NSW State of Origin coach Laurie Daley insists he will be the one to decide whether troubled incumbent Mitchell Pearce will keep his Blues jumper this year – not the other way around.
Pearce on Sunday shot down reports that he had asked Daley to overlook him for the series-opener on June 1 as he continues his rehabilitation for alcohol issues following his Australia Day dramas.
Either way, Daley – who names his team for game one on Monday – said he would be the one to make the final call.
“I will make the decision on whether we want to go with Mitchell Pearce,” Daley said on Monday.
“But I haven’t even thought about Mitch as an option because until you actually get through the weekend’s round, you don’t know who you’re going to end up with.”
Daley is keen to see how the 27-year-old fares against Gold Coast on Monday in what is just his second game back since returning from an eight-week ban.
Pearce will have one final game to further his Origin claims against Canterbury on Sunday.
“He’s only had the one game and he’s played pretty well, but it was against Newcastle and they weren’t going great. So he’s got the Titans tonight, and we’ll see how he goes there,” Daley said.
“I want Mitch to be in the right headspace, without any speculation on whether he’s going to be in the team or whether he’s not.
“My focus is on him as a person first and foremost, and then him playing well for the Roosters. That’s his number one and two priorities, at this stage. After that, we’ll see where it leads.”
Despite a number of candidates pressing their claims over the past month – including Penrith trio Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour and Bryce Cartwright – Daley said there are unlikely to be many debutants in the team.
“I don’t know whether there’ll be too many new faces in this team at all,” he said.
“I like to keep an open mind with a group of players that I know can do the job if I need to. When we sit down, that’s when we’ll get to the nuts and bolts of who’s in and who’s out.”