When Mitchell Pearce lobbed into NSW camp last week, Blake Ferguson says he saw a completely different man and player than he knew during their time as Sydney Roosters teammates.
Ferguson and Pearce will rekindle their partnership on the Blues' right side during the third and deciding State of Origin game at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday.
After Pearce was forced out of the Roosters by the arrival of Cooper Cronk at the end of 2017, those close to him say the 30-year-old has grown as a result.
He has been appointed club captain at Newcastle, has guided his side to being two points outside the top four and when Dally M voting went behind closed doors after round 12, he was at the top of the leaderboard.
"He's a completely different player. And a different person," Ferguson said.
"He's grown as a leader, he's a captain of his club which speaks volumes about where he's at.
"I'm just really excited for him to be back in the team.
"He's more composed at the end of sets, he knows his game inside out and it rubs off on the guys around him."
During their four seasons together at the Roosters, Ferguson and Pearce formed a potent combination.
Playmaker Pearce possesses one of the best long passing games in the competition and Ferguson found himself in space on countless occasions after Pearce landed one on his chest.
Ferguson, who this year left the Roosters for Parramatta, said Pearce had added strings to his bow since they last played together, in the Tri-Colours' preliminary final defeat to North Queensland in 2017.
"He's always been a freakish talent on the field," Ferguson said.
"But the guy has evolved his personality in that he's not thinking about himself, he's thinking about his teammates and what he can do to better his team.
"Also what he's doing off the field with his home life."
Australian Associated Press