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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

GALLERY: A Pearce of history joining 300 club

It takes a special talent to play 300 NRL games.

And, even more so when you’re the son of a rugby league legend.

But, Mitchell Pearce has gone from being “Wayne’s boy” to forging an illustrious legacy of his own in the game he loves.

Stepping out of the shadows of his famous father, who is also an NRL Commissioner, the 31-year-old will celebrate a rare feat when he leads the Newcastle Knights into battle against the Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday 28 March.

It’s a far cry from his debut with the Sydney Roosters, which occurred at 1300SMILES Stadium in round two of the 2007 season.

“I played the Cowboys [in North Queensland] and I remember Johnathan Thurston and hooker Aaron Payne carved us up,” Pearce said.

“We lost 43-6 however, with your first game, you’re just happy to be out there to be honest.

“I don’t know if there was any extra pressure on me (being Wayne Pearce’s son) but it was a bit awkward when I was younger.

“For me, I always sort of shied away from it.

“Then you get older and realise you’re more honoured about it than anything else – of our name and what we’ve both been able to do in the game.

“Now, I’m just really proud.

“It’s great to be able to represent my family on these types of occasions.”

Following that maiden NRL appearance, Pearce donned a Roosters jumper a further 239 times, winning a premiership in 2013 and stepping up on the stage for City Origin, NSW, the Prime Minister’s XIII and NRL All Stars side.

Even, today, he’s still getting his head around the magnitude of his latest milestone.

“It would have felt like a steep hill – 300 matches – back then,” he said.

“It sounds like a long way when you’re starting off in your first game.

“However, I tell you what, it just goes so quick.

“I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to get on the field and, physically, be able to compete week-in, week-out.

“There are a lot of players who have the ability, but don’t get the chance to run onto the field for whatever reason with their bodies and that sort of thing.

“For me, I’m really grateful for the way I’ve been put together – so I can get out there as much as I can.”

And, due to those genetics, Pearce is feeling as strong as ever.

“I’m thankful I’ve stayed relatively injury-free,” he said.

“But, I’d like to think I’m professional in my discipline with my body, too.

“I do a lot of stuff, like all the boys, and we work hard.

“Today’s game is so professional – everyone’s doing everything they can to get their bodies right.

“I’m no different.

“I suppose I’m fortunate to have a body type that’s been durable.”

While he’s received plenty of criticism, mostly unfairly, over the seasons, no-one can question Pearce’s commitment and dedication.

He played a major hand in the Roosters’ 26-18 grand final victory over the Manly Sea Eagles to lift the NRL trophy, and was recalled to the Blues – while with the Knights – for the 2019 State of Origin decider, guiding NSW to a 26-20 win and the series.

“Those two things are definite highlights,” he said.

“However, so too, are numerous weekly matches.

“I was speaking about it to someone the other day – you know, when the game’s on the line, and it’s a big moment; or you’ve got to get the result and all your team mates are tearing in – you still get that feeling afterwards.

“That’s happened time and time again.

“And, it’s what you play for.”

Pearce admitted his odyssey gained further traction after signing with the Knights at the end of 2017.

He certainly arrived in style as well, kicking the winning field goal in the side’s 19-18 golden point extra-time triumph over the Sea Eagles.

“My move to Newcastle has been great,” he said.

“Obviously, to play in Sydney for so long, I was a proud Rooster when I was there.

300-gamer Mitchell Pearce ahead of this weekend’s milestone. Photo: Peter Stoop

“But, I’m a very proud Knight now.

“The players, the club and the fans are starving for success [here].

“We made the semis last year; however we haven’t reached our potential yet.

“Although we’ve started the season well, we’ve got big goals in 2021.

“There’s no doubt, the future looks good.

“The club’s really in a great spot.

“Tyson Frizell’s been terrific.

“He’s received a few raps but his influence on this group can’t be understated.

“Obviously, Jayden Brailey coming back from injury has also made a difference. He’s a steady head.

“Then you’ve got the likes of Bradman Best, Tex Hoy, Starford Toa, Josh King, Brodie Jones, Phoenix Crossland and many more – all talented youngsters.

“The Knights are in a good place.

“However, we’ll be marked on how we finish the year – not now.”

With 60 matches to his credit for the Knights, and a recent contract extension, Pearce will continue to rack up the numbers.

“It’s been a great journey,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“Doing stuff like today (with the media), you appreciate having conversations with everyone – and the love you receive.

“It’s a terrific feeling.

“So, I’m soaking up the moment.

“It will be great to see family and friends, and being among team-mates, this weekend, especially running onto the field at home doing what I love most.”

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