Phoenix Crossland’s childhood idol is now his mentor and mate.
And the young Newcastle Knights halfback admits it has taken him some time to get his head around it.
To come to terms with the fact his favourite player growing up, Mitchell Pearce, is the same player he is rubbing shoulders with and learning off every day at training.
“I was a Dragons fan and never supported the Roosters when Junior [Pearce] was there but he was my favourite player to watch when I was growing up,” Crossland said.
“He’s been a real idol of mine so it’s been really weird to think he is one of my good mates now and I get to hang out with him and learn from him every day.
“It took a while to get used to waking up each morning and feeling, wow, I can’t believe I’m training with some of the players I’ve looked up to since I started playing.
“But now they are just ordinary people trying to help me out.”
The Kiwi-born 18-year-old is one of three players to earn a Knights development contract this season.
It’s a testament to his potential. The Knights clearly see the 2018 NSW Under 18’s halfback as Pearce’s heir apparent down the track.
Ironically, it was his shock omission from the Australian Schoolboys trials and ultimately, the squad that toured England late last year that enabled him to spend this off-season in the NRL fulltime squad under Pearce’s wing.
It’s been an experience he struggles to describe.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t even make the Combined High Schools team but I looked at the positives and I had a chat to Troy Pezet and to Junior [Pearce] about it and it’s probably been a blessing in disguise,” he said.
“It’s been awesome. Unbelievable. I’ve just spent the best eight weeks at training I’ve ever had. I’ve learn more in eight weeks than the 10 years I’ve played footy.”
Not all of what Pearce has passed on has been footy related.
“We’ve chatted a fair bit and he’s obviously been through a lot in his life and he knows what not to do and he is confident in making sure I don’t make those same mistakes,”Crossland said.
“I know that if I’m ever put in positions where things can go wrong for me, I know Pearcey has at times probably taken the not so good option and will be there for me to make sure I don’t do the same thing.
“He knows I’m a good kid and for me, he is a great person and a great leader to learn off. He’s a legend.”
While he can play Under 20’s for a further two seasons, Crossland’s sights are on the NSW Cup side this year.