A fairytale start for Mitchell Pearce

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    Mitchell Pearce made an excellent start to life in Newcastle. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

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    It was the stuff that fairytales are made of at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night when the Newcastle Knights won their opening game of the season against the Manly Sea Eagles 19-18 in a golden point thriller.

    We know that premierships are not won and finals berths are not earnt in Round 1, but that win was a fitting reward for the 23,516 fans in attendance – a crowd so good that it was Newcastle’s third-biggest first-round attendance since the club was welcomed into the NRL competition in 1998.

    Such a big crowd reflects the sense of anticipation that has followed the Knights throughout the offseason.

    With a whole host of new recruits including Connor Watson, Aiden Guerra, Kalyn Ponga, Herman Ese’ese, Chris Heighinton and Tautau Moga, many have the Knights making the top eight come September.

    For some that might be based on rugged football analysis, but for others that might reflect a sense of hope and optimism for a club that has won three successive wooden spoons.

    Despite all these new faces that have joined the Knights over the offseason, I know that there was one new recruit in particular that Novocastrians had turned out to see – their million-dollar man, Mitchell Pearce.

    The former Sydney Rooster has come to Newcastle for a new beginning and it could not have gotten off to a better start. Following an early penalty, the Knights executed a set play where the ball moved through Pearce’s hands and then eventually onto Kalyn Ponga, who scored the Knights opening try for the season.

    But Pearce really stepped up when his new club needed him, kicking the winning field-goal in the 88th minute to seal the Knights their first opening-round win since 2015.

    When Pearce slotted that field goal, he raised his hand, leapt into the air and was mobbed – embraced in a group hug from every Newcastle Knight on the field.

    They came from every corner of the field to pile on to their new halfback and the stands erupted.

    Pearce is a player who has been much maligned during his rugby league career. It’s a career which has been no stranger to controversy – whether it be on or off the field.

    But in all the conversations about Pearce, what often gets forgotten is the fact that he is a very good club halfback.

    He is an exceptionally experienced player – having played almost 250 games during his career and being picked for State of Origin, City versus Country, Prime Minister’s XIII and All-Stars matches.

    Mitchell Pearce NSW Blues State of Origin NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    He also helped guide the Roosters to a premiership in 2013 when he was paired with James Maloney in the halves.

    He is not Andrew Johns. He is not Johnathan Thurston. He is not Shaun Johnson.

    But he is a capable halfback who is committed in defence, has a decent kicking game and has certainly matured in the later part of his career – perhaps being forced to do so following the off-field incident which almost ended his career in 2016.

    As I watched Pearce on Friday night, a couple of things stood out to me. He still doesn’t take on the line enough and his kicking game is not perfect, but you cannot fault his effort.

    He is often accused of going missing during key parts of a match.

    There was no sign of this on Friday night. He was animated for the full 88 minutes. He was barking orders, directing traffic and you could tell, if nothing else, that he was desperate to prove himself and to play well for his new club.

    That sort of desperate attitude is an attitude which earns my respect, particularly after a tumultuous 2017.

    To say 2017 wasn’t an easy year for Pearce is an understatement.

    Despite playing some very good club football in early in 2017 which saw him kick a match-winning field goal against the St George Illawarra Dragons on Anzac Day and then weeks later crossing for the match-winning try against the Canterbury Bulldogs, there was still much disappointment when Pearce was selected to play in the State of Origin series.

    After 15 Origin games, the general consensus was that picking Pearce was the definition of insanity – doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

    And unfortunately, he disappointed again. It was certainly not from a lack of effort, but with last year’s defeat, this takes Pearce’s record at a State of Origin level to seven losses in a row with him in the halves.

    The Roosters may have gone on to play finals football, but they exited in a disappointing fashion when the North Queensland Cowboys beat them 29-16 in the preliminary final.

    Then, in the offseason, the Roosters showed their hand when they recruited star halfback Cooper Cronk from the Melbourne Storm.

    Cooper Cronk

    (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

    While there was no formal indication from the Roosters that there was no room for Pearce, who was on the verge of becoming one of the club’s most capped players, the writing was on the wall.

    Rugby league can certainly be a game of ego and Pearce’s would have taken a battering last year, particularly from being pushed to the side by the club he had played his entire career at.

    It takes strength of character for Pearce to do what he has done – pick up his entire life and move to a club that really needs him.

    But to his credit, he appears to be relishing the opportunity for a new start and looks ready to help lead his new club in 2018.

    Friday night was just one game, but I hope Mitchell Pearce’s fresh start brings him plenty of success.

    If there’s one thing I know, it’s that he has an entire fan-base ready to embrace him as a key part of the Knights team. Newcastle loves its footy and loves, even more, the players that wear the red and blue.

    A new start. A new team. And a group of fans who have already embraced him.

    Could this be the year we finally see the best of Mitchell Pearce at the club level? For all those Knights fans out there, I certainly hope so.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (38)

    • March 12th 2018 @ 6:28am
      Swannies said | March 12th 2018 @ 6:28am | ! Report

      Looking good for Origin 1 at this rate.

    • March 12th 2018 @ 7:02am
      i miss the force said | March 12th 2018 @ 7:02am | ! Report

      fairytale – the most overused and misused word in Rugby league. was this really a fairy tale?

      • Columnist

        March 12th 2018 @ 8:57am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 12th 2018 @ 8:57am | ! Report

        In my view, yes it was! 🙂

        • March 13th 2018 @ 6:32am
          i miss the force said | March 13th 2018 @ 6:32am | ! Report

          It was a great start. Maybe look up the definition of fairytale?

    • March 12th 2018 @ 7:05am
      BA Sports said | March 12th 2018 @ 7:05am | ! Report

      Best tweet of the weekend was during the Roosters game, with them team struggling the tweet went something like “Pearce has gone missing again for the Roosters”.

      He has been the scape goat for a long time – which is often what happens to a players who comes through at a very young age. They get hyped up and then people crush them when they don’t live up to that hype – not that the player himself generally drives the hype.

      Good luck to him, the Knights and their fans – two more wins and we will be talking about comparisons to Leicester and other fairytale/Cinderella stories.

      • Columnist

        March 12th 2018 @ 8:59am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 12th 2018 @ 8:59am | ! Report

        I think it’s a really good point BA Sports – I often find with Mitchell Pearce there really is no middle ground. Either he is hyped up as the next big thing (and this hasn’t been helped with him consistently being picked for Origin) or he is yesterday’s trash…

        I think he’s somewhere in between and as you correctly highlight, isn’t someone who has driven the hype around him. It’s been more intense I would say also because of who his dad is.

        • March 12th 2018 @ 2:19pm
          Albo said | March 12th 2018 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

          Mary, I don’t think Pearce has ever been hyped up as the next big thing. He has just been very fortunate (or very unfortunate in some ways ) to have been the best and only real option for NSW at SOO level as a number 7 in recent years. NSW failure to succeed over this period has often been unfairly sheeted home to Pearce. But he is a top number 7 at Club level with 250 games & a premiership to his resume. He has the Pearce genes that guarantees you a 100% effort in every match , and he is team player popular with his team mates. He is the ideal buy for the Knights at their stage of development and I am sure barring injury he will have a major impact on the Knights improvements in 2018. On the other hand, the Roosters too will take some time to get over the loss of Pearce as it was his team for the past decade , and Cronk now has a big job with the Chooks inheritance package he has been handed.

          • Columnist

            March 12th 2018 @ 2:56pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 12th 2018 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

            Albo, how do you think Cronk is going to settle into his new home?

            • March 12th 2018 @ 4:05pm
              Albo said | March 12th 2018 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

              Cronk is a great player, but he is in a completely new environment under a new coaching regime and in a team of individuals that have often been on different song sheets over the years, unlike the rigid structures and single focused commitment he has had all his career at the Storm and for QLD. He will have his frustrations trying to keep this mob focused on the task, and the first hurdle may well be overcoming the Pearce dynasty style of play. I know it was only the first game, and Keary is still to come back, but they were pretty clueless against a committed but average in ability Tigers group, well managed by Benji on Saturday.

              • Columnist

                March 12th 2018 @ 4:19pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 12th 2018 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

                It seemed like a lot of clubs also struggled with discipline… so many errors were made by the Roosters in that game.

    • March 12th 2018 @ 7:15am
      Tom G said | March 12th 2018 @ 7:15am | ! Report

      Fairy tale? Really?

    • March 12th 2018 @ 8:44am
      Forty Twenty said | March 12th 2018 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      I always thought Pearce does take on the line well in general and is full of courage.

      I think he has proven however he doesn’t have the natural ability of the champion halves and there is nothing you can do about that.

      The best of them leave you marveling at some clever touches and creativity but Pearce looks like a great buy and hopefully a good year is in store.

      • Columnist

        March 12th 2018 @ 1:44pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 12th 2018 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

        Couldn’t agree more (apart from the bit where you said he takes on the line well :P).

    • March 12th 2018 @ 8:50am
      jimmmy said | March 12th 2018 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Very good analysis of Pearce , Mary. He is derided because he is not a JT or a Joey, but these are once a generation superstars. Pearce is a very, very good club halfback who falls just short of being an Origin player .

      • March 13th 2018 @ 12:52am
        Chris Love said | March 13th 2018 @ 12:52am | ! Report

        Very good point. I think it’s not so much him that is derided at all. It’s more the selectors that keep picking him for origin. At club level though he sits at the top of the pecking order behind the greats like Cronk and JT and has been very very good for a long time now.

        I don’t think it’s too big of an insult to say he just doesn’t step up to that next level when origin comes around. There’s been plenty of fantastic club players that weren’t up to origin. Nathan Merritt springs to mind but he only got one shot. Pearce has had 7 failed attempts and didn’t really impress in any of them.

        I think he’s a fantastic player and would love to see them pull off the big fairly tale and win the comp. even finals footy this year is too much pressure to be putting on them. Next year though it should be expected.

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