Mitchell Pearce has apologised to Knights fans for walking out on the final year of his contract to pursue an opportunity in France but is mentally at peace with the decision because he knows the timing is right.
What's more, he believes his departure won't have a bearing on the club's success going forward, believing a premiership win under Adam O'Brien within the next few seasons is "there within reach."
In a wide-ranging interview with the Newcastle Herald only weeks before he departs for French club Catalans, Pearce talks about his four years at the Knights, the reasons why he has turned his back on a fifth and final season in Newcastle and his expectations and hopes for the club he is leaving behind.
"For both me personally and the club, it's the right time. I'm sorry if there are fans out there who are disappointed with me going early. I didn't do it to be disrespectful. I just felt mentally, I wasn't sure I could give 100 percent going forward and that's not me. That's not what I wanted or how I wanted to finish up. I've loved the four years I've had in Newy. Outside of not having as much success as I would have liked, I haven't got one single regret coming here. The fans have been fantastic, it's been a great opportunity, a great town and I've met so many really good friends and there's been a lot of great moments too. Like I said, no regrets."
"They [Catalans] were calling me at the back end of the year but to be honest, a month after we finished playing, I wasn't going to go. I was committed here but that's when I really stopped to think about where everything was and how I felt. I'd had three or four weeks on the Gold Coast and then went to Byron [Bay] for a week and that's sort of where I seriously started thinking and weighing things up. I knew there was only going to be one more year at the Knights anyway but I felt tired and I just felt I needed something different to stimulate me."
Pearce admitted off-field dramas, most notably the breakdown of his relationship with former fiancee Kristin Scott after their wedding was called off last Christmas, also played a role in his decision.
"It was obviously tough all round off the field and I take responsibility for that. What happened between Kristin and I played a part in my decision for sure. I just thought getting away and doing something completely new, I needed to get away. If I didn't do it now, there might not be the opportunity to do it again. If I'd waited a year, I might have been over footy by then. It's a lifestyle thing as well, it's a great part of the world and mentally, I just felt it's something I needed to revitalise me."
Privately, Knights officials were initially not happy when media reports were suggesting Pearce was headed to France when they hadn't heard from him. Pearce is adament the media leaks did not come from him or his agent.
"When it first came out in the media that I was going, nothing was close to being finalised. I hadn't even seen a contract from Catalans so the advice I had was not to say anything which I didn't. In hindsight, maybe I should have spoken to Adam or Phil [CEO Gardner] when the stories first surfaced and said 'this could happen'. But like I said, at the time, there really wasn't anything concrete to talk about. I wasn't about to ask for a release then because what if it fell through. I'm just grateful the club understood. I felt like in the end, it was all good and pretty amicable. Adz [O'Brien] knew where I was coming from and Phil was really good. He was thankful for me coming up here when the club was struggling."
The final game
Pearce was criticised for his performance in the semifinal loss to Parramatta in Rockhampton. He understands why.
"I don't know what it was but I really struggled against Parra, particularly in the second half of that game. When I look back on it, I just felt really tired in those last two games we played. There's no denying it was a tough year for me. Injuries started bugging me a bit and there was the off-field stuff. I was just a bit flat and drained. That definitely influenced the decision I've made."
"It's less structured now and more ad lib and when you are like me, you've got into habits about how you play over all those years. There's no doubt there are certain players it suits and you have to have the right dynamics and I think youth is a big thing now. I don't think the new rules suited someone like me as much which is another reason why probably I thought my time was up to be honest."
"I appreciated that Adz was understanding with where I was coming from when I told him why I wanted to leave. We've always had a good, honest relationship and I'll always have respect for him as a coach and a passionate, hard worker who cares about his players and strives to get the best out of them. I'd love to see him win a comp here and I've got no doubts the club is on the right track and if the young blokes come through, a title is there within reach."
"He's a great talent and hopefully, we see the best of him in the next few years. I wouldn't be turning him into a five-eighth though because he can't help himself. He won't hide in defence, he'll be the opposite. He'll make a heap of tackles and get bashed around and that's the last thing you want. You want his flamboyance, you want him injecting himself when he sees something. He can play at first or second receiver when he wants to but you don't need him in the line all the time defending."
Phoenix Crossland: "I like him. He's still young but he's tough, he competes and he's got a good, big kicking game on him. Joey will be great for him one on one."
Simi Sasagi: "There's some real potential there with him. He's powerful, a good runner of the footy and he's got great footwork."
Dom Young: "He's got a lot footy in him. He's big and strong. He was thrown in a bit last season but I'm really looking forward to seeing him develop."
Jirah Momoisea: "He really impressed me when he played at the backend last season and he's a really good young bloke too and switched on. He's one to watch for sure."
"The night we beat the Roosters in 2019 at home was right up there with my most favourite game ever. Not just because it was the Roosters but just the atmosphere, it felt like it was an Origin game, it was electric. That was a special night."
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