The vast majority of the Australian rugby league community believes that Mitchell Pearce is on Origin loser.
Statistically, they are no doubt correct. His history is well documented, with just five wins from 18 matches and an involvement in seven losing series’.
There are two clear schools of thought when it comes to Pearce’s role/accountability throughout his Origin career. The first argues that for much of it, he faced the might of, potentially, the greatest Queensland team in history; laced with names like Smith, Inglis, Slater and Cronk.
Many believe such thinking offers a logical reasoning as to Pearce’s lack of success and contextualises his involvement and failures.
A second line of thought is also popular. It views Pearce as an excellent club footballer, capable of directing an NRL team around the park effectively, yet also as a player who becomes the proverbial deer in the headlights when asked to elevate his game on the representative stage.
In reality, there is evidence to support both views and the tension between the two will most likely never be resolved. No definitive or resounding event will ever prove one correct over the other, even tonight’s result.
Brad Fittler had headaches with which to deal around his halves’ selections right from game one. Nathan Cleary somehow scraped into his team for the opening encounter, partnering Cody Walker in what proved to be an unconvincing combination.
With Pearce a likely starter at halfback for game two before an untimely injury hampered his preparations, Cleary was recalled to partner ‘old faithful’ James Maloney. The ‘go-to’ man delivered for the umpteenth time and the Blues ran riot in Perth, even with a pair of supposedly dodgy centres.
In around seven hours’ time, Pearce will make his much talked about return to the Origin arena, his first since 2017. Maloney will be by his side and the combination or lack there of, will be crucial in deciding the outcome of the match.
Effectively, Pearce can’t win this one, nor change public perception.
Should Queensland recover from a disastrous game two and rediscover their effort levels and enthusiasm at ANZ Stadium tonight, Pearce could well play the scapegoat again.
Is it likely? Highly.
Maloney has a significant pile of Blues’ credits in the bank and will be forgiven immediately should he and Pearce play in a manner that suggests that have never met. The Newcastle halfback will not enjoy such a forgiving postscript.
The New South Wales public will pile on with somewhat fair claims that Pearce has had far too many opportunities, never succeeded and always been an Origin dud.
Moreover, should the Blues use their home ground advantage well tonight, hold the middle third against what will be a seething Queensland pack and win their second consecutive series, it will most likely be attributed to someone other than Pearce.
Potentially, Damien Cook, the Trbojevic brothers and James Tedesco will provide the headline makers with the story, with Pearce playing nothing more than a commendable role in the success.
Perhaps that is exactly what New South Wales need him to do.
Over his 18-game Origin career, the Queensland defence has stood back and chuckled whenever Pearce has attempted to take the game by the proverbial scruff of the neck. It has rarely worked, with only the odd try or try assist even remotely threatening the Maroons’ line.
That has indeed been the problem for the now 30-year-old. In essence, he just isn’t blessed with the gifts required to impact a game involving 34 of the best footballers in the country. With such a significant sample with which to test that proposition, it is irrefutable.
Once back in clubland and granted an extra second or two to decision-make and plan attacks, Pearce will continue to impress with the Knights and most likely play semi-final football in 2019.
However, tonight he might be best served by just hanging about, lurking if you will and letting proven winner Maloney take much of the glory or the blame.
It would be a rare achievement for Pearce should a loss without his face in the crosshairs occur. Alternatively, a New South Wales win with Pearce awarded nothing more than a solid 7/10 performance might well be his most pleasing and least controversial Origin memory when he reflects on his career in the future.
A simple game plan that sees Pearce make his tackles and almost exclusively shovel the ball to his more dangerous outside men could help New South Wales more than anything else.
That should be Pearce’s approach in a match that he really can’t win.