Why Pearce was axed from NSW team

It was the tone of Mitchell Pearce's voice on the phone that convinced NSW coach Laurie Daley to drop him from the opening State of Origin but the real catalyst for his decision was the exclusion of James Tamou and Josh Dugan from a Blues camp earlier this year.

Determined to change the culture within the NSW team, Daley did not invite the pair to the camp in January because of incidents on the eve of last season's second Origin in which Tamou was stood down over a drink driving charge and Blake Ferguson was sacked after being arrested for indecent assault following a night out with Dugan.

After making clear his expectations of the Blues players this season, Daley reasoned that his tough pre-season stand would become little more than empty rhetoric if he stuck by Pearce after the Sydney Roosters halfback was kicked out of two licensed venues and arrested at Kings Cross 10 days ago during a boozing session with teammates.

But it wasn't until last Sunday that Daley finally made up his mind to pick Trent Hodkinson at halfback for next Wednesday night's Origin series opener at Suncorp Stadium in a decision that also cost Roosters five-eighth James Maloney his spot to Josh Reynolds because of his combination with the debutant at Canterbury.

Before then, Daley had been in regular contact with Pearce and thought he sounded down and dejected as he dealt with the fallout from the incident, which included him being suspended from last Saturday night's match against North Queensland and fined $20,000.

If the Blues are going to end Queensland's eight year domination of Origin, they need a playmaker to be bursting with energy and enthusiasm and Hodkinson has been in great form for the table-topping Bulldogs this season.

‘‘After speaking to him I knew the right decision was to leave him out of game one," Daley said of Pearce after the team for Origin I was named on Tuesday.

"I think that he is a wonderful man and he has made an error but he knows what he has to do and he will bounce back. To go back to the Roosters and play a couple of good games for them is probably in his best interests and to get himself confident again. If he does that we will see what happens from there."

Daley adopted a similar attitude with Tamou and Dugan after excluding them from the January camp and he set the pair certain targets they had to meet on and off the field to be considered for selection.

"We weren't invited to the camp in January and because of that I thought I wouldn't get picked for this game," Tamou said. "I was sort of on the outer for the Blues so it was a bit scary which way Loz was going to go."

While Daley has not imposed a blanket booze ban on players in the NSW camp, Tamou said he had vowed to refrain from drinking alcohol during the nine week Origin period as a sign of his commitment to the cause.

"He said I wasn't taking it seriously enough and my interest around this time of year was somewhere else," Tamou said. "That is why I have put an alcohol ban on myself just to show and prove that I have the right attitude."

Many believe that the decision to drop Pearce signals the end of his Origin career and Hodkinson will have the job until Wests Tigers rookie Luke Brooks is ready to wear the NSW No.7 jersey but Daley would not rule out the possibility of the 25-year-old featuring in this series.

"He understood the reasons why [he was axed], there are a number of reasons why and at the end of the day we felt that was in the best interests of the team so he supported that and I will continue to stay in touch and see how he is going," Daley said.

"There are no guarantees in terms of Mitchell coming back as there is no guarantees of anyone in this team being automatic. We need to know that performance comes first along with your attitude and your desire to be here. If you have got that the opportunity will be there for you to play in the NSW shirt for a long period."

This story Why Pearce was axed from NSW team first appeared on Brisbane Times.