Mitchell Pearce’s “huge mentor”, former Knights coaching director Allan Bell, believes the extra responsibility and leadership demands at Newcastle will bring out the best in the NSW Origin halfback.
And the man himself can’t wait for the challenge.
Bell, who helped shape the game of Immortal Andrew Johns, has become a friend and adviser for Pearce in recent years and was one of many he spoke to when weighing up where to sign.
“He’s been huge for me,” Pearce told the Herald. “I speak to him probably once a week during the footy season, and I can’t thank him enough for what he's done for me.
“He’s the smartest bloke I’ve spoken to with football stuff in all areas. The mental side, the technical side. Everything has just been really helpful.
“As well, he’s just a good old bloke who gives you plenty of life advice and he’s helped me heaps. He’s been a huge mentor.”
Pearce, who was chased hard by the likes of Manly and Cronulla after leaving the Roosters, said Bell didn’t try to sway his decision.
“He wasn't just sold on Newcastle or any other club,” he said. “I bounced a few ideas off him and there’s obviously positives and negatives in every club if you look for them.
“When I told him I’d decided to go to Newcastle, he got straight on the front foot showing me all the great things the club has to offer.”
Bell said Pearce was a “risk-taker” who was “willing to back himself” at Newcastle – the wooden spooners of the past three seasons.
“To his credit, he didn’t take the easy option, which I think was Cronulla,” Bell said. “They could have won the comp. They had a big pack of forwards and he could have played very well with Cronulla, but he just liked this challenge.”
And it’s a challenge he believes Pearce will revel in.
“The town is hungry to get back to those old glory days, so I think the support will be there and I think that’s the sort of thing Mitchell will thrive on too, the atmosphere.
“He gets up for the challenge and I do think he will go to another level with that added responsibility.
“And I think the players will follow him. Like with Andrew [Johns], there’s a bit of Pied Piper about him.”
Pearce said the challenge at Newcastle “was a big thing for me”.
“All the other clubs are great clubs as well, I’ve got nothing but respect for all of them and the interest they showed,” he said. “But for me it was the whole thing with Newcastle, the challenge to come up here and be part of the rebuilding.
“I feel like people probably don’t expect as much, comparing to those other clubs this year, from a PR or results point of view with the results Newcastle are coming off, but I’ve got really high expectations.
“I feel the better we can develop as a club and a team, we can surprise a few people in the next couple of years.”
Bell believed Michael Hagan thrived with the responsibility he had at Newcastle after coming from Canterbury and he could see Pearce treading the same path as the premiership-winning coach and player.
Read more: Is Pearce the Knight’s next Andrew Johns?
“Michael relished the responsibility and he had a lot more at Newcastle than he ever had, and he grew with it,” Bell said. “And I can see the same thing happening a lot with Mitchell. I think he’s at the stage where he’s mature enough to be craving a lot of responsibility too.
“All of that will help bring out the best in him.”
Pearce was “looking forward to challenging myself” with the leadership role.
“It was a big motivator to come up here and take that next step and play in a team that’s rebuilding with a lot of good young players,” he said.
“If we can bring some success, there’s only going to be more who will want to come to Newcastle.”
Pearce hoped to “see a bit more of Bell” now he was in Newcastle.
“He’s a guy I trust about footy stuff more than most, whether it’s on the phone or catching up, but I might have to get him down to show me the ropes around Newcastle,” he said.
Bell said leading players, like Paul Gallen and Cameron Smith, wanted Pearce at their club “because they know his toughness, they know he’s got a motor”.
“You see the State of Origin statistics, he just covers more ground than anyone else at that level,” he said.
“He’s got a very long kick game, a good high kicking game and is a great support player.
“And he’ll take on forwards at the tryline like Andrew Johns used to, and that’s pretty rare.”