Brisbane's faith in rookie Pearson
The Brisbane Broncos have full faith in winger Jonus Pearson as he prepares to play only his second game of NRL in tonight's elimination final against the Gold Coast Titans at Suncorp Stadium.
Pearson – who won the Rookie of the Year award and was named Wing of the Year at this year’s QRL Gala dinner – comes into the side for fellow rookie Tom Opacic, with the left centre succumbing to a shoulder injury yesterday.
It means New Zealand international Jordan Kahu will take Opacic's spot in the centres, and therefore Pearson will start in his preferred position on Brisbane's right wing.
It will be the largest crowd Pearson has ever played in front of, with close to 50,000 expected to pack out Lang Park for the south-east Queensland derby.
The 21-year-old’s only other match for the Broncos came in Round 23 of this season, scoring a double in Brisbane's 38-16 win over the Parramatta Eels.
Pearson was a revelation on debut, running for almost 100m and making two line breaks in a dream start to his NRL career.
This is all coach Wayne Bennett needed to see to know that Pearson was made for first grade.
“We all think he's up to it. We're confident in him. He has good skills and he will do his job,” Bennett said.
“It was good to give him a run in first grade a few weeks ago. It has prepared him for this moment.
“We wouldn't want him playing his first game at this time of year so it's good that he's been there.
“We haven't lost a lot with the injury to Opacic because Jordan can play in the centres.
“Jordan's good in that position and Jonus is good on the wing. We certainly aren't in panic mode.”
Brisbane may not be panicking, but the enormity of Friday's clash is not lost on them.
It's sudden-death football and they face a much different Gold Coast side to the one they defeated 24-16 in Round 5 of this year.
In fact, only 12 of the Titans' 17 for tonight’s match played in that clash, with Jarryd Hayne, Konrad Hurrell, Nathan Peats, Tyrone Roberts and Ryan Simpkins all absent that time around.
It's a fact not lost on Bennett, and the master coach said he is ready for a determined performance from Neil Henry's new-look side.
“We played them in Round 5. That's now four or five months ago so you can't take much from that,” he said.
“They've been gritty in their games and they always do their best.
“They may have gotten into the top eight because of a few mid-season signings that have made a bit of a difference, but the other guys in their side have all done a good job for them as well.”