Blues Halves Battle set to Ignite Friday Night
Roosters players say they're expecting a huge game from their halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney as the pair stages a last-ditch effort to impress Blues coach Laurie Daley before teams are named for Origin I next Tuesday.
The pair were famously dumped after being part of the team that narrowly lost the 2013 series, with their replacements, Bulldogs Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds, helping guide the side to a drought-breaking series win last year.
With the incumbents in less than convincing form and both Roosters hitting their straps over the past fortnight (Maloney was man of the match for Country Origin in Rep Round, as Pearce was last week in a big win over Wests Tigers), senior Roosters say their club pairing will be out to make a statement on Friday night against the Bulldogs.
Roosters prop Sam Moa said the contest between the halves pairings on the eve of Origin selection was good for the game.
"It's good for NSW to have the competition there. Obviously the two Bulldogs halves were there last year and they did a good job but I think on form Mitchell and Jimmy have been playing some pretty good football too."
The subplot of the Roosters pair looking to unseat the incumbents means there is "a bit more in it this year", he added, with pressure on the Canterbury duo.
"Obviously after winning last year's State of Origin series, there's a bit more pressure to keep that momentum going. You don't want to win one year and then fall out the next year. So I think there's a bit more pressure on the team selection and it's been built up a bit more than last year in terms of especially the halves, seeing how much scrutiny they've been under."
He added the team had spoken about getting the job done for the Roosters first and foremost.
"If their form warrants being selected for the Blues, then good on them. But the two Bulldogs boys, they did a good job last year and no doubt they'll be out to give it to Jimmy and Mitch on Friday night."
He said Pearce and Maloney were doing a good job of staying level-headed despite the media hype and speculation.
"We had a brief team video and [discussed how] you really just have to worry about 'you're going to play for us because it's Roosters number one', and then when rep round comes around, if they're selected for NSW it's obviously NSW then.
"They just have to focus, they're two of our best players, two of our main players, if they play well for us and we get a good result then it only enhances their chances of making NSW."
Roosters hooker Jake Friend said he was expecting a big game from under-pressure Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds on his return from suspension and with Origin on the horizon.
"He'll want to put his best foot forward so I'm expecting a big game from him and Hodkinson," Friend said.
He stopped short of calling Friday's game a full-blown Origin trial but praised the recent form of the Tricolours playmakers.
"The week in Country [camp] for Jimmy really helped him, he came back buzzing. I think him and 'Junior' [Pearce] played really well on the weekend so like I said with the Bulldogs halves, Origin around the corner, I expect that our boys will be playing to their full potential and hopefully we can get a win."
Pressed for his thoughts on the constant specualtion about Blues team selections, Queenslander Friend laughed: "I don't really care to be honest!"
"There is talk about it but the boys have been really good, they're more thinking about the Roosters and about their own game. Hopefully they continue to do that this weekend."
Newly re-signed centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall said it would be "game on as per normal" for the Roosters halves as they put club ahead of state.
"I think they have to put that aside and if they play well for the Roosters the rest will look after itself," he said, but added the game loomed as an Origin trial.
"I think so, probably a good performance will definitely help the cause and I wish the boys all the best," he said.
This article first appeared on NRL.com