Where to now for Mitchell Pearce?

Jack Byrnes Roar Rookie

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    Somewhere between a rock, a hard place and a line of razor wire sits a rugby league halfback with a cloud above his head.

    Forced to walk out on the club he grew up within in – not to mention the 238 games he played for them – Mitchell Pearce is encountering his career’s most pivotal moment. Indeed requesting a release from the Roosters was the biggest decision Pearce the footballer will ever make.

    It’s a decision that will make or break his career, but it’s a decision he had to make nonetheless. Being told to stick around and learn from one of your fiercest rivals, who has also stolen your number seven jersey, is like being dumped by your high school sweetheart and forced to kiss the hand of the man who took your place.

    The very notion of education needs to be questioned. Could a ten-year halfback with nearly 20 Origins to his name really learn from Cooper Cronk? Sure, Cronk is one of the game’s most celebrated halfbacks who was won premierships, world cups and, in the face of Pearce himself, State of Origins.

    What we mustn’t forget, however, is that alongside Cronk at every turn was a man named Cameron Smith. For all intents and purposes Cronk is essentially untried without the game’s greatest ever player providing him service from dummy half.

    There is no questioning Cronk’s dedication to professionalism, though. He is the NRL’s answer to Tom Brady, a man who seemingly gets better with age. A meticulous obsession with preparation and recovery is largely credited for that.

    This is an area of the game that almost every NRL player could no doubt look to improve.

    (Image: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

    Despite this, Pearce has made his bed. Just who provides the pillows and blankets, however, is yet to be decided. It will also go a long way to forging the dynasty that the New South Wales halfback will so desperately crave.

    The early favourites are the Manly Sea Eagles, but here Pearce will encounter two fairly significant hurdles. First and foremost Manly simply don’t have the salary cap space to match what is being bandied about by other potential suitors. While we’ve seen several players sacrifice salary for success over the years, it would not surprise anyone if Newcastle were able to legitimately double Manly’s offer.

    Second, Pearce has made no secret of the fact he left the Roosters for pastures new so he could continue being the number one playmaker in his side. Daly Cherry-Evans is the top dog at Manly.

    With Blake Green being allowed to take up a huge multi-year offer with the Warriors, DCE will likely have more structural emphasis placed on his shoulders next season. It’s a responsibility he is ready for, and it will leave absolutely no doubt in the minds of anyone about who runs the show on the Northern Beaches. With Lachlan Croker reportedly tearing the house down in preseason training, it wouldn’t be the worst idea giving the former Junior Kangaroo first dig at the number six jersey.

    (Image: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Further north, Newcastle would be a logical choice. Here he will earn an income that will set him up for life. On top of that he will become not only the on-field general of a team in the midst of one of the most exciting rebuilds in recent memory but also the face of a club that means so much to so many. Newcastle is a place that lives and breathes rugby league, and Pearce could leave a significant mark on the people of the region if success were to follow him to the Steel City.

    On the flip side, success is by no means guaranteed at the Knights. A host of new players aside, the club is still the recipient of three straight wooden spoons. While Pearce would add experience and polish to an otherwise extremely inexperienced spine, he won’t win them a premiership overnight.

    But at Cronulla or Manly he just may do this.

    The Sharks are in an interesting position. With legends Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis on the doorstep of retirement and James Maloney and Jack Bird moving on, their premiership window may be closing. If Pearce were to sign on, however, there’s no reason he along with Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan couldn’t smash that window wide open with a premiership trophy. How much control he will command with Moylan, Holmes, Dugan and Townsend all vying for ball, though, is unknown.

    Wherever Pearce goes, he will need to improve as a player. His inability to close out the big games is a legitimate concern, and anyone who forks out close to $1 million on a playmaker will not wish for that to continue. At 28 years of age, the time to step up is now.

    Only Mitchell Pearce himself can make that happen.