NRL | Knights playmaker Mitchell Pearce heaps praise on the club and the city declaring: "I absolutely love it"

He is facing arguably the greatest challenge of his career outside of Origin.

Yet Mitchell Pearce could hardly appear more relaxed or confident within himself as the rebuilt Newcastle Knights prepare to try and end a three-year wooden spoon nightmare and finally climb out of the NRL cellar.

While Pearce may not have the “c” next to his name on the team sheet each week, make no mistake Newcastle will be his team in 2018.

Coach Nathan Brown has given the former Sydney Roosters playmaker a licence to thrill. A free rein to run the Knights attack and get his hands on the ball as much as possible. 

Mitchell Pearce at training.

Mitchell Pearce at training.

“I’m loving it so far,”Pearce said as the Knights get ready to face a stern test of their credentials in Saturday night’s trial against Parramatta at a sold-out Maitland Sportsground.

“The town itself - you don’t experience what rugby league means to Newcastle until you actually get up here, live in the town and be apart of it.

“For me, it’s been the best move. Just how much everyone wants you to do well and you realise what you are playing for here. It’s a different sort of feeling to Sydney.”

Pearce is no stranger to pressure at club level or in the Origin arena.

At the Roosters, you aren’t just expected to win, you are expected to win premierships.

When the failures came, more often than not, it was the number seven who felt the bulk of the criticism. Just as the knives were always out for him whenever a NSW Blues campaign invariably ended in tears.

So why, given the enormous task he faces with the three-peat wooden spooners, does he look and seem so assured? So composed?

“There is definitely something about the country air up here,”he says only half joking.

“It’s a bit of a different approach to your footy. I haven’t been here too long but I feel better suited to this environment. It’s different.

“The culture itself at the club - it’s built on a different foundation to what a Sydney club is. People tell you that and since I’ve been here, I’ve really experienced that. I’ve got nothing but praise for how good it is all run up here.

“From the club to how close everyone is on the staff - all those sorts of things. It’s a real family feel and I just absolutely love it.

“Hopefully we can do the town proud.”

Pearce says he is not fazed that all eyes will be on him when the Knights kick off their season in three weeks against Manly in Newcastle, claiming the challenge is what attracted him to the club in the first place.

“I’ve been around long enough to know I’m going into a season with pressure but I feel relaxed,”he said.

“The challenge – it’s obviously massive but that’s what has motivated me. It’s why I came here and what I’m excited about.

“There are no massive statements to say where we are going to end up in the next three weeks, four weeks, six months. It’s a bit of the unknown. We haven’t got anything to really draw on because it’s a new group of players.

“For us, our goals have just been about improving each day and getting out trademarks and our standards intact so that we can give every team a shot every week.

“I’m driving that as well as I can. I’m trying to turn up every day and be as professional as I can and I need to play my best footy to help the team fire.

“But I’m really confident we can creep our way up the ladder and do really well. I see the potential in the club here and I see how hard the boys have worked, the staff have worked, how hard Browny has worked to be successful.”

While he was always the dominant playmaker at the Roosters, Pearce will have an even greater hands-on role at his new club, revealing the Knights will play a less structured attacking game with him operating on both sides of the ruck, linking with the likes of ball-runners Connor Watson and Kalyn Ponga.

“Browny has given me a free rein and we’ll play a bit more of an ad-lib style here with a few more options in attack and that’s exciting for me as a half. It opens up your creativity,”he said.