Mitchell Pearce’s selection may not be all that it seems
TRENT Robinson has been at pains to assure anyone listening that not only is Mitchell Pearce fit for tonight's grand final qualifier in Brisbane, his halfback is also better prepared mentally and absolutely crucial to his team's winning chances.
The Roosters coach has made the monumental decision to play the experienced Pearce, rather than rookie Jackson Hastings, against the Broncos. In doing so, is he taking a monumental risk?
On the surface, Pearce is the man for the job.
After all, he is the team's co-captain, has played 200 NRL games for the Roosters and made 15 Origin appearances for New South Wales.
Hastings, on the other hand, will be playing just his 19th NRL game - the same number as his age - if he gets on the field.
The mail coming out of Bondi is that Pearce has fully recovered from his partial hamstring tear, which ironically was suffered against the Broncos when the teams last met five weeks ago.
And if they aren't playing ducks and drakes with the media, we have to believe his teammates when they say they can't wait to have him back on the field.
Robinson may well be convinced, but some fundamental questions must still be playing on the mind of the coach.
Despite his public bravado, how confident is he that Pearce will deliver?
Will he be able to shoulder a kicking game that is so vital to the success of the Roosters, how will the injury respond when fatigue sets in late in the match if the result is on the line, and will he be confident enough in his hamstring to take on the defence when that inevitable gap opens?
In the past when Pearce has been under fire after failing to deliver on the big stage, Robinson has repeatedly backed his man.
But tonight is all or nothing and losing a chief playmaker after 15 minutes could be terminal.
There is no escaping the appalling record of Pearce at Suncorp Stadium - one win from nine games played at the venue.
And already in 2015 he has been on the end of a 52-6 hiding from Queensland and a 22-18 golden-point loss to the Broncos.
When Pearce was injured back in round 24, most qualified judges believed the Roosters would struggle to win without him.
Former internationals Peter Sterling, Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler were among them, believing Hastings was too inexperienced to cover the playmaker role.
But the young bloke has not only done his job, he has shone like a beacon.
Now the coach, supposedly, is about to bench him.
But will he? Is Robinson talking up Pearce merely a smokescreen?
Could there be a last-minute switch? Is the risk too great?
We will have to wait and see.