Andrew Webster: Mitchell Pearce has half a hand up for State of Origin
OPINION: It's the competition that stirs worldwide interest and spirited debate around this time every year. So many contenders, so much, um, talent.
No, silly, not the Eurovision Song Contest, but who will play halfback for New South Wales in the first match of the State of Origin series.
Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce has been on this stage before, first as a spritely teenager full of voice and hopes and dreams.
Now, like a veteran singer from Iceland dragging his arse onto the stage for one last song, Pearce is poised to wear the sky blue No 7 jumper at the ripe old age of 27. Well, maybe.
Coach Laurie Daley's new advisor, Peter Sterling, wants Pearce but it's understood Daley himself remains torn about his halves and hooker for game one against Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on May 31.
Five-eighth James Maloney appears likely to get the nod. Whether Daley opts for Pearce ahead of Penrith's Matt Moylan to partner him remains murky at best.
The truth of it is that Daley genuinely doesn't know.
It explains why the Queenslanders have won 10 of the last 11 series.
Just like this time last year, the coach is waiting for a playmaker to stick his hand up and demand selection. Pearce has been strong but patchy this season – just like the other contenders.
Should Daley decide it is Pearce, he needs to give him the same assurance Trent Robinson has given his playmaker at the Roosters this season: that it's his team to run and nobody else's.
Pearce is best when he's playing with confidence, eyes on full beam, running the ball and attacking the line, just as he did in the 11th minute against Parramatta on Sunday.
The Roosters were coming down the right side and the play came to a halt.
Pearce raced into first receiver, screamed for the ball, demanded it, ran onto it, sliced through the line, stepped and jinked and found captain Jake Friend who scored the side's second try of the afternoon.
He's rarely played with that self-belief in his 15 appearances for NSW. He rarely takes on the line. He hasn't so much kicked the ball to Billy Slater as lodged it in the Queensland fullback's throat. He misses tackles when defence is usually the redeeming feature of Pearce's game.
He didn't play in last year's Origin series because of his Australia Day puppy madness, but since returning from a Thai rehab he continues to walk in a straight line.
There's been plenty of tittle-tattle in the last week since Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall was allegedly caught in possession of half a gram of cocaine at the Ivy nightclub in the city.
Pearce and a few other Roosters players were with Kenny-Dowall that night.
There's absolutely no suggestion that Pearce has done anything wrong, but he needs to realise his detractors are everywhere and they are waiting for him to fall.
This column has been assured he did not step out of line that night, and hasn't at any stage since Australia Day last year. But he should know better than anyone that perception goes a long way in this game and this town.
To that end, those closest to him assure you he's never been stronger mentally to finally take down the Maroons, the definitive black mark on his record.
Against Parramatta on Sunday afternoon, Pearce didn't stick his hand up and demand selection like Daley might have hoped. He didn't take the decision out of the coach's hands.
But he was rock solid in the Roosters' embarrassing 48-10 shutout of the Eels, who looked more like a bottom-four side in this match than one that can press for the top four. Their afternoon was over well before playmaker Corey Norman was helped from the field with a knee injury.
The Roosters led 28-4 at half-time and extended their margin soon after when Pearce was there to deliver the final pass of an exciting 60-metre play for winger Anthony Tupou to score in the corner.
The initial bust had been made by centre Latrell Mitchell and his devastating right-hand fend. His barnstorming performance after a month in reserve grade might not help Daley this year but will certainly help whoever takes over from him down the track.
For now, others will have to get the job done in a series that looms as the last for Slater and Cooper Cronk.
Over the years, Pearce has been the definitive scapegoat, so much so that the likes of Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler have phoned without prompting after a series defeat, wanting to endorse Pearce publicly so he can feel some love and support.
Pearce's last match for NSW was the 52-6 car crash in the decider at Suncorp in 2015. He's played and missed a lot of footy since then.
Does he deserve one last go? One last song? Like Laurie Daley, I just don't know.