Friend backs Pearce to shine
This time last year, Mitchell Pearce's rugby league future was unclear after he was stood down for eight weeks following his much-publicised Australia Day indiscretions.
But 12 months is a long time in footy, and having changed his life for the better the 27-year-old's future is now secure after inking a new two-year deal that will see him stay at the Roosters until the end of 2019.
It's a terrific comeback story and one that will likely see Pearce finish as a one-club man having made his debut for the Roosters back in 2007.
Roosters co-captain Jake Friend said Pearce's decision to commit to the club a week out from the new season was a massive boon for a side desperate to make amends for their 15th-place finish last year.
"He's a big part of our club. He and the club have been through a lot over the past 12 months so I think this announcement shows some loyalty both ways between the two parties," Friend told NRL.com at the NRL season launch on Thursday morning.
"Even though it wasn't a great year last year, as a group we're pretty tight so I think Mitch re-signing shows what our culture is about. I'm excited to see how he plays this year and I'm excited to play with him for another couple of years.
"I just think he's in a really good spot at the moment. He's worked through everything and you can see he's put in a lot of time and effort into getting his life right and good things are happening because of that. Hopefully that will shine through in his footy.
"As a player you like to know where your future is heading, so for him to sign before the season starts is a huge bonus for both himself and the club. Now he can just concentrate on footy and know that he'll be at the Roosters until 2019."
Pearce managed just 12 appearances last season due to suspension and injuries, but his presence – albeit limited – lifted his teammates every time he took the field.
The halfback had a whopping 4132 kick metres – comfortably a team high – despite only playing half the Roosters' allotted matches, and also ranked second at the club with 11 try assists.
The fact the Roosters won four of their six matches with him on the park highlights his importance to the side and prompted rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns to call for Pearce's return to the NSW Blues squad for this year's State of Origin series.
Pearce has chalked up four wins from 15 Origin appearances against the almighty Maroons, but hasn't played for NSW since Game III of the 2015 series.
Friend said he hadn't spoken to his teammate about an Origin return, but supported Johns's comments for Pearce to resurrect his representative career.
"I haven't spoken to him about it, but I think he's got the talent to be in that team," Friend said.
"At the moment – especially what he's been through – he's so focussed and in such a good spot that now would be as good a time as any to be put back into that jersey.
"I don't think he would have been thinking about it a whole lot because his focus has been playing well for us, but it's good to see his name mentioned where it should be."