Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has either engaged in the first mind games of the NRL finals series, or his star halfback Mitchell Pearce is a chance of making an early return from a hamstring injury in Friday’s qualifying final against Melbourne.
Pearce, spotted wearing a support on the injury on Monday, was initially set for up to six weeks on the sidelines after suffering the injury three weeks ago in the Roosters’ win over Brisbane.
But, Robinson revealed on Thursday the NSW playmaker could make a shock return against the Storm in week one of the finals.
“I am hoping he might. I haven’t stood here and said he is going to play – I am hoping that he might,” Robinson said.
“He progressed pretty quickly at the start of the week. It is something we don’t want to risk but we will see.”
Robinson said Pearce’s inclusion clash would depend on how well he fared on Thursday at training.
“He is pretty good; we will see how he runs today; he is a small chance.”
However, confirmation on whether he will play is unlikely to come until one hour before the 7.55pm (AEST) kickoff on Friday when teams are required to be named.
Jackson Hastings has filled in at halfback in Pearce’s absence and Robinson has indicated the young playmaker will remain in the side on the interchange bench if Pearce is fit.
One player who will certainly take to Allianz Stadium for the right to have next week off is Storm captain Cameron Smith. The Queensland and Australian hooker, battling illness in the lead-up to this weekend, was a notable no-show on Monday at the launch of the finals series at the SCG.
However Smith did travel with the Storm on Thursday to Sydney.
“I’m not too concerned – I think Cam will be playing,” Robinson said.
Robinson indicated the clash around the ruck between Smith and Roosters skipper Jake Friend would have a critical bearing on the outcome.
“Cam is the leading hooker in our game and the leading player in our game, and Jake is a different style of hooker who hasn’t mirrored that. He has decided to play his own style,” Robinson said.
“He was a tough tackling hooker and now he has developed an attacking threat with a kicking game, while holding on the defence and also he has become a leader on and off the field.
“I am very proud to where Jake has got to. That was shown when he was named captain (earlier this year) and where he has got to this year is impressive.”
Pearce’s inclusion would be the only change to the Roosters’ side which thrashed South Sydney 30-0 last week. Storm coach Craig Bellamy has named the same 17 who enjoyed a last-start win over Brisbane in the last regular-season game. However, forward Dale Finucane could be a late addition in a return from a wrist injury.
The Storm enjoyed a 17-16 win over the Roosters in round seven at AAMI Park. The Roosters hit back with a 24-2 victory over Melbourne in round 12 at Allianz Stadium.
* The Roosters and Storm have met just once in finals previously, with the Roosters led by captain Brad Fittler securing a 26-12 win back in 1998 at Olympic Park
* The overall head to head is very even between these two sides, with Melbourne winning 15 to the Roosters 14, but the Roosters have the upper hand in the past two seasons winning three of four games
* The two teams finished the regular season as the best defensive sides, with the Roosters conceding just 12.5 points, 2.2 tries and 3.1 linebreaks per game. The Storm conceded 14.5 points, 2.5 tries and 3.4 linebreaks per game
* Melbourne have the second best completion rate this season at an average of 79 per cent only just behind the Cowboys’ average of 79.2
* Michael Jennings has scored five tries in his past five finals matches, including four from three at Allianz Stadium
Stats courtesy of Fox Sports Stats