Mitchell Pearce needed more game time to retain his NSW State of Origin jumper, according to Blues coach Laurie Daley.
Pearce is one of nine players axed from their embarrassing 52-6 loss in the deciding game last year, including mainstays Beau Scott, Ryan Hoffman, Trent Merrin and halves partner Trent Hodkinson.
It was speculated that Pearce had requested not to be selected for the series-opener as he focuses on an alcohol addiction that reached a crisis point on Australia Day this year.
However Daley insisted the ex-Sydney Roosters captain simply lacked game time, instead opting to recall Pearce’s former clubmate James Maloney and hand South Sydney No.7 Adam Reynolds a Blues debut.
“Three games back, he probably needs a couple of games under his belt,” Daley said of Pearce.
“To go in that arena with only three games, I’m sure he would’ve done well. But I think that Adam’s played in big games before. He’s as ready as he’s ever going to be.
“He’s 25, he’s won a grand final, he’s played in some big games. He’s a guy that’s looked forward to this game for a long time and now he gets his opportunity. I’m sure he’ll grab it.”
Daley said it was never an option for Pearce to make himself unavailable.
“I took that choice out. I think Mitch would want to play,” he said.
“I made the decision that I just don’t think he’s ready to go yet and I’m sure he’ll go back and play well for the Roosters and who knows what’ll happen.”
The absence of Scott, Hoffman and Merrin, paired with the call-ups of five rookies, represents a changing of the guard that Daley says was a difficult call to make.
“Whenever you’re delivering not great news to good people, it always hurts more,” he said.
Blues captain Paul Gallen feared there was always going to be tough choices made after the way they succumbed to the Maroons in the third game at Suncorp Stadium.
“We were embarrassed up there, but there was always going to be changes and whether some of the boys individually paid that price, I’m not too sure,” he said.
“You can’t be beaten by that many points as we did and not be some change. You see after every Origin loss there’s one or two changes but obviously a loss that big was hard to take.
“It’s a shame those guys aren’t here because the majority of them played a part in the 2014 winning series. But as we stand here I’m very happy with the picked squad.”