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Mitchell Pearce hits back at Paul Gallen over Knights slap down

Wide World of Sports logo Wide World of Sports 11/07/2019 Sacha Mirzabegian

Just days after securing his first Origin series victory, Mitchell Pearce had some choice words for the "knockers" who boldly declared his move to the Knights would spell the end of his Origin career after a hasty exit from the Roosters.

Following the Roosters' signing of Cooper Cronk, Pearce left the competition heavyweights in 2017 to take up a four-year, $4 million deal with Newcastle, with the intention of building the perennial strugglers into genuine title contenders.

Pundits and fans were quick to denounce the move as a money grab at the time and pointed to Pearce's reluctance to play alongside the man who had delivered so much pain to the playmaker and his fellow Blues teammates in the Origin arena. While some said he should have stayed and swallowed his pride to play second fiddle to the former Storm champion, Pearce had other ideas.

a person lying on a football field: Relive all the tries from State of Origin II at Optus Stadium, Perth. Relive all the tries from State of Origin II at Optus Stadium, Perth.

The halfback had already played a pivotal role in the Roosters' 2013 premiership win and felt he was good enough to lead his own team. But the move he chose to make prompted sections of the rugby league world to believe his chances of playing Origin were all but over.

And who could blame them? The Knights took home the wooden spoon for the three straight years before Pearce put pen to paper. Their roster was bereft of match-winners and the club had experienced some dark times under the ownership of Nathan Tinkler. Wayne Bennett's brief stint at the club didn't help either. Coach Nathan Brown was tasked with possibly the toughest job in the NRL.

Their predicament was so bleak, Sharks skipper and former Blues teammate Paul Gallen publicly criticised the move, claiming the Knights were going nowhere fast and Pearce had hitched his star to the wrong wagon.

Pearce and Gallen after losing the Origin decider in 2008. © Getty Pearce and Gallen after losing the Origin decider in 2008.

Gallen even went a step further, stating Pearce's Origin career could well be over because the Knights couldn't offer him a solid platform to play his best football.

“While he will be well compensated financially at the Knights, I will say he has taken a huge risk footy-wise in signing on with the current wooden spooners,” Gallen wrote in his Sporting News column.

“At Newcastle it will be on his shoulders to return the club to its former glory.

“In my opinion, Newcastle are two or three years away from being a consistent top eight side.

“As for winning competitions, well, I just can’t see that happening for a long, long time.

“ ... At the Roosters, Mitchell shared a dressing-room with internationals and State of Origin players.

"He’d been surrounded by rep players and premiership winners.

“That won’t be the case at the Knights and I fear Mitch’s rep career may be a casualty of having to do it all at club level.”

Pictures: Best pictures from State of Origin Game III 2019

But what fans and critics didn't bank on was the raft of talent coming across with Pearce, with Kalyn Ponga and former Roosters teammates Aiden Guerra and Conor Watson also making the switch for the 2018 season. An injury to Pearce hampered their fast start to the season last year and they fell away dramatically late, but the arrival of David Klemmer and Tim Glasby in 2019 has given the Knights a huge boost up front, leading to a spot in the top eight and Pearce's Origin return.

Pearce reflected upon his journey from Origin purgatory to throwing a crucial pass for the match-winning try in a decider in the sheds after the match, and it was obvious Gallen's 2017 comments never left him.

“When I went to Newcastle there was plenty of people coming out in the media, players et cetera saying that’s the end of it, you won’t be playing rep footy, you won’t be playing finals footy,” he said.

“For me, that makes me grateful because people were knockers and they said it wouldn’t work out, but for me, my first thought when I got back to NSW was appreciating Newcastle because we had [five] players in rep footy when everyone was bagging us three years ago.”“I believed in Newcastle and Newcastle has made me become a better player since I’ve come up there and they’ve also given me an opportunity to play here.

In the lead up to Game Three, Pearce's Blues teammates vowed to win the game for the maligned playmaker since he was made to be the scapegoat for a string of series failures against the Maroons.

Knights and Blues teammate Klemmer said winning Origin was always special but having Pearce in the team added another dimension to the result of the game.

“I think it was set up for Mitch to do that, I think it was a fairytale finish to do that play," he said.

"The best moment for me on the field was seeing Pearcey hold that trophy and the smile he had on his face was pretty cool.

“He’s someone who has copped a lot of criticism in his Origin career and I don’t think he deserved it. He’s the most experienced player on the field and he’s always got the microscope on him.

“He’s someone I look up to.”

Pictures: State of Origin's greatest moments

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