NSW coach Laurie Daley says has no firm idea what his halves combination will be for the Origin opener if he decides to sack wayward halfback Mitchell Pearce.
Daley confirmed he was on the verge of dropping the Roosters playmaker for the first game of the series against Queensland because of Pearce’s wild night out in Kings Cross that led to his arrest in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The reason for the hardline stance is a meeting in January of all Blues players used in last year’s Origin series. There and then, a pact was made to address the culture of the squad, not least because of the night out that led to centre Blake Ferguson's arrest for indecent assault before game two.
Mitchell Pearce looks to pass during the 2013 State of Origin series decider at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Getty Images
Pearce has broken that pact less than two weeks before Daley named his team. Asked if he knew who he would pick if Pearce wasn’t named in the side next Tuesday, the coach told Fairfax Media: “I really don’t know. That’s why I’m weighing up the decision so heavily.
“We had 25 guys at a meeting and we discussed the culture we wanted to create. What’s acceptable and what is not acceptable. And we had the boundaries laid out for everyone, in terms of attitude and behaviour. Everyone was aware of it.
“I told Mitchell that if we go down that path of not picking him, he will be the first to know. It’s not a disciplinary measure, it’s more about the culture that was talked about since January and what our expectations of each other are as an Origin player. We wanted everyone to buy in, and that’s what I’m weighing up right now.”
Blues coach Laurie Daley has refused to guarantee Mitchell Pearce will avoid the selection axe for Origin I. Photo: Getty Images
Daley’s tack comes despite the Roosters fining Pearce $20,000 and standing him for just one NRL match, clearing the way for Origin selection. It is understood Pearce would not be banned from the entire series should he miss the series opener at Suncorp Stadium on May 28.
Should the 25-year-old be overlooked, though, Daley faces a similar dilemma in selecting Roosters teammate Boyd Cordner, who was fined $5000 for his drunken behaviour alongside Pearce.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson that Pearce has been punished enough. ‘‘If they’ve decided that he’s their halfback and his punishment has been laid out this week, then if he’s their man then they should pick him,” Robinson said. “Mitchell is pretty strong. I think we saw that last year after Origin. That's Laurie's choice and Laurie has to make decisions to win the series. So if he thinks Mitchell is the man, he will pick Mitchell. If he doesn't, Mitchell will carry on. He is a strong man and he will get the job done with us.
‘‘I think the one-match for us ... They're our standards and that’s where we want to be as a club. I think it’s a fair penalty. I just hope that the disciplinary action doesn’t continue after this round. There’s no criminal circumstances around it. It’s some simple things that happen to a lot of people at the weekends but can’t happen to an NRL footballer. He’s paid his price."
All manner of halves combinations have been suggested in the last few weeks as the Blues attempt to end the Maroons’ eight-year dominance of Origin. Pearce, though, was considered a lock for the No.7 jumper. If he is not there, it is likely to jeopardise the chances of his Roosters teammate and NSW incumbent James Maloney.
While Daley would not be drawn into discussion about who his halfback would be, although Souths' Adam Reynolds appears to be on the outer. "I think he’s a good young player," Daley said. "He's getting back to where he was this time last year. He started the season a bit slower than last year, but he’s gradually improving. You want him putting pressure on Mitch."