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Mitchell Pearce will leave Newcastle as the most experienced active NRL player in a bid to finish the job begun by close mate James Maloney and help Catalans to a premiership.

Pearce, who was the only player contracted for next season to have played more than 300 NRL games, has been granted an immediate release by the Knights after being convinced by Maloney to set up a career finish in the Super League. 

Pearce has signed a two-year deal with Catalans, with the option of a third season in 2024.

“I am thrilled to have an opportunity to play for a proud rugby league team like Catalans," Pearce said in a statement.

"They have some of the most passionate fans in the sport and it is an honour to be able to represent them.

"I would like to thank [Catalans chairman] Bernard Guasch and [coach] Steve McNamara, and look forward to helping them achieve their goal of a Super League premiership.”

Maloney, who was Pearce's halves partner in the 2013  Roosters premiership-winning team and played 10 State of Origins alongside him for NSW, retired after steering Catalans to this year's grand final and helped recruit the veteran playmaker as his replacement.

Pearce had re-signed with Newcastle for 2022 but sought a release and the Knights wished Pearce "all the very best for his future" in a statement released on Monday after lengthy discussions between both parties came to an end.

"The Knights would like to thank Mitchell for his significant contribution since joining the club in 2017, celebrating many highlights including 300 NRL games and back-to-back finals series," the Knights statement read.

Newcastle are expected to promote from within rather than chase a big name replacement for Pearce after luring Jake Clifford from North Queensland earlier this year.

Pearce joined Newcastle for the start of their 2018 campaign as part of a signings spree that also saw the club land superstar Kalyn Ponga for their rebuild from the bottom of the Telstra Premiership ladder.

After making his NRL debut with the Roosters as a 17-year-old in 2007, Pearce became the youngest player to play 200 games and the fifth youngest to achieve the 300 match milestone in March.

He leaves with 309 NRL appearances to his name - 238 for the Roosters and 71 - as well as 19 Origins, and helped the Blues to a series win in the 2019 decider, which was his last representative call-up.

With Benji Marshall and the Morris twins, Brett and Josh, retiring at the end of last season, there will be no NRL player next year who has played 300 matches.

Mitchell Pearce's journey to 300

The most experienced players in the NRL next season are set to be Sharks prop Aidan Tolman (296 matches), Raiders centre Jarrod Croker (291), Dragons hooker Andrew McCullough (289) and Tigers frontrower James Tamou (286).

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

As the son of Balmain legend Wayne Pearce, who captained NSW and Australia, the spotlight was thrust on him even before his NRL debut, and he often bore the brunt of criticism for NSW's lack of success in his first seven Origin campaigns.

Yet he helped steer the Roosters to grand final glory against Manly in 2013 and is renowned for being competitive, resilient and accountable.

Newcastle are expected to promote from within to replace Pearce, with Clifford, Adam Clune and Phoenix Crossland all vying for playmaking roles next season.

Kalyn Ponga or Kurt Mann may be other options, while Tex Hoy could be promoted to the top 30 after signing a development deal recently. 

Newcastle returned to training last week to begin preparations for their third season under Knights coach Adam O'Brien and the decision to release Pearce now gives them time to develop a new halves combination for 2022.

The must-see games for Knights fans in 2022

At Catalans, Pearce will re-unite with coach Steve McNamara, who spent three seasons as Trent Robinson's assistant at the Roosters before joining the Warriors coaching staff in 2017.

Led by McNamara, Maloney and captain Sam Tomkins, Catalans claimed the League Leaders Shield and became the first non-English club to qualify for the Super League grand final - losing 14-12 loss to St Helens.

The game in France is undergoing a renaissance and Pearce is expected to work closely with boom playmaker Arthur Mourgue, who is among a number of emerging French stars.

Toulouse have been promoted to the Super League after an unbeaten Championship season and defeat of Featherstone in the Million Pound Game, while Maloney has joined FC Lezignan in the domestic French competition.

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