Pearson earns NSW recall for women’s Origin opener

Joanna Guelas |

Rachael Pearson will line up as the Blues’ preferred halfback for the first Origin game on May 16.
Rachael Pearson will line up as the Blues’ preferred halfback for the first Origin game on May 16.

After earning a recall to the NSW side, Rachael Pearson says she never wants to miss out on another women’s State of Origin series again.

More than 300 days since she was made to watch from the sidelines as NSW handed over the shield, Pearson is set to line up at Suncorp Stadium on May 16 as coach Kylie Hilder’s preferred halfback.

Pearson was dropped for game two last season in favour of teenage sensation Jesse Southwell after the Sky Blues’ series-opening capitulation to Queensland.

Now it is Southwell who makes way for the experienced campaigner as NSW set their sights on kicking off the upcoming three-game series with a successful smash-and-grab mission.

Pearson’s return comes off the back of an outstanding first season at the Parramatta Eels, where she bagged 24 points with 12 goals across six games.

“Missing out on game two last year was difficult and it hurt a lot, but you can go one of two ways. I did not really dwell on it,” Pearson told AAP.

“It drove me to have a good NRLW season, to get back to the mix for wearing that halfback jersey and doing that hard work.

“To be back in the Sky Blues jersey – it’s everything. Now there’s three matches. I want to be in every single one.”

Hilder has also enlisted the services of Corban Baxter at five-eighth to form a new duo in the halves with Pearson.

Baxter’s return to the Origin stage comes after the birth of her son in early 2023.

“Just like all the other players, (Southwell) is obviously disappointed, but it is a three-game series. She is young so there’s plenty of time,” Hilder said on Wednesday.

“We’re just really excited about the halves we’ve got ready to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.

“We’ve gone with Rachael and Corban, who complement each other perfectly in the halves.

“Rachael is a great half in that she controls the game, has a great kicking game. We lacked that last year.

“She is really fit, she’s ready to go and she just fits the way we want to play and still want to play, and as I said, Corban just complements her with that.”

Three-time NRLW premiership winner and Newcastle hooker Olivia Higgins will make her debut for the state, while fellow first-gamer Canberra prop Grace Kemp has been named on the bench.

NSW STATE OF ORIGIN TEAM:

Emma Tonegato, Jaime Chapman, Jess Sergis, Isabelle Kelly, Tiana Penitani, Corban Baxter, Rachael Pearson, Millie Elliott, Olivia Higgins, Caitlan Johnston, Yasmin Clysdale, Kezie Apps, Keeley Davies, Taliah Fuimaono, Olivia Kernick, Grace Kemp, Sarah Togatuki, Jakiya Whitfield, Kirra Dibb, Ellie Johnston. 

AAP