Connor Watson has jumped to the defence of embattled Newcastle Knights teammate Mitchell Pearce as the star halfback nears the end of a nightmare off-season, praising the impact he’s had as a mentor.
Pearce’s life was thrown into disarray when news broke of the 31-year-old sending racy text messages to a female Knights employee, which led to his wedding to Kristin Scott being cancelled less than a week out from the event, late in December.
That led to Pearce resigning from his post as Newcastle’s captain early in the new year, before breaking down in tears as he read a statement in a press conference.
Pearce addresses text message scandal
The tumultuous off-season of the former NSW Blues playmaker took another ugly twist when he broke his right thumb and was forced to undergo surgery late in January.
And in the latest crushing blow, The Daily Telegraph has reported that Pearce is set for a pay cut of $250,000 per season to remain at the Knights in 2022.
But Watson, who crossed from the Roosters to the Knights with Pearce ahead of season 2018, took the opportunity in an exclusive interview with Wide World of Sports to stress the fact that he’d been “a big help”.
“Me and ‘Ju’ are close mates. He’s been right by my side since I first came into first grade and even before that he was a big help when I was playing 20s and SG Ball. He was always there for me then,” Watson said.
“I have a lot of respect for ‘Ju’. He definitely helped me come through the grades and has helped me become the player that I am.
“As a kid coming through he was massive in helping me and I know he’s done it for a lot of guys, especially a lot of young halves. There are a lot of guys he’s mentored and a lot of them play first grade now too.”
Pearce last year led the Knights to their first finals appearance since 2013, with the club finishing seventh before crashing out in a 46-20 defeat to the Rabbitohs in an elimination final.
The Knights’ new skipper is yet to be named but the race was narrowed to five when the club finalised a new five-man leadership group in late January, consisting of Kalyn Ponga, Blake Green, Daniel Saifiti, Mitch Barnett and Jayden Brailey.
Green touted as Pearce successor
Watson backed Pearce to carve out a strong 2021 campaign.
“It’s been a tough couple of months for ‘Ju’,” Watson said.
“He’s working hard on himself and that’s important. He knows he’s made a mistake and there’s no shying away from that.
“But even though he’s gone through a lot I don’t think ‘Ju’ will miss a step this year playing footy.”
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