Johns mentor behind Pearce revival
He's the halfback whisperer the Johns brothers swear by, and now Roosters halfback Mitch Pearce says the tutelage of Alan Bell is behind his current purple patch of form.
Bell is the 71-year-old angora goat farmer from the Hunter Valley who's coached alongside the likes of Warren Ryan, Allan McMahon and Tim Sheens over the years, and is widely regarded as possessing one of the sharpest coconuts in the rugby league tree.
During their playing days Matthew and Andrew Johns would often answer their door to Bell bearing goodie bags chock-a-block with VHS tapes – the type of stuff that would get a young playmaker all hot under the collar.
Alfie's show and go. Sticky's short kicking game. Terry Lamb's dog-with-a-bone competitiveness. Peter Sterling guiding the blue and golds around the park and to premiership glory. All the favourites were there, often for three hours at a time.
Andrew of course took all that video, all those special attributes of the modern era's best, and combined them into the greatest No.7 the game has seen. Matthew came out of Bell's video sessions a pretty handy player himself.
A few weeks ago Matthew revealed on Triple M that Bell has been working with Pearce.
Now that same cherry-picking approach from the game's best halfbacks, and a weekly phone chat with the former Knights assistant coach, have Pearce in the form of his life.
"He has [become a mentor]," Pearce says after he first got in contact with Bell midway through the year.
"He's been really helpful... he's very smart; one of the smartest guys I've spoken too. As a halfback if you can keep getting pointers from guys that have got a smart analytical brain there, you'd be silly not to open your ears and listen.
"He's been really helpful for me, a lot of the stuff with the mind and the preparation... a fair bit of mental stuff. Just little technical things in your game that he's picked up on; that's been helpful.
"I feel I've been playing better footy and I'm grateful for him and everyone that helps you out."
The meeting of minds came about at the suggestion of Australian boxing legend Johnny Lewis, who Pearce trains with once a week. Bell hates the limelight, and as such Pearce is reluctant to discuss their relationship too much.
The 25-year-old also directs plenty of credit for his development over the past two years the way of Chooks assistant coach Jason Taylor.
The former Souths and Eels coach learnt a bit about halfback play himself over the course of 12 years and 276 games with Wests, Norths, the Northern Eagles and Parramatta.
As Pearce gears up for the mother-of-all personal showdowns with two-time Dally M winner Johnathan Thurston this Friday, Taylor reveals Pearce keeps an eagle eye on the game's top halfbacks in a bid to get the edge over them.
"He's a real avid watcher of other halfbacks and he'll often talk about something that he sees Thurston or Daly Cherry-Evans do, and then he'll think about that," Taylor tells NRL.com.
"I think as far as current players go, you can take a lot from different players in relation to how Mitch plays.
"He runs and carries the ball strongly like Kieran Foran, but then he's got passing attributes like other key halfbacks.
"So he's got a pretty rounded game. He's an avid worker and he's always watching the others and working on it."
At the same time, Taylor stresses the importance of Pearce sticking to the stripes that have already delivered him a premiership, 12 Origin appearances and 180 first-grade games. After all, you don't carry all that around in the kitbag at just 25 without having a bit of game to begin with.
"One of the things that I talk about with him is that he's still got his style and he needs to make sure that he sticks to that," Taylor says.
"That's not to say that he can't expand his game, but it's important that he doesn't change the player that he is, and get away from those things he does really strongly.
"He's playing really composed at the moment, and that's a word that he and I used a lot when we first started working together. Just not getting too anxious or overawed in a situation and maintaining that composure.
"That's something that we've worked hard on, keeping things simple in Mitch's mind so that he's not over-thinking it, and just trusting what he feels is the right play."