KNIGHTS skipper Mitchell Pearce insists: “The season’s not dead for me yet.”
Not from a Newcastle point of view, and perhaps not even from a NSW State of Origin perspective.
Most assumed that when Pearce suffered a torn pectoral muscle playing against Wests Tigers on April 21 his hopes of securing a 19th Blues jersey had been shattered.
But the 29-year-old playmaker believes he could be fit to return in “another four or five weeks”, in which case he would be an outside chance for the second game in this year’s interstate series (June 24) and almost certainly available for game three (July 11).
Asked if he thought he might come into calculations for Origin III, Pearce replied with a wry smile: “That’d be nice.”
But realistically he was expecting NSW coach Brad Fittler to pick and stick.
“I don’t think they’d change the team too much, and it’s not my priority at the moment,” he told the Newcastle Herald.
“At the moment I’m recovering from my injury.
“I’ve got a big responsibility here as captain to set some standards, along with the other leaders at the club, and win enough games to hopefully get the Knights up to the top of the ladder.”
Asked for his opinion on who would get the nod for the series opener on June 6 at the MCG, Pearce said there were three standout candidates, two of whom were former teammates of his at the Roosters.
“I really like Nathan Cleary as a player,” he said.
“He hasn’t put a foot wrong since he debuted. He played really well last week, coming back from injury, and I think the general feeling that I’m getting, from what you hear from the media, is that Freddy is going to start a new journey and get a heap of new young blokes in.
“But I believe James Maloney needs to be in there. You can’t just brush everyone.
“James Maloney needs to be in there, whether he plays halfback or five-eighth. I’d like to see Luke Keary in there, too. It’ll be out of James Maloney, Cleary or Luke Keary, I’d say.”
If 20-year-old Cleary earned the nod, Pearce would not concede that would mean the end of his own Origin career.
“It’s not ideal to miss those opportunities, but that’s life,” he said. “I’ve got an injury, so I can’t be available.
“But to be honest, depending on how the series goes, who knows what can happen?
“If the boys win, they’ll probably keep the same team, but if they don’t, you never know.
“Things change every week in rugby league and all you can do is play your best footy and be the best professional you can be.
“Those personal rewards, if that’s what you’re after, take care of themselves.”
If not for his injury, Pearce, the NSW incumbent, had stated an emphatic case for retention with dominant performances in Newcastle’s wins against Manly, Canberra, Brisbane and the Tigers.
“I feel like I was playing really good footy,” he said. “I’ve had to adjust my game coming here [from the Roosters] and take on more responsibility, which was bringing the best out in me.”
Having missed the past four games, Pearce resumed light training on Monday.
“I ran for the first time today and started doing a bit of weights, so I’m hoping for another four or five weeks [out],” Pearce said.
“It’s a 10- or 12-week injury, but as I’ve said before, I just can’t wait to get back out there … it’s killing me not playing.”
Pearce said last week’s 33-26 loss to Gold Coast, Newcastle’s third defeat in a row, had “rocked the cages a little bit”. But he was confident the Knights, who are only two points adrift of the top eight and play six of their next seven games at home, can feature at the business end of the season.
“The comp is really cluttered at the moment,” he said. “A couple of wins can really spear you up the top of the ladder. This month is huge for our season … the season’s not dead for me yet. I want to come back and pick up where I was and play even better at the back end of the season.”