Eleven months out and the NSW halfback race is already a Blue beauty


While Pearce did not name names, Cronulla captain Paul Gallen, who also skippered the Blues teams when ‘Junior’ was playing, wrote an online column that touched on the very issue.

“At the Roosters, Mitchell shared a dressing-room with internationals and State of Origin players. That won’t be the case at the Knights and I fear Mitch’s rep career may be a casualty of having to do it all at club level,” Gallen wrote in a column for sportingnews.com.

Pearce said after his Origin salvation: “It’s nice to get back in here. I remember when I went to Newcastle, there were plenty of people coming out in the media, players etc saying ‘That’s the end of it, you won’t be playing rep footy, you won’t be playing finals footy.

”I believed in Newcastle, Newcastle has made me a better player since I’ve come up there and also given me an opportunity to play here.

“That makes me grateful because there were knockers who said it wouldn’t work out. For me, my first thought when I got back into NSW was appreciate Newcastle ….”

Even 11 months out from the next clash with Queensland, the halfback race is a beauty with Pearce and Cleary right in the mix. Luke Keary, who is a big chance to wear the No.7 for the Sydney Roosters next year, is another leading contender, along with James Maloney, provided he has not left for the Super League.

An elated Wayne Pearce kick-started the debate when he told the Herald: “I think [Pearce and Cleary] are both really good players and would even complement each other.”

Pearce junior went out of his way to praise Cleary, who remains a chance to play for Penrith on Friday night after he received a cortisone injection in his problematic right ankle.

We did it: NSW coach Brad Fittler congratulates his halfback Mitchell Pearce after game three.Credit:AAP

“My first thoughts were about Nathan, it wasn’t just about me. It would be great to play with him one day, he’s a tough kid,” Pearce said.

“He did all the hard work, I can’t stress that enough. I’m the lucky one at the end just to finish it off.

“He’s done more work in this series than I have, I’m just lucky I get to finish it off.”

Pearce, 30, admitted to feelings of guilt in previous Origin campaigns ”where I haven’t finished the job off”.

“You feel guilt when you lose. You let people down. But tonight, walking that lap of honour, I enjoyed the moment. It felt good,” Pearce said.

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“It just felt good I did my job for the team.”

Cleary was elated that the Blues had gone back-to-back but naturally disappointed injury kept him out of the decider.

“I was probably a bit jealous as anyone would be, but I was so pumped we got the win and for Pearcey to come in and get that Origin win, I’m so pumped for him,” Cleary said.

“It’s a credit to him to have the confidence, despite all the things that have gone on with him [in the past], to throw that perfect pass and pretty much win us a game was pretty special.

“Pearcey said to me I’d played the first two games and was a big part of it, but I said I was so pumped for him and I don’t reckon anybody deserved it more. He’s been a massive part of NSW the past 10 years and although it wasn’t successful, it’s a credit to him to come back and fight off the demons and play a game like that and get a win.”

Cleary was aware of the intense interest in the halfback debate and said: “I think there are really good signs for NSW going forward. You want healthy competition in all the positions. To win two series in a row now, it’s the start of something good, and we need to keep it going.”

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