Mitchell Pearce is a few different things. As a first grade footballer, his quality is proven. As a representative player he is much maligned and as a public figure……well, let’s just say it has been interesting.
These things we knew. Now Pearce has had other labels added to his resume. Firstly, he has become a highly paid recruit of the Newcastle Knights, a young squad, looking for a sprinkling of experience that is reflected in the signings of Pearce and Aidan Guerra.
Secondly, and rather less appealing, is the fact that Pearce is a long serving Rooster, effectively pushed out the door when the Club saw a chance to put the cherry on the top of the cake with the signing of the homeless Cooper Cronk.
The harsh reality for Pearce is that the Roosters realised that Cronk could provide the polish, experience and poise so desperately missing from Pearce’s game. Whether Cronk is able to produce the goods next season is crystal ball stuff, however, there can be no secret when it comes to the reasons behind his recruitment.
Despite years of service, success and representative selection, the Roosters finally came clean with Pearce and told him what they really thought of him. Not in so many words mind you, but the message was loud and clear and delivered with a thud.
The message itself, relayed to the player at such a late stage in the season, conveyed two simple truths. Firstly, Pearce would have continued in his role at the Roosters had it not been for the club receiving a better invite to a much better party, when they opened negotiations with Cronk.
Secondly, Pearce should be filthy with the little time he was afforded to find a new home and negotiate a deal. With many clubs maxed out from a salary cap perspective and one or two striving to stay under it, Pearce was fortunate that two or three clubs did have a little money to spend and saw his recruitment as an addition to their squads.
The Knights had a little more in the coffers and Pearce will be well remunerated for his four years in the Hunter.
Thus, Mitchell Pearce is a Knight. Sounds a little weird really. Pearce will always look like a Rooster to me; cocky, beachy and a little overrated.
A few people have suggested to me that Pearce has missed the opportunity to remain at the Roosters and learn from the man who ices a game as well as anyone.
They suggest that, at 28, Pearce still has much growing to do as a half and with Cronk in his corner, New South Wales might finally see the best of him.
I subscribe to a different school of thought. To me, Pearce doesn’t need to learn; he needs to take some responsibility, and the further removed from Bondi the better.
As I write this article, I sit poolside whilst my daughter swims laps. In the Toddler Pool nearby, some parents mollycoddle their kids, pander to their tears and refuse to risk the chance of failure, at the same time eliminating the chance of success.
Others hurl their kids around with more of a tough love sentiment; their kid’s tears end quickly and their swimming competency accelerates. The instructors tell me it is common and a constant struggle. In short, one can’t succeed without risking failure.
As is the case with Mitchell Pearce. Some might see a disgruntled man moving two hours up the coast to a Club for whom he never thought he would play, happy to accept the financial reward, but potentially not as committed as he could be.
I am looking at Mitchell Pearce and his situation as something very different. This is the chance of a lifetime for Pearce, a chance to prove many of us wrong, to shove it up the doubters and produce a season of football that stuns the critics and makes the Roosters reflect on their decision to hitch their wagon to a different horse.
No longer surrounded by the superstar talent at the Roosters, where the load was shared and responsibility accepted by all, Pearce is now a marquee man and if he sees it that way, he may just thrive.
Sure the Knights have recruited well and will improve once again. They were a twenty to thirty percent better team in 2017 compared with their struggles of 2016 and Nathan Brown is building the playing group nicely.
However, the young squad needs leadership and experience and Pearce has the opportunity to provide both.
Where the ceiling of the Knights improvement lies is anyone’s guess at this stage, yet with Mitchell Pearce playing a little bitter, upset and with a point to prove, that ceiling might be higher than most people think.
In essence, Pearce’s success will come down to one simple thing; the way he views the move, the opportunity and his future.
Whilst many of us like someone planting a solid left on Anthony Mundine’s jaw and probably enjoy replays of Stuart Broad being dismissed many times over, most of us don’t like seeing people fail.
That is what sport does to us all. It is glorious, spiritual, uplifting and celebrates human achievement.
My take on the entire saga, as Cronk left Melbourne for the love of his life after another premiership, is much the same.
Even after the late signing of Cronk, the emotional impact on Pearce and all his limitations that have frustrated New South Wales people for years, the story we should hope for, and the one that will provide the most stunning finale, is his success.
This is Pearce’s chance to take the weight of a team on his shoulders, to truly lead, as he has rarely done before.
In the past, Pearce has been forced to make the odd public statement or two. Now is his chance to make the biggest statement of all.
I hope he shocks every one of us, in Rocky-like proportions. I hope he loves Newcastle and its people.
And despite this sounding a little like the end of the Shawshank Redemption, I hope he chases Cooper Cronk from the scrum base on March 25th when the Roosters meet the Knights, gives him a whack and a gobfull and reminds the chooks of what they once had.