IT says a lot about his motivation for joining the Knights that Mitchell Pearce has a personal stake in the club lifting itself out of the cellar and returning as a NRL premiership force.
Such was the demand for his services, Pearce could have set his own price and demanded a guaranteed fee to join the wooden spooners.
Instead, he had financial incentives written into his contract that will reward him if the club reaches the top eight and the top four.
Reportedly on a deal worth more than $4 million over four years, Knights CEO Phil Gardner confirmed Pearce has backed himself to lead the club’s revival.
“Mitchell’s ability to earn top dollar in the contract is dependent on how the team performs,” Gardner said. “It’s an indication of his motivation for putting the team first and his desire to drive the improvement within the squad and the club.”
Pearce said his decision to join the Knights was based around the challenge of helping the club return to its glory days and was never about money.
“I’ve got a good, stable deal here but I’m not a money-hungry person and the decision wasn’t about money,” he said. “The incentives to make the eight and the four are there because that’s what I want us to achieve. Coming here was all about having a strong belief in where the club is headed and me wanting to play as big a role in that as I can. I’m not going to come out and say publicly that we are going to do it next season or the season after, but I’m here to help us improve and succeed.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Pearce opened up about leaving Sydney and the Roosters and facing the greatest challenge of his career.
Pearce is proud of the way he and his old club parted ways.
“It all happened pretty quick and obviously I didn’t expect it, but the next thing, I’m here in Newcastle.”
Read more: Pearce reveals why he chose the Knights
“I was told what was happening with Cooper [Cronk]. I was going overseas and Robbo [Trent Robinson] and Nick [Politis] said that if I didn’t think I could buy in, let’s work it out.
“It just didn’t sit right for me to potentially be playing a utility role. I felt like I had more to offer and, while it was emotional, I knew I had to move on. I felt like I dealt with it really honestly and we dealt with it in a good way. Sometimes you see situations like this get a bit nasty but it was a really smooth transition and a mutual respect for each other.”
Pearce has always relied heavily on his instincts, and while he went onto the market with an “open mind” the decision in the end wasn’t difficult.
“Cronulla was really attractive, Manly was attractive and I was definitely interested in those clubs and went into the process with an open mind.”
“In a lot of ways, they were the easier choices. But I just saw the opportunity for more growth for me and for me to take more responsibility here in Newcastle and that’s why I’m here.”
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Much has been made of Pearce’s meeting with Knights coach Nathan Brown, head of football Darren Mooney and Phil Gardner at Brown’s home a week before confirmation that was joining the club.
Pearce arrived armed with plenty of questions and left genuinely excited.
“I didn’t know what to expect with Newcastle and I said that to Browny at the meeting.”
“For anyone coming up here after the results of the past couple of years, I think you definitely needed to be asking questions about the roster and the vision. But they were really honest about the direction of the club and I walked away and rang Dad straight away because I was really excited.
“For one, I was excited about how quickly I think the club can develop with the direction of Browny and Moons [Mooney] and the way they are setting up the recruitment. Just the chance to come up here and be a part of the evolution of the team and bring some success in such a mad rugby league town - that is what excited me more than the other clubs and that’s why I’m here.”
Pearce hasn’t had one negative thought about his decision since moving to Newcastle.
Moving out of Sydney – I didn’t know what to expect to be honest because I’ve never lived anywhere else. As much as I was coming here for the team, I was excited about the lifestyle change.
“It all still feels a bit surreal and probably will for a couple of months but I said to a few mates the other day it feels right and I’m big on trusting your instinct. It’s an awesome place to live and play footy. I noticed that straight away. The fans seem like a loyal type of people who really love their footy team. It makes you proud to be a Knight. I know I have only just started but I’m a footy head and I’ve already got that vibe.”
Pearces understands that Knights fans have had to be extremely patient, but he hopes they will give the team time to further develop in 2018.
“There are lots of things that have exceeded my expectations during pre-season training about the group and the way we train.”
“I’ve come from a winning culture at the Roosters where we have been pretty successful and the club has high standards. In some areas, we are right up there but there are also parts that need to improve and in a developing squad, that’s no surprise.
“We’ll have ups and downs for parts of the season. It’s going to be small steps but the key is to keep improving and keep setting our standards higher. If we are doing that, I think we will really surprise some teams and pull a few pants down.”
Given Pearce has only been at the club a short time, captaincy is not a priority.
“I know my job is to be the best role model and leader I can be and, first and foremost, the best halfback I can be. Leadership is a big reason why I’m here but the club has great guys in those roles. I’m not here to take a tag off anyone and just want to be a part of this leadership group and help us raise the bar.”