THE Newcastle Knights are poised to make a serious play for Mitchell Pearce if the NSW Origin halfback wants out of Sydney Roosters.
Pearce’s future has become the centre of speculation after last week’s announcement that former Melbourne No.7 Cooper Cronk intends to play on next season.
The Roosters appear odds-on favourites to sign the Test playmaker, although they have indicated they also want to keep Pearce, who has played 238 games for the club over 11 seasons, including their 2013 grand final triumph.
But Knights coach Nathan Brown said that if Pearce did decide to explore other options, Newcastle would try to state a compelling case.
“Mitchell Pearce is the current NSW halfback and he’s an outstanding player,” Brown told the Newcastle Herald.
“I think if he was to become available, we’d be silly as a club not to at least entertain the thought of trying to sit down and have a talk with him.
“We’ve made quite clear our desire to bring in an experienced half to work with Brock [Lamb] and Connor [Watson] and Kalyn [Ponga], and Mitchell Pearce is a player who certainly has had a very, very good career.
“He’s 28, and if you look at the best halves in the game, Cronk and [Johnathan] Thurston, and those guys are 32 and 33.
“So you would think his best years are ahead of him.
“He’d certainly be a player, who if he became available, we’d be mad not to try and have a conversation with him.”
There were reports on Wednesday that Pearce is unhappy that the Roosters are chasing Cronk and has asked for permission to talk to other clubs.
As well as the Knights, Manly and Cronulla are understood to be interested.
No club in the NRL has more surplus salary cap space than the Knights, who have strategically kept vacancies on their roster in the hope that players from rival clubs belatedly enter the marketplace.
“We’ll be interested to see what happens if Cooper Cronk ends up at the Roosters, if that means other people in other positions get moved on, or if they keep their whole squad,” Brown said. “We’re still hopeful of there being movement somewhere. There’s been a number of new coaches appointed and the salary cap will be finalised soon, so we’re still hoping players become available.”
Brown said Newcastle were interested in experienced, quality players in any position, but in particular hoped to bolster their outside backs.
“That’s certainly an area we’re looking at,” Brown said.
“There’s a lot of players out there who don’t have clubs at the moment, and it’s just a matter of working out if any are worth giving a shot with us.…
“Hopefully in the next week or two we’ll have some decisions to make.
“But we certainly do need another outside back.”
Having signed Herman Ese’ese (Brisbane), Chris Heighington (Cronulla) and Jacob Lillyman (Warriors), Brown said he was happy with Newcastle’s front-row rotation, which will also include Daniel and Jacob Saifiti and Josh King.
He said if the “right person” became available, Newcastle would still consider recruiting another prop.
They have been linked to former Matt Lodge, the former Wests Tigers forward de-registered by the NRL after an incident in New York two years ago, but Brown said he was “very reliably informed” Lodge would sign with Brisbane.
Brown was photographed last week talking to Canberra forward Sia Soliola, but he insisted the pair were just renewing acquaintances.
“I coached Sia at St Helens,” Brown said.
“We’ve got a good relationship. He was in town and we just caught up for a chat.
“It was more a friendly catch-up.”