Teammates full of praise for returning Pearce
Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce is set to play his first game of the season on Saturday evening against the Newcastle Knights, and his teammates can't wait to have their No.7 back alongside them.
Pearce missed the first eight games of the season after being suspended for his Australia Day actions and his inclusion will be welcome relief for the three-time defending minor premiers who have struggled in his absence so far in 2016.
Teammate Aidan Guerra said it was great to have the experienced playmaker back on the park and praised Pearce for turning his life off the field as well.
"He's been excited to come back to football since the start of the season," Guerra said.
"He's coming back a clearer person and he's had time to work on himself so we'll let his footy do the talking."
With the Roosters sitting in 16th place on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder with just one win through eight rounds, Guerra was quick to rubbish suggestions Pearce had taken their slow start personally.
"I don't think he's blaming himself," he said.
"He's definitely hurting to see us fall the way that we have. We haven't played our best footy and you can tell that he's hurting.
"He can't beat himself up because at the end of the day something positive has come out of this little spell for him personally rather than on the field.
"Since he was allowed back to train with us he's been enthusiastic the whole time. He hasn't been down in the dumps, he hasn't been beating himself up. He knows he can help the young guys around the place be better than they were the week before."
It's that sense of leadership that could be the difference leading into their Round 9 showdown with the Knights.
"He was the captain of our club. He knows his presence around the place. Even though he wasn't playing you could still feel his presence at training," Guerra continued.
"He can't shoulder the responsibility of our shortcomings over the past couple of months. We haven't played our best football. With his temperament in the halves and his leadership we're looking forward to getting a win this week."
Enforcer Kane Evans said his side's poor start to the season had taken its toll on Pearce and fellow returning Rooster Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who had to watch on helplessly as their teammates suffered through some tough times in 2016.
"They've been struggling to see us struggling, especially after the games," Evans admitted.
"When we've lost they've been really upset – probably more than some of the players on the field – so for them to actually have an input and play is going to be massive."
But with the 2013 premiership-winning duo named to play this weekend, Evans said the vibe at training had lifted considerably, especially with Pearce running the show.
"He'd been the halfback for the second team [earlier in the year]. When they'd oppose against us, he would be the halfback for their team. He'd be stepping us, making breaks and making us look stupid," a clearly thrilled Evans said.
"At training today he was actually out on the starting team. To see him orchestrate the team and move everyone around it was great to have him there. He's really assertive and everyone knows their role off him."
It's a similar view held by experienced teammate Sam Moa who believes Pearce's time away from the team had worked wonders on the incumbent NSW Blues halfback.
"He's as good as I've ever seen him and he's looking really good and he's the Mitchell that we've always loved," Moa proudly revealed.
"He's in a really good place at the moment and that's reflecting in his leadership skills that he's shown to all the younger guys while he's been out."
While Pearce won't have the 'c' next to his name this season, Moa is confident the on-field general will still play an important part in lifting those around him.
"He's a leader and we've certainly missed him. A lot of our play is structured around Mitchell and his ability to attack and his tenacity in defence which is what we've missed," he said.
"He's always been our leader regardless of whether he's been stripped of the captaincy role. Every man in the 17 had a smile on their face with the security of having such an experienced player and a leader of our team back."
Moa said the Roosters were keen to atone for what had been a disappointing start to 2016, and was hopeful the addition of Pearce and Waerea-Hargreaves would prove to be the tonic needed to get their season back on track.
"As a playing group we feel like our performances haven't really justified the win-loss ratio," the Kiwis representative said.
"We've been gradually improving without getting the wins which is extremely frustrating, but everyone is back on this week, and if we don't put too much pressure on the guys coming back, then hopefully we can string together some good combinations on Saturday."