THE return of club legend Andrew Johns as a coaching consultant should go a long way towards alleviating any disappointment that Newcastle Knights fans are feeling about the likely departure of Mitchell Pearce.
Under contract to Newcastle for one more season, Pearce has attracted a lucrative offer to join Catalans Dragons for the next three years and is reportedly eager to accept it.
Knights officials, however, had been loath to release their primary playmaker unless they could secure a viable replacement, which would appear easier said than done at this late point in proceedings.
But news that Johns has accepted a part-time consultancy role, working specifically with Newcastle's playmakers, is expected to reassure the powers-that-be that they can get by without Pearce.
Johns, arguably the greatest halfback of all time, has been a coaching consultant at Manly, Sydney Roosters and Parramatta and is regarded as one of the best tactical and technical mentors in the business.
His expertise should only benefit the likes of Jake Clifford, Phoenix Crossland, Simi Sasagi, Kurt Mann and Adam Clune - Newcastle's remaining playmaking options if, as expected, Pearce is able to secure a release.
"Andrew has agreed to come back and help out not only with our NRL squad, but also with the juniors coming through," Knights CEO Phil Gardner said.
"For the kids to have a chance run through their paces with Andrew watching them and offering advice, that's fantastic for them and our club.
"We're very lucky that Andrew and [football manager] Danny Buderus have such a great relationship.
"Bedsy asked Andrew if he'd help and he graciously accepted.
"We're very grateful for him to be driving to and from Sydney to help the club."
Recently retired Blake Green, a new addition to Newcastle's coaching staff, will also work with the club's halves.
"If you're a young halfback, imagine being able to learn from Andrew Johns and Blake Green," Gardner said.
In a recent radio interview, Johns, Newcastle's finest-ever player, and his brother Matthew were highly critical of the "decline" in the club's junior-development system.
"Newcastle has not produced a half, five-eighth or a dummy-half for 20 years," Andrew said on SEN in August. "What does that tell you? The junior system is broken."
Johns said he felt junior development, or the lack thereof, was "a problem across the game", before adding: "It's a big problem in Newcastle."
Now the eighth Immortal has a chance to do something about it.
The prospects of him renewing his association with Pearce, whom he mentored at the Roosters and also while in camp with NSW Origin, would appear slim.
Gardner said on Tuesday he was expecting to hear from Pearce, or his management, "imminently".
He maintained the 32-year-old halfback "is under contract to us for next season and if that changes, I'll let you know".
Before agreeing to any release, the Knights are expected to ask Catalans to pay a transfer fee.
Transfer fees are commonplace in Super League and the Knights had to pay Leeds Rhinos to release Buderus in 2011.
Pearce has played 71 of his 309 NRL games for Newcastle and will not want to leave the club on bad terms.
When he secured a release from the Roosters in late 2017, after they signed Cooper Cronk, it was all settled amicably.
Despite Catalans recruitment chief Alex Chan declaring that the club was willing to wait if Pearce was made to honour his 2022 contract with the Knights, it is understood the veteran is concerned the deal could fall through if he delays.
AAP reports: Wade Graham is confident he can return for Cronulla in round one of the NRL as he maps out his comeback from three concussions last season.
Graham has not played since his head knock against Penrith in June, prompting him to step away from rugby league.
The Sharks captain returned to training alongside recruit Cameron McInnes about a month later, by which time the competition had moved to Queensland and his season was declared over.
Graham has discussed with new Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon a timeline for his return and the now 31-year-old is confident he can have close to a full pre-season in preparation for the 2022 campaign.
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