d hazard a guess and say no — especially after Pearce came through to help lead the Roosters to a premiership last year and improved his mental application following Game III last year.
You’d say Hodkinson has put himself into contention, but two years ago he was playing reserve grade and eight games of decent form surely can’t be enough of a sample size after NEVER being in contention before.
Reynolds was the one, the guy to help finally break the duck. But he’s fallen off this year even more than any perceived fall-off from Pearce, leaving what appears to be daylight between the Roosters’ halfback and his most realistic contender.
And that’s the point. I have never, not once, said Mitchell Pearce is the equal of any of the halves he’ll face from Queensland. I have never said he is the ultimate answer.
But he’s the best answer we have right now.
Mitch is not Andrew Johns. No-one has ever been under the delusion of that. But that’s not the argument. The argument is that they should drop him, even though there’s no-one ready or able to fill the breach better than he can.
Someone saying Mitchell Pearce is not an Origin player is just them trying to make themselves heard, even though everyone is saying the same thing — but no-one can categorically say that anyone else is either, and until that question is answered with a suitable alternative, then it’s all just fucking noise.