By STEVE MASCORD
JAMES Tamou said he was mystified by his running battle with former team-mate Luke O’Donnell as Mitchell Pearce did for NSW’s pre-Origin confidence what Greg Inglis did for Queensland the previous evening.
Pearce, the Blues’ halfback-elect, threw the final pass for both Roosters’ tries as they battled out a 12-8 win over North Queensland in persistent rain at 1300SMILES Stadium, Cowboys winger Ashley Graham having a try disallowed on the bell.
“He handles pressure very well, Pearcy. The bigger the game, the better he plays,” said Roosters captain Anthony Minichiello.
“He’s getting better week by week.”
Inglis’ four tries for South Sydney on Friday night shortened the odds of an eighth consecutive Queensland Origin win but Pearce’s performance last night balanced the ledger.
Coach Trent Robinson added: “He’s a beautiful ball player in the line. He picks the right man – it’s a present, often.
“Our growth has been on the back of Mitchell and James (Maloney’s) growth together. He’s clear about what his game is, he knows what his strengths are and he’s working hard with the coaches.
“He’s understand what I hope is a good style of footy that keeps you in most games. He’s the one pushing us around the park.”
Centre Michael Jennings reckoned Pearce was “doing every little bit off the field to improve what he does on the field. He’s got a big few weeks – (Cooper) Cronk next week.”
An intriguing sub-text to the round 10 contest was Roosters junior O’Donnell and O’Donnell – in his first Townsville game since leaving the club three years ago – locking horns early. O’Donnell was included in the Roosters’ starting side for the suspended Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
When Tamou was penalised for a grapple tackle on O’Donnell, he told referee Ashley Klein: “That’s what he did to me.
Tamou said: “It just started from nothing, I guess. I don’t know what the go was there. I thought we were tight!
“Obviously I like playing against the Roosters because I’m from down south. I guess I was just the one in the firing line
“Footy’s footy. It stays on the field. I’ll probably have a beer with him tonight.”
Pearce put fullback Minichiello over after 23 minutes, with James Maloney converting. The Cowboys’ response, via late inclusion Robert Lui just after halftime, was the first try Trent Robinson’s side has conceded that did not come from a kick since round five.
After the break. Johnathan Thurston edged the home side in front with a couple of penalty tries.
Had a knock-on not been given when Graham crossed at the death, it would have been redemption for the flanker; his dropped kick allowed second rower Mitch Aubusson to score the clincher off Pearce with 15 minutes left.
Last night’s game represented a lost opportunity for the Cowboys to keep touch with the top eight.
“It’s not good enough to match it with the top sides – we have to starting winning,” said North Queensland coach Neil Henry.
Captain Matt Scott added: “We can’t keep saying the same thing after these games. We have to find a way to win them. We’ve showed in recent weeks we can go with the top sides.”
Sydney Roosters Origin hopeful Maloney finished the night with a terribly gashed bottom lip but still managed to smile through it at fulltime.
“I’m told it’s a bad one – I haven’t seen it yet,” said Maloney, who added “I’ve got everything crossed” regarding origin selection.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS 12 (A Minichiello M Aubusson R Tuivasa-Skeck tries J Maloney 3 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 8 (R Lui try J Thurston 3 goals goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Referees: A Klein/G Reynolds. Crowd: 13,660
Filed for: SUN-HERALD