Boozy Blue gets the chop
Axed NSW State of Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce has been made a “scapegoat” by the Blues, according to Queensland star Johnathan Thurston.
Pearce paid the price for a wild night at Kings Cross and indifferent NRL form for the Sydney Roosters when NSW coach Laurie Daley rolled the dice and opted for rookie halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds for next week’s Origin opener.
The signs were ominous for Pearce after his recent arrest which earned a $20,000 fine and one-game ban from the Roosters.
However, Thurston admitted he was surprised the Blues dumped Pearce after investing so much time into the No.7.
Pearce – a 12-Origin game veteran – would have joined Peter Sterling as the third most-capped starting halfback in NSW Origin history behind only Ricky Stuart and the Immortal Andrew Johns if chosen on Tuesday.
Thurston believed Pearce’s axing had more to do with NSW losing the past eight Origin series than recent events.
“He is maybe a scapegoat for the last few years,” Thurston said.
“I am very surprised.
“Pearcey has been an integral part of their team for a number of years now.
“He has played a dozen or so Origins so he is very experienced at that level – he knows what it takes to win.
“But selectors are obviously going in a different direction.”
Still, Thurston could not see form Bulldogs halves Reynolds and Hodkinson “choking” on the Origin stage.
“This arena brings the best out of you and, no doubt, it will bring the best out of those two boys,” said Thurston, who has played a record 27 consecutive Origin games in the Maroons’ eight series triumphs.
“I know playing against them (in the NRL), they are very confident in their ability. I don’t think we will see them choking in this arena at all.”
Two-heads are better than one
Meanwhile, NSW captain Paul Gallen fired up the Maroons with a jibe about some passionate Queensland fans, labelling them “two-heads”.
It was a light-hearted crack, made in front of NSW Premier Mike Baird among other luminaries after the Blues’ team announcement in Sydney on Tuesday.
But the Maroons will no doubt seize on the throwaway line and use it as motivation in their bid for a ninth straight series win.
Gallen was urging the Blues debutants to embrace the challenge rather than fretting about heading into enemy territory.
Gallen said walking through Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall and encountering diehard Queensland fans or driving down Caxton Street to the ground can be even more intimidating than facing the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium.
“We’re going into a very hostile environment and I suppose the most hostile part is during the week,” Gallen said.
“We don’t often go to the mall too much or, if we do, we go with four or five of us because they absolutely spray us and tell us what they think of us.
“So I think if you let that part of the week affect you, it can affect your game.
“But if you just take it as it comes and enjoy it, enjoy that part of it, and enjoy getting up there and listen to the two-heads give it to you … at the end of the day, we’ve got to get the job done on the field and that’s where it counts.”
Smith warns of complacency
Complacency may finally become a problem for all-conquering State of Origin champions Queensland, frank Maroons captain Cameron Smith says.
But the skipper hoped the depleted New Zealand Test team’s recent heroics reminded overwhelming favourites Queensland that no one could be written off in rugby league.
There were warning signs for Queensland when the reigning eight-time series champions appeared to ditch their humble facade in a maligned team announcement at Suncorp Stadium on Monday night.
Instead of their usual low-key ceremony, players were paraded on a catwalk amid a light show and a booming soundtrack, starting with famous boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer’s line “let’s get ready to rumble”.
While Smith thought it was just a bit of fun, he was concerned his team would drop their guard in the May 28 opener against a largely written-off NSW side hit by injuries, suspension and off-field drama.
Alarm bells were ringing for Smith despite Queensland preparing for a home game marking Origin match No.100 and honouring the late Arthur Beetson by retiring the No.11 jersey for the night.
“It (complacency) is something that could cause us some issues,” Smith said.
“The team has won eight in a row and it can’t afford to think `we are back home, playing in the 100th game, the crowd will get us home and it will be OK’.
“It’s not going to happen like that.
“We need to sit down and have a chat about our direction for this camp and what we need to do to give us a chance of playing well and hopefully getting a victory straight up.”
Full Origin squads:-
1. Billy Slater (Melbourne Storm – 22 games)
2. Darius Boyd (Newcastle Knights – 17)
3. Greg Inglis (South Sydney – 21)
4. Justin Hodges (Brisbane Broncos – 18)
5. Brent Tate (North Queensland – 21)
6. Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland – 27)
7. Cooper Cronk (Melbourne Storm – 12)
8. Matt Scott (North Queensland – 14)
9. Cameron Smith (C, Melbourne Storm – 30)
10. Nate Myles (Gold Coast Titans – 23)
18. Chris McQueen (South Sydney – 3)
12. Matt Gillett (Brisbane Broncos – 6)
13. Corey Parker (Brisbane Broncos – 11)
14. Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly Sea Eagles – 2)
15. Ben Te’o (South Sydney – 4)
16. Aidan Guerra (Sydney Roosters – DEBUT)
17. Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders – 2)
18th man: Will Chambers.
19th man: Jake Friend
New South Wales
1. Jarryd Hayne (Paramatta Eels – 17)
2. Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters – DEBUT)
3. Michael Jennings (Sydney Roosters – 10)
4. Josh Morris (Canterbury Bulldogs – 8)
5. Brett Morris (Dragons – 9)
6. Josh Reynolds (Canterbury Bulldogs – 2)
7. Trent Hodkinson (Canterbury Bulldogs – DEBUT)
8. James Tamou (North Queensland – 5)
9. Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers – 8)
10. Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers – 2)
11. Beau Scott (Newcastle Knights – 5)
12. Ryan Hoffman (Melbourne Storm – 8)
13. Paul Gallen (Cronulla Sharks – 16)
14. Tony Williams (Canterbury Bulldogs – 2)
15. Anthony Watmough (Manly Sea Eagles – 12)
16. Trent Merrin (Dragons – 7)
17. Luke Lewis (Cronulla Sharks – 14)