Newcastle Knights playmaker Mitchell Pearce says the success of the club’s hunt for forward reinforcements holds the key to a breakthrough year in the NRL next season.
The Knights are privately resigned to their number one target Tevita Pangai Jnr remaining at the Brisbane Broncos for another season.
But there is still optimism he could be tempted to return to Newcastle in 2020 even if he knocks back overtures for next season.
“We’ve suspected all along that he would probably stay at the Broncos for another year,” a Knights insider said.
“Obviously, we’d love to have him here next year but if it doesn’t happen, the club is definitely still optimistic that we could get him back here in the future.
“A more realistic target is probably 2020 but we’ll see. There is a fair bit to play out yet.”
Whatever happens with Pangai, Pearce is hoping for a “beefed up pack” to compete against the premiership heavyweights next season.
“There’ll be some changes over the break and we’ll walk into a fresh system and it’s just exciting to think where we can take things next season with a bit of luck along the way,” he said.
“We’ve got some new players coming in and hopefully a few more big boys which we are after and really need and there will be a bit of a fresh look with new staff.
“We need to beef our team up to compete with the top sides and I’m sure the powers-that-be are working hard on that.”
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While frustrated to miss a significant chunk of the season personally and be out of finals contention well before the season ended, he says the foundations are being put in place for future success.
“Firstly, I just want to play every game next year. That’s going to be a real goal of mine,” he said.
“And I’m sure if we can have a bit of luck with recruitment and get the right side together and have a good pre-season, we can create a new culture with a fresh new team.
“We’ll have all benefited from spending this season together and with more work on combinations, there are definitely much better times ahead for us.”
Pearce said outstanding young fullback Kalyn Ponga was a deserved winner of the Danny Buderus Medal for the club’s player of the year at Wednesday night’s awards ceremony.
“There is no doubt he was our standout all year and he’s the whole package with the way he plays and the way he holds himself off the field,” Pearce said.
“He just had a fantastic year and I’m really looking forward to hopefully spending a whole lot more time on the field with him next season.”
Veteran backrower Aidan Guerra was the other big award winner on the night.