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Competitive, resilient, accountable: Dad's pride as Junior hits 300

Ask anyone in the rugby league fraternity who has had much to do with Mitchell Pearce during his 15-year NRL career and they'll narrow him down to three words.

Competitive, resilient, and accountable. 

In those 15 seasons, Pearce has ridden the highs and lows of the proverbial rugby league rollercoaster.

He could, in fact, be the poster boy for a rugby league rollercoaster theme park. 

It's been a journey of extremes, many other players would've called for the emergency brake long ago. 

Pearce's career began with a weight of expectation on his shoulders.

Making the man: The people who shaped Pearce’s career

As the son of Balmain legend Wayne Pearce, the spotlight was thrust on him even before he had stepped onto the field for the Roosters as a 17-year-old against the Cowboys in 2007.

It's why Pearce senior has often stayed in the background of Mitchell's journey. He has not been vocal publicly very often or taken on a hands-on approach with his son that we have seen in recent times with other players with famous fathers like the Flanagans or Clearys.

Mitchell Pearce's journey to 300

"There was enough pressure on him as it was then for me to be on the scene and adding more to that," Wayne tells NRL.com.

"I didn't want to be associated with his career in that way because it's not my career. We chat about footy regularly but it's not about me, it's about him and his game."

It's why Mitchell labels his father Wayne, mother Terri and sisters Hannah and Tatum, as the rocks in his life on his way to playing his 300th NRL game at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.

The most important part is he makes the most of his talent.

Wayne Pearce

Pearce will become just the 42nd player to join the illustrious 300 club and fifth youngest player overall to reach the rare achievement.

"The majority of parents want the best for their kids, whether it's through football or away from sport," Mitchell told NRL.com this week.

"Dad has got a lot of respect in the game for his hard work, so having someone like him to look up to and for advice is priceless.

"There's plenty of players who haven't been able to [play the game] so I'm really grateful I've been put together reasonably well and can go out and compete which is what I love to do."

Proud family vibes aside, Wayne said Mitchell's biggest strength comes from his competitive nature – built from playing a range of sports including soccer, tennis and athletics as a child.

Reluctant to push his son towards rugby league at a young age, Wayne and Terri gave in when Mitchell was close to starting high school.

We want to make Mitch's 300th special: Klemmer

"I didn't want him to dive into rugby league because I did, without having tried other sports and then regret it," Wayne said.

"He always had the competitiveness and the drive that now serves him well in rugby league.

"The thing that I like about him most as a player is that he competes on every play.

"When you look at any sportsperson you want them to make the most of their talent, whether you're their parent or coach or friend. Mitch has always had the talent but the most important part is he makes the most of his talent.

Wayne Pearce led NSW with distinction in the 1980s.
Wayne Pearce led NSW with distinction in the 1980s. ©NRL Photos

"A lot of people have talent but don't really harness it. Coming in as a 17-year-old and being able to absorb the physical punishment of being a smaller guy in a big man's game.

"He's done well but it's that competitive behaviour that comes out and serves him well."

Knights coach Adam O'Brien believes nothing has changed with Pearce's training regime since starting out as a teenager. 

"I wasn't with him [then] but I always admire the physical condition that he's always in and how hard he competes," O'Brien said.

He's a great example of what it takes to play 299 games.

Adam O'Brien

"He's a great example of what it takes to play 299 games, he trains exceptionally hard. It's a good visual for young players. If you want to be consistent and play at an elite level, that's how you need to prepare.

"He's vital to us and everyone is well connected to him and he's well connected with us."

For all the lows of his career, including a seven-year barrage of criticism after being unable to guide NSW to a series win over Queensland, a couple of moments for the Pearce clan make up for it all.

"When Mitch won the grand final at the Roosters in 2013 it was amazing because I had two cracks at grand finals and lost both of them," Wayne said.

"I sensed the joy that came with it and for me, it plugged a bit of a gap that I hadn't ever achieved apart from a few wins in junior grand finals."

Mitchell added: "We had so much success there for a few years. It still blows my mind to think of the players we had … Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner James Maloney and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Match Highlights: Roosters v Sea Eagles

"It's easy to get up for footy when you're around so many like-minded blokes in rugby league, like your teammates and coaches.

"They're all motivated people who want to do well for their families. It makes it easier to get up day in and day out to push yourself as well."

The other breakthrough victory was in 2019 when Pearce produced a last-minute gutsy pass to Tom Trbojevic that helped secure NSW back-to-back Origin series wins over Queensland.

After almost a decade of being tormented by Maroons sides in one of the most dominant eras in Origin history, Pearce was able to grasp the winners' shield for the first time in his career.

Pearce soaks up first series win

"It was such a big weight off the shoulders, to share that moment with the whole team," Mitchell said.

Wayne added: "He never gave up. He copped a lot but he loves the challenge, contact and mateship that comes with it. He wears his heart on his sleeve and that has never changed."

For all the highs and lows on the paddock, nothing compares to the periods of turmoil Pearce often found himself in along the way.  

Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce.
Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

A stint in a Thailand rehabilitation for alcoholism that coincided with an eight-match ban by the NRL for his infamous Australia Day antics in 2016 was considered rock bottom for the then-Roosters playmaker.

Five years on and Pearce remains a work in progress with the 31-year-old relinquishing the captaincy duties at the Knights after being caught up in an off-field drama that led to his wedding not going ahead in December.

Amid all the wrongdoings Pearce has endured in his lifetime, his ability to be upfront about his actions and face the media in various situations has been long admired.

"If there's one thing Mitchell excels at it's his ability to bounce back from a setback and that's the resilience component," Wayne said.

"Where that comes from? I really don't know, but he's demonstrated that throughout his whole career and life. When he overcomes one setback he realises nothing is insurmountable."

Pearce joked earlier in the week as he sifted through up to 20 interview requests in under three hours that he "wasn't retiring" from the game given the demand for his time.

However, the attraction to Pearce has always been there for the media, particularly in Newcastle, when he was treated with a rock star welcoming in 2018.

Mitchell Pearce during his final season as a Rooster in 2017.
Mitchell Pearce during his final season as a Rooster in 2017. ©NRL Photos

Pearce couldn't have started his career in the Hunter any better than with a field goal against arch-rivals Manly in extra time and if his mind had its way, he would play on forever.

The body though may paint a different story.

"Who knows how long I have left," Pearce said.

"I'm just really proud I've been able to put consistent games together.

"I think the biggest thing is you're proud in the fact it takes a lot of hard work and discipline to get up for a season, let alone lots of seasons.

Mitchell Pearce scores against Penrith in his rookie season of 2007.
Mitchell Pearce scores against Penrith in his rookie season of 2007. ©NRL Photos

"I'm grateful I've got that desire to want to keep bettering myself all the time."

The "Senior Junior" can't see a finish line in sight for his son with Cameron Smith's all-time record of 430 NRL games - at least another five full seasons - away.

"There's plenty more to come for Mitch," Wayne said.

"He's started the season in great form and I think he's going to have a super season."