Johns phone call reveals Blues’ shake-up
Andrew Johns has called Mitchell Pearce in a bombshell move that puts the Newcastle star at the front of the race for a NSW State of Origin jumper.
Pearce has now reportedly won NSW selectors over and has one hand on a No. 6 or No. 7 jumper heading into this weekend's final round before the Blues' team for Game 2 is announced next week.
Foxsports.com.au first reported the exclusive news that Johns has called Pearce this week to have a casual conversation about a potential fairytale return to the Blues for the first time since 2017.
The report from Fox League's James Hooper claims that Pearce was even considered strongly for the series opener and has now firmed into favouritism for selection for Game 2.
Pearce's massive comeback headlines a list of up to five changes NSW are facing.
Both Cody Walker and Nathan Cleary's selections are uncertain after Cleary admitted he needed to take more control of the team in Game 1 and Walker was dramatically benched in the second half at Suncorp Stadium.
Pearce and James Maloney are both being considered for re-selection, but it remains possible that Cleary will retain his No. 7 jumper and force Pearce to the five-eithth spot.
Cleary on Tuesday gave Penrith teammate Maloney a ringing endorsement, describing him as the ultimate big-game player and one of the NRL's most influential stars.
It sets the stage for a mouth-watering head-to-head battle between South Sydney's Cody Walker and Maloney when their NRL sides clash at ANZ Stadium on Saturday afternoon, during which the Blues No. 6 jumper will be on the line.
The changes NSW are reportedly considering are:
- David Klemmer's forced non selection because of injury
- Nick Cotric's potential axing in favour of Manly weapon Tom Trbojevic
- The axing of bench forward Angus Crichton
- The axing of Cody Walker; and
- The axing of Nathan Cleary
After Cleary and Walker failed to get the job done in NSW's 18-14 game one loss to Queensland, the Rabbitohs five-eighth's position is uncertain especially after he was benched midway through the second half at Suncorp Stadium. Despite guiding NSW to a rare title win last year, Maloney was overlooked for the series opener because of his lacklustre start to 2019.
However, he rebounded in resounding fashion in the Panthers' 19-10 win over the Sydney Roosters last week during which he came up with three try assists and seemingly everything he touched turned to gold.
"Jimmy was just on fire on the weekend, he was everywhere," Cleary said.
"I love playing alongside Jimmy when he's like that. It shows with the team as well.
"Jimmy's probably one of the most influential players in the comp. When he's on, most of the team is on."
Wherever Maloney has gone in his career, success has followed. He helped the Warriors to a grand final before winning NRL premierships with the Roosters and Cronulla.
Cleary praised Walker, saying their combination would only grow if they were given more time together but said Maloney was ready-made for Origin.
"Jimmy is a big-game player and he's shown that all throughout his career, semi-finals, grand finals, Origins, he always plays well in those big games," Cleary said.
"Whenever he's given the opportunity to play in a big game, he'll never let you down."
Due to the short preparation for Origin II in Perth, the Blues will have just three training session together along with a light captain's run on game eve, making pre-existing combinations all the more important.
Two months ago Fittler declared that Cleary and Maloney had never got the balance right in their partnership and "I don't think they've actually ever been a great combination".
Pressed on Fittler's observation, Cleary said: "We're both quite similar players, we're both halfbacks.
"But we're finding ways around that and I thought we combined well on the weekend and we're constantly working hard."
- with AAP