Triumphant NSW No.7 Mitchell Pearce made a point of hauling Nathan Cleary on to the stage to celebrate after Origin III and quickly declared his hopes of one day playing along the 21-year-old.
In a lovely gesture and a sign of his maturity, Pearce wanted to acknowledge Cleary's work in the opening two Origins before an ankle injury paved the way for his own representative return.
We did it: NSW coach Brad Fittler congratulates his halfback Mitchell Pearce after game three.Credit:AAP
"My first thoughts were about Nathan, it wasn’t just about me. It would be great to play with him one day, he’s a tough kid,'' Pearce said.
"He did all the hard work, I can’t stress that enough. I’m the lucky one at the end just to finish it off.
"He’s done more work in this series than I have, I’m just lucky I get to finish it off.''
Pearce, 30, admitted to feelings of guilt in previous Origin campaigns ''where I haven't finished the job off''.
"You feel guilt when you lose. You let people down. But tonight, walking that lap of honour, I enjoyed the moment. It felt good,'' Pearce said.
"It just felt good I did my job for the team.''
Cleary was elated that the Blues had gone back-to-back but naturally disappointed injury kept him out of the decider.
"I was probably a bit jealous as anyone would be, but I was so pumped we got the win and for Pearcey to come in and get that Origin win, I'm so pumped for him,'' Cleary said.
"It's a credit to him to have the confidence, despite all the things that have gone on with him [in the past], to throw that perfect pass and pretty much win us a game was pretty special.
"Pearcey said to me I'd played the first two games and was a big part of it, but I said I was so pumped for him and I don't reckon anybody deserved it more. He's been a massive part of NSW the past 10 years and although it wasn't successful, it's a credit to him to come back and fight off the demons and play a game like that and get a win.''
Cleary was aware of the intense interest in the halfback debate and said: "I think there are really good signs for NSW going forward. You want healthy competition in all the positions. To win two series in a row now, it's the start of something good, and we need to keep it going.''
Meanwhile, NSWRL boss Dave Trodden was happy for the ''dust to settle'' before discussing Fittler's plans beyond 2020.
Fittler, the first Blues coach to win successive series since Phil Gould, is contracted for next year, but as for extending his time in the hot seat, Trodden said: "What we will do is let him enjoy the victory for the time being, let the dust settle, and then start to have a think about what the future looks like a little way down the track.
"He’s contracted for another year, has had a busy couple of months, and is entitled to reflect on all the good things that have happened to him over the past two games.
"Nobody could have expected more of him on any basis. When the appropriate time comes to talk about these things everybody would be keen to have that chat.''
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