Mitchell Pearce slings doubt to focus on finals
MITCHELL Pearce will consult Sonny Bill Williams for advice as he embarks on a mission to return from the first surgery of his career to lead Newcastle to a fairytale finals berth.
The injured Knights captain has also anointed Penrith rookie Nathan Cleary as the man to wear his NSW Origin No.7 jumper, and launched a pitch for little-known Slade Griffin to take over the Blues' hooking role.
In his first major interview since undergoing surgery for a torn pectoral on Tuesday, Pearce revealed he would work directly alongside Knights coach Nathan Brown and lead video sessions with rookie halves Connor Watson and Jack Cogger.
Despite surviving 12 seasons and 245 games in the NRL, Pearce has never gone under the knife.
And while he was shattered as soon as he felt his pec tear with just minutes remaining in the Knights' last-gasp win over Wests Tigers in Tamworth, he knows how fortunate he's been.
"This is my first surgery I've had in my whole career. So I can't really complain,'' he said.
"I knew I had hurt it pretty bad. I could feel it was loose in the pec and that at least it was going to be a few weeks.
"What disappointed me most was that everything was going along so well. I'd been finding some good form and it's been so enjoyable. But I know I can still play a part even from the sideline.''
Pearce can't drive a car for another week and will remain in a sling for the next three weeks.
He's been told that he could be back within 10 to 12 weeks.
However, he has his own plans, which include sourcing information from Williams, who suffered the same injury in 2012.
"I'm trying to contact a few of the boys who have had the same injury,'' Pearce said.
"Daniel Tupou has got one at the moment and I'm also going to get in touch with Sonny, who did his pec while playing in Japan before coming to the Roosters.
"It would be good to speak to him about anything I could do, to knock off a couple of weeks if I can.
"It's still early but I'm aiming at coming back around (round) 17 or 18 and I've still got finals hopes in my mind for the team.
"That's what we want and if we keep applying ourselves, which I know this team can do, it will remain our goal.''
After riding every play alongside Brown in the Lottoland coaches box on Friday night, Pearce plans to work with the Newcastle coaching staff like he has never before.
"Brownie is keen for me to get in and do more video with the players prior to matches,'' Pearce said.
"In the short time that we've had together, I've learned so much off Brownie. The education from him in halfback play and in attack has been immense.
"I've played under a lot of coaches, but I've learned so much already. So I'll be working with him and James Shepherd (assistant coach) in defence.
"It's a great opportunity for me to try and grow in that area.
"As a captain, I feel like it's my responsibility to keep driving standards, no matter whether you're on the field or not on the field.''
The injury has ensured Pearce escapes the annual spotlight of Origin, which he's been at the centre of since he made his debut in the sky blue in 2008.
But the 29-year-old's passion for NSW remains.
"I'm looking forward to seeing NSW go well and I hope we pick a solid side,'' Pearce said. "There's some good halves to pick from.
"James Maloney would have to be there and I'd love to see Luke Keary get a shot. But there's obviously Nathan Cleary - you'd like to see him there for the next decade.
"I'm seeing what everyone else sees in him. He hasn't been around for long, but in that short time that he's played, he obviously plays with a lot of composure.
"He's going to have a lot of ups and downs in his career, but so far he's shown he can handle whatever comes his way.
"It's hard to tell how someone will handle it, until you win or lose. But look at him, he seems like a pretty chilled individual, which is a great component to help you play good footy.''
Pearce added that Newcastle's underrated hooker Slade Griffin deserved to be in the mix alongside NSW contenders Cameron McInnes and Damien Cook.
"I know Kayln has been getting some deserved wraps, but I can't tell you how influential Slade has been for us,'' Pearce said.
"He's an absolute gun. He's calm, communicates well and I know, I've played with some good hookers before, but he's one of the best.''
Pearce still speaks to the majority of players from his former club the Roosters, who are struggling to fire despite their megastar roster.
"They're still the premiership favourites in my mind. Sure they do look clunky, they're not gelling at the moment,'' Pearce said.
"But they've got too many class players not to fire.''