Steve Roach says NSW’s most maligned players are readying to leave their critics red-faced during Wednesday’s State of Origin series opener.
The NSW and Balmain legend has leapt to the defence of Aaron Woods and Mitchell Pearce who he says have been unfairly targeted for their past Origin performances.
The outspoken former prop came out swinging against those who would criticise Woods’ output in previous game in the sky blue while he said Pearce had been unjustifiably blamed for Queensland’s dominance from 2006-2013.
Woods came in for criticism from Queensland newspaper the Courier-Mail on Thursday, which called the Wests Tigers front rower a weak link in Laurie Daley’s side after pointing to his Origin average of just 51 running metres.
The 24-year-old front-rower has been in terrific form for the Wests Tigers this year, averaging 186 metres.
But he has the worst running metres of any NSW starting prop in Origin history and his Origin average is about half of Queensland’s starting pair of Nate Myles (93m) and Matt Scott (106m).
However Roach fired back, saying statistics only told part of the story.
“I watched his first game (for NSW) and we didn’t have the ball for 15 minutes – it’s hard to make yards or have an impact when you don’t have the ball,” Roach said.
“Stats are only right 80 per cent of the time. They don’t tell the whole story.
“What they don’t tell you about is those little one per centers – things like diving on the ball and kick chases.
“Everyone gets tied up in stats. When I was playing the only thing I was thinking about was who you wanted to play with or have out there with you. There’s no stats for that.”
Roach said the same could be said for Pearce, who has earned an Origin recall after some stellar form for the Roosters this year.
Pearce failed to convert his club form in the representative matches, making just two line breaks and coming up with four try assists in 12 Origin games.
Pearce has won just three games at Origin level but Roach said a lot of other NSW players had similarly poor win rates after Queensland’s run of eight straight series wins up until 2013.
“People say Pearce has won three in 12 – but Queensland won eight of the last nine series,” Roach said.
“They just jump on a crap stat. A lot of blokes haven’t won many games. It’s unfair what they’ve done to him.
“He’s matured a lot and he’ll handle it. He’s a good footy player and I get a bit disappointed. You can’t blame one person.”