Knights captain Mitchell Pearce will not add his voice to any chorus demanding his recall to the NSW team for the second Holden State of Origin game in Perth on June 23.
NSW halves Cody Walker and Nathan Cleary are among the players under fire in the aftermath to Queensland’s 18-14 victory in Brisbane on Wednesday night.
Many commentators have suggested the Blues hopes of squaring the series hinge on Pearce wearing the No.7 jersey - he is the current Dally M Medal leader after five straight man-of-the-match awards during Newcastle’s five-game winning streak.
Including his Origin debut as a 19-year-old in the third game of 2008 and his most recent appearance in the 2017 decider, Pearce has played 18 games for the Blues. He has won just five of those and is yet to experience a series win – a box he still hopes to tick before he retires.
However, Pearce knows only too well what Walker and Cleary have endured since full-time on Wednesday night, having been subjected to similar criticism during seven series losses as one of the NSW halves.
"We'll see what happens over the next few weeks," Pearce told reporters in Newcastle after training on Thursday.
"I've been in those teams before and I'm not going to come out and comment about team selections and changes to teams.
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"I'll be backing the boys. I thought they worked their backside off yesterday in the game and, like I said, it's not my place to be commenting on positions. I thought everyone gave 100 per cent."
Pearce said he had recovered from a groin strain that ruled him out of selection contention for Origin I and he will lead the Knights against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
Newcastle then takes on Melbourne at AAMI Park eight nights later, giving the 30-year-old playmaker games against two of the title contenders to showcase his skills to NSW selectors.
Though he confirmed his availability for Origin II, Pearce stressed he wanted no part of any campaign to push his claims at the expense of the incumbents.
"Like I said, there’s obviously some goals there, and watching last night, I certainly had some fire in the belly," he said.
"But for me, I'm not in a place to comment. I've been in those positions before and my support’s behind Nathan Cleary and [Cody] Walker. I thought they did a good job.
"I know they'd be hurting after the loss … it's another two weeks, there's plenty of footy to be played, it's a long series, and they're likely to keep the same team.
"I’m a NSW man – a player – and my support’s behind them."
Pearce misses a chance to test himself against Walker and Souths halfback Adam Reynolds on Friday because Walker is being rested and Reynolds has been sidelined indefinitely after being diagnosed with a small fracture in his lower back.
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Knights coach Nathan Brown is expected to rest Kalyn Ponga after his starring role for Queensland and will assess David Klemmer after the NSW prop rejoins the Knights squad.
Asked about his recent run of form, Pearce said he had matured under Brown, especially in his first season in Newcastle last year, when he often had to play behind a pack being pushed backwards.
"I've been enjoying trying to work hard at evolving my game, I've been enjoying the leadership stuff and trying to be the best captain I can be, and I think all those things add up to playing a bit better footy," Pearce said.
"I think everyone becomes clearer when they get into their 30s. Listening to older players when I was younger, they always spoke about that and now I'm experiencing that myself."