Gould backs Pearce for State of Origin recall
HE'S one of the most polarising players in State of Origin history but Mitchell Pearce is ripe for a Blues recall, former NSW coach Phil Gould believes.
Banished from the Origin cauldron after playing in six series losses either side of NSW's hoodoo-busting triumph in 2014, when overlooked, Pearce has rejoined the selection debate after five straight man-of-the-match displays for Newcastle.
His latest stunner in the Knights' 38-12 rout of defending premiers the Sydney Roosters on Friday night had Gould gushing and Newcastle coach Nathan Brown hailing the maligned half as equal to any player in the game.
"The thing about him now is he's more content," said Gould, the most successful NSW coach in almost 40 years of Origin.
He's more relaxed about his football. He doesn't feel like he's got anything to anything to prove about his football.
"Early in his career, the critics, the opposition, fans, everyone had their say on Mitchell Pearce.
"I felt he got to Origin way too early. He was much maligned for some of the results they got that I didn't think were his fault.
"But the halfback wears the blame in these things. But he wouldn't let you down if they picked him now ... because he's just at that sweet spot in his career.
"He's in that sweet spot where he doesn't care what other people think. He only cares what his teammates think.
"He just cares about the team, nothing else."
Pearce, now 30 and 11 years after being thrust into the Origin arena as a teenager, has scored in five consecutive games. But none was more satisfying than Friday night's try against the club that squeezed him out in favour of Cooper Cronk.
Gould said Pearce was at the peak of his career because he's "comfortable in his own skin".
"He's just doing it on instinct now. Not following a rehearsed set," Gould said on Channel 9.
"That was just someone at the top of their game."