In a surprise shot in the arm for Mitchell Pearce, Queensland’s milestone man Johnathan Thurston has backed the much maligned NSW half’s switch to pivot for Wednesday night’s State of Origin opener.
Cynics believe NSW may be at sixes and sevens with their halves after Blues coach Laurie Daley pitchforked the unproven Pearce into the untried position of five-eighth alongside incumbent Trent Hodkinson.
But Thurston admitted he was living proof that the Sydney Roosters halfback could make the Blues No.6 jersey his own.
Groomed as a pivot at his first NRL club, the Bulldogs, Thurston has interchanged between the halves positions effortlessly for the Cowboys, Queensland and Australia, claiming three Dally M Medals and eight straight Origin series wins along the way.
“Yeah, I grew up playing a lot of five-eighth, playing in that position is not unfamiliar – I was recruited by the Cowboys as a six so I am comfortable with it,” Thurston said.
And he surprisingly backed Pearce to do the same.
“They (Pearce, Hodkinson) are both quality halfbacks and have been playing some great footy over the last few weeks so I think it will work,” he said.
“And there has been a bit of hoopla over Trent so he will be confident after guiding them to a series win (last year).
“Mitchell plays on the ball, so he’ll probably direct the boys around the park.
“Trent at the Bulldogs plays out the back more, off his forwards.”
He even gave the new-look NSW halves pairing some valuable advice.
“We’ll do some video on them and come up with a game plan but communication between them in guiding the boys around is the key,” he advised.
Pearce would be forgiven for soaking up all the information he can get from Thurston, who celebrates a record 31st straight Origin on Wednesday night.
Pearce has not played five-eighth since schoolboy football.
If that tidbit had not raised a chuckle in the Maroons camp, a “highlights” reel of Pearce’s Origin gaffes uploaded on YouTube before the season opener surely would have.
To put Pearce’s past Origin frustrations in perspective, the footage goes for six, solid minutes.
Oh, and he has never featured in a winning Origin series.
He is back after being overlooked for the entire 2014 series due to his involvement in a Sydney nightclub incident in the weeks leading up to the Origin opener last year.