Mitchell Pearce has breathed fresh life into the Sydney Roosters’ NRL season with an inspired return from his drunken Australia Day antics.
Playing his first match of the year following an eight-match suspension, Pearce guided the Roosters to a crushing – and desperately needed – 38-0 victory over Newcastle at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
Pearce received a standing ovation after having a hand or foot in three of his side’s six tries and scoring one himself to help drag the Roosters off the bottom of the ladder, above the hapless Knights, with just their second win from nine starts in 2016.
Minor premiers for the past three years, the Roosters still have a mountain to climb to make the finals but have certainly given their fans reason for hope.
Inspirational prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves also made a successful comeback after missing the first nine games with a knee injury, leaving coach Trent Robinson at last with virtually a full-strength line-up after fellow hardman Boyd Cordner’s return from a pectoral tear last week.
Pearce, though, has undoubtedly been the Roosters’ missing link and wasted no time proving so in a dominant display that would have also impressed NSW State of Origin coach Laurie Daley.
NSW’s incumbent No.6 totally outplayed the Blues’ current No.7 Trent Hodkinson, who was powerless to prevent the Knights from being kept scoreless for the second time in three games.
Pearce’s third-minute bomb would have set up the first try of the match had Roosters centre Blake Ferguson not knocked the ball on while attempting to ground it.
But Ferguson atoned with a hat-trick, his first coming in the 16th minute when he finished off a play initiated by Pearce before the influential halfback crossed himself following a Cordner bust and offload inside his own half.
With a 14-0 lead at the break, the Roosters were in control and all but sealed victory when lock Isaac Liu charged over 15 minutes into the second half.
It was Pearce’s rushing defence that forced a Knights error in the lead-up to Ferguson’s second four-pointer before the classy playmaker’s crossfield kick completed the centre’s try-scoring treble.
Korbin Sims being placed on report for heavy shoulder contact with the head of Roosters winger Joe Burgess only added to Newcastle’s woes.