He’s been labelled one of Origin’s worst players in recent history. As a half, he’s featured in 18 games for the Blues, coming out victorious in just five of them. He’s been scrutinised, hammered, pressured, Mitchell Pearce has heard it all. And now, with the shield on the line, he is New South Wales’ Knight in sky blue armour.
It’s been two years since Pearce last donned an Origin jersey, a dominant Game I dismissed by a shocking second half in Game II, and then failed to stand tall in the decider.
He’ll reconnect with his former partner in crime James Maloney at the scrum base, a duo that led the Roosters to a famous 2013 NRL Premiership.
Things are different for Pearce now, gone are the days of front-page benders and booze-fueled embarrassments.
Since that 2017 Series loss, Pearce has moved clubs, going from Bondi’s number one playboy to the Newcastle Knights captain, putting in the most consistent football of his career.
After his club dropped to a 1-5 start to the season, minutes before he led the Knights onto McDonald Jones Stadium to face a red hot Eels outfit, he had a simple message for his teammates.
“I’m going to go out there and win the game for us, whatever it takes”.
With his coach’s head on the chopping block, Pearce did exactly that, and he didn’t stop there. The polarising halfback led the club to six straight victories and into the top four, which including five straight Man of the Match awards.
Now to do it on rugby league’s biggest arena - State of Origin.
Pearce debuted in Game III of the 2008 series, a decider. He was thrown in as an 18-year-old kid, the Blues still reeling from the retirement of Andrew Johns and staring down the barrel of a third consecutive series loss. He lost.
That would be the first of seven State of Origin campaigns he’d feature in, with seven losses to the Maroons.
Now, he’s once again thrown into the cauldron of a Game III decider, though he’s no longer an 18-year-old kid.
He’s a 30-year-old, 267 NRL game veteran, a club captain, a premiership winner. Pearce is a far cry from the man that pulled on the jersey for the first time eleven years ago.
Replacing Nathan Cleary, even if Pearce steers the state to his first career series victory, he’s no guarantee to be there next year. But he doesn’t need it. This isn’t a story about regaining a position, this is about completing what he’s set out to do his adult life.
In fact, Pearce is not dissimilar to that of Simba from the Lion King. Cursed with leadership at a young age, Pearce was cast out and blamed, disappearing in order to let himself grow into the man he was meant to.
Now, Pearce the leader, the adult Simba, returns to reclaim what is rightfully his, an Origin shield.
It seems somewhat a fairytale, but in fact, it’s just 80 minutes away from reality, in what will become one of rugby league’s greatest redemptions, and the perfect bookend to one of the most talked-about State of Origin careers in history.
Give them hell Pearce, it’s time.