NSW State of Origin greats Brad Fittler and Craig Fitzgibbon have played down Mitchell Pearce’s chances of a fairytale return to the Blues, despite his heroic comeback to the NRL.
Pearce claimed man-of-the-match honours for the Sydney Roosters in Saturday’s shutout of Newcastle in what was his first game back since an eight-game ban for his Australia Day atrocity.
And while City coach Fittler admitted flirting with the idea of calling on Pearce for this week’s annual fixture against Country, instead warned the Roosters star that tougher trials were to come.
“I considered it,” Fittler said of naming Pearce on Monday.
“But I don’t think it’d be better for the wellbeing of Mitchell, or for anyone, really. He’s got some things to focus on at the moment and the Roosters are his priority.”
Fittler, who led the Chooks to a premiership in 2002, said Pearce made a clear impact on the display of the rest of his teammates against the Knights, and wasn’t surprised by his instant strong form.
“He’s a fit kid, so fitness was never going to be the problem,” Fittler said.
“He’s obviously very motivated. He’s in a pretty good head space at the moment but his pressures are about to come. I think the first game was the easiest for Mitch.”
Pearce, 27, has just three more matches to push his case for an unlikely Blues recall before NSW coach Laurie Daley names his team for the series-opener against Queensland at ANZ Stadium on June 1.
However Fitzgibbon questioned whether the Roosters halfback has enough time.
“I wouldn’t have thought so, being so short. It’s probably unfair. But again, I’m not picking the NSW team. We’ll leave that one up to Laurie. That’ll be pretty quick,” he said.
Fitzgibbon, who is a Roosters assistant coach but will mentor the NSW Country team in Tamworth this week, was also impressed with Pearce’s comeback match.
“He clearly would’ve been going through some stuff that week and understanding the pressure that he was going to be under, I just felt like he played a real clear and calm and controlled game, which was impressive for a first game in a long time,” he said.