Why Newcastle Knights released Mitchell Pearce despite their previous reluctance

Whilst the vast majority of Catalans fans in France were sleeping, their title hopes in 2022 took a huge step forward when Newcastle Knights confirmed they’d released halfback Mitchell Pearce from his contract to join the Dragons ahead of 2022.

The youngest NRL player ever 20 reach 200 appearances in the competition, a Grand Final winner in 2013 and a State of Origin hero in 2019, Pearce has an impressive resume even bringing the best out of Newcastle since his arrival in 2018.

However, Pearce’s best years undoubtedly came under former Catalans coach Trent Robinson at Sydney whilst current Catalans boss Steve McNamara featured as Robinson’s assistant. It is perhaps the relationships forged during this period which underpin the Dragons coup of yet another class halfback from down under.

Because it was only two years ago that they were announcing the signing of James Maloney from Penrith. Maloney has been a huge success at Catalans guiding them to fourth in 2020 before being the lynchpin in their journey to the top in 2021 and a first ever Grand Final.

Maloney played in Grand Finals for three clubs down under losing to Manly in 2011 whilst playing for the New Zealand Warriors before ending Cronulla’s wait for Premiership glory in 2016. These two Grand Final appearances sandwiched his success alongside Pearce in 2013 as Robinson, now involved with the French national team alongside his day to day duties as Sydney boss, brought the very best out of the duo.

Ultimately, Pearce’s time as a Rooster would end on a sour note as Sydney poached Cooper Cronk forcing Pearce to find first team rugby elsewhere having only won one Grand Final despite their three consecutive Minor Premierships from 2013-15. He was then forced to sit back and watch as Cronk and the Roosters won back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019 following his departure.

But in 2022 he’ll have a huge chance to add to that 2013 title success if he does join last year’s league leaders Catalans as he is expected to do so in the coming days following his release from the Knights. He’ll join one of the strongest squads in the league as well as a squad with stability going into next season with the Dragons only expected to add further quality before the start of the new campaign in February meaning they should be considered one of the favourites for Super League glory despite the loss of Maloney.

The question remains however, why have the Knights released their talented halfback now. Pearce has underpinned Newcastle’s development into a play-off side since his arrival in 2018 and has brought the best out of young sensation Kalyn Ponga. He was the lynchpin of their side and it was previously believed that they would not release him from his current deal unless a suitable replacement was found yet Newcastle have been unable to bring in a new half but have let the 309-game veteran leave.

The answer lies in youth with coach Adam O’Brien set to promote from within to fill the void left by Pearce next year with the Knights having a number of exciting youngsters at their disposal. The likes of Jake Clifford, Adam Clune and Phoenix Crossland will be pushing for the number seven jersey as will Tex Hoy having recently signed a developmental deal with the Knights. O’Brien could also turn the aforementioned Ponga or Kurt Mann where the halves are concerned if he wants some experience in the role.

That said, the Knights have been rumoured to be interested in Wests Tigers’ half Luke Brooks who was set to partner former Wigan Warriors scrum-half Jackson Hastings next year. It remains to be seen if this interest will become concrete.

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