Roosters release Pearce: phone call ends 11 years at club

Moving on: Mitchell Pearce. Picture: AAP Image/David Moir
Moving on: Mitchell Pearce. Picture: AAP Image/David Moir

Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce phoned chairman Nick Politis on Monday afternoon and could not have been any clearer about how he felt about Cooper Cronk's imminent arrival at the club.

"I want to play halfback, Nick," he told Politis. "I want to lead the team around the park."

And with that, Pearce was gone, his request for an immediate release from his $800,000-a-season deal begrudgingly granted by the club he's played 238 matches for over the past 11 seasons.

"Obviously, this hasn't been an easy decision for me to come to, but I feel that it's the right one," Pearce said in a statement on Monday night.

"I've been with the Roosters since I was 17 and have grown into a man here. I've made a lot of close friends at the club, and I've always been proud to wear the Roosters jersey.

"The Roosters club and people there will always mean a lot to me, but I'm looking forward to the opportunity and challenge joining a new club will bring, while continuing to push myself to be the best halfback I can be. Now that I've made this decision, hopefully I'll have the rest of my future sorted over the next few weeks."

Earlier, Pearce had met with coach Trent Robinson for lunch and told him he wanted out in the wake of the decision a fortnight ago to sign Australian, Queensland and two-time Storm premiership winner Cronk.

While Pearce has respect for Cronk, he wasn't prepared to gobble up the platitudes from Politis and Robinson about "learning from Cooper". Nor was he prepared to accept Cronk's remarks about "also learning from Mitchell". As a seasoned 28-year-old halfback who has also won a premiership and played for NSW, that is understandable.

As soon as news broke about Pearce asking for a release, he was linked to Manly, who had only minutes earlier announced via media release that five-eighth Blake Green had been given a release to join the Warriors.

New Sea Eagles chief executive Lyall Gorman emphatically denied a deal had been struck when contacted by Fairfax Media.

"No deal has been done," Gorman said. "It's purely coincidental. Ridiculously so, to be honest. There have been no advanced discussions with Mitchell but when a talented player like that comes along we would have to consider him."

Manly joins Cronulla and Newcastle as the clubs most likely to sign Pearce, although others are circling.

Indeed, ever since Cronk was linked to the Roosters — even weeks before Cronk announced he'd be playing on next year and not retiring — several clubs were showing interest.

Doubtless, that outside interest convinced him to leave. For all his faults, Pearce remains one of the best No.7s in the competition.

The campaign is now on to sign him. He has former teammates in Aidan Guerra, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Conor Watson at the Knights, and formed a close bond with Sharks captain Paul Gallen during their time playing for NSW.

Yet he has a particularly close relationship with Manly coach Trent Barrett, who he has also worked closely with in Origin camps.

Barrett last week re-signed with the Sea Eagles but those close to Pearce are warning him about joining a club still under investigation for possible salary cap breaches arising from Strike Force Nuralda into possible match-fixing. Key figures had their final interviews with the NRL integrity unit last week and a decision is expected before the end of the year.

How they fit Pearce into their salary cap also remains unclear. When the Sea Eagles first showed interest in Pearce weeks ago, they were surprised when told he wasn't signed to any third party agreements.

For their part, the Roosters are disappointed Pearce is leaving after investing so much time into him over the past decade, including the decision to back him last year after his Australia Day rampage that attracted media interest from around the world.

They genuinely wanted to see him take the leap from "good halfback to great halfback". It sounded nice in theory but in reality it was never going to work.

"We all love Pearcey," Politis said. "He has developed very strong relationships with a number of people at the club and we have been through a lot together. While it would have been great to see him continue to add to his legacy at the Roosters, we respect his decision. Mitchell will always be a Rooster, and he leaves with our sincerest thanks and very best wishes."

Said Robinson: "We've been through a lot and I have a lot of respect for 'Junior' both as a footballer and as a man."

Pearce's departure now gives the Roosters about $1 million to play with in their salary cap, although they have dismissed the idea of signing Jarryd Hayne, who wants out of the Gold Coast Titans so he can return to Sydney for family reasons.


Nick Politis. Picture: Shu Yeung

Nick Politis. Picture: Shu Yeung