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Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce.

Mitchell Pearce is onto his sixth NRL coach and his third at the Newcastle Knights in just two years but he didn't hold back in heaping praise on incoming mentor Adam O'Brien.

O'Brien has moved from his assistant roles in the successful premiership campaigns at both the Storm (2017) and the Roosters (2019) to construct his own model as Knights head coach.

Pearce left the Roosters before O'Brien's arrival but would have gathered plenty of intel from his former teammates at the Bondi Junction club.

"Look I've really enjoyed 'Ads' so far," Pearce said after the Knights NRL squad returned to training on Monday.

"He's a super coach and we're really lucky to have him here. The whole coaching staff has been great – talking about being uncomfortable Ads has challenged us all mentally in a really good way.

"The boys are having to work hard and continue to do so to change some habits, losing habits, that we fell into last year.

"There's a long way to go but the coaching staff is doing everything for us to set us up for a big year."

O'Brien has brought former Raiders, Cowboys and Rabbitohs coach David Furner and former Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs assistant Willie Peters to his staff for 2020.

All three men were front and centre in designing an 'away' training camp in Tamworth prior to Christmas. It have the Knights players new surroundings to train in but also gave them a chance to interact with the drought-stricken community.

"It was really helpful. I've done plenty of those type of camps over the years. It was really well constructed and great to give back to the community, which was very rewarding," Pearce said.

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"The way it was structured it had lots of mental skills to make us feel uncomfortable and learning to train hard when we feel like that.

"So it's one of those camps we can draw on in hard parts of the season because there will be times like that."

O'Brien has been coated with the Craig Bellamy-style of solid pre-season training. The Knights have now had a taste of it as they try to reach the NRL finals after a six-year absence, which included three wooden spoons.

"We've obviously got high expectations. But I'm not going to stand here day one after Christmas and say 'this and 'that'," Pearce said of the likelihood of a top-eight finish in 2020.

"It's about working hard, looking after our bodies and preparing as well as we can so we take on round one (Warriors, March 14) as good as we can to build into our year."

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Sitting on 276 first-grade games, Pearce could conceivably reach 300 if he remains fit and healthy this year.

But it's not his first priority.

"I've got heaps I still want to achieve. First and foremost this year is the next six weeks about working hard and training hard. I know that's the only way to have a good year is prepping well," he said.

"My focus is to lead my teammates as well as I can at training. We're going to have a good squad; a prepared squad.

"I know every other team in the comp says that same thing. But I know if we nail this next six weeks that gives us every opportunity to play our best footy."

Of course the premiership-winning halfback needs a partner in the halves with the list of candidates including Kurt Mann, Mason Lino, Connor Watson and 19-year-old Phoenix Crossland.

"Obviously Kurt Mann has been training well there really well," Pearce said. "Phoenix has missed a bit of training with a few niggly injuries.

"I know Adam's direction with where he wants us to go is to see us in different positions. As head coach he'll pick the best fit for that position."

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