Pearce's leadership tested at Knights

Knights captain Mitchell Pearce says his leadership is going to be tested this year.
Knights captain Mitchell Pearce says his leadership is going to be tested this year.

Newcastle captain Mitchell Pearce admits his leadership will be tested this season as the club aims to right the wrongs of an anticlimactic 2019.

With just two months until the NRL season kicks off, the pressure is on the Knights to improve under new coach Adam O'Brien to inspire a top-eight finish.

The hype around O'Brien's intensified training techniques has grown throughout the pre-season but Pearce is well aware it means nothing if the Knights can't get results on the field.

"I'm not going to sit here and talk about winning the comp," the 30-year-old said.

"There's eight weeks until the comp starts, we've got to win round one against the Warriors to give ourselves any chance for that.

"There's great things happening up here, it was a disappointing end to last year, we all put our hand up.

"My leadership is going to be tested this year. I need to have a huge year for the club and as a group we know what we're up for."

The Knights now have the longest grand final drought in the competition, last making the decider with their 2001 premiership.

Heading into his 14th NRL season, Pearce admits every pre-season feels good because players are fit and there are no real hardships to overcome - unlike the rigours of the 25-week competition.

He's wary of putting too much weight in their training improvements but said O'Brien had helped challenge the team mentally.

"All I can do is say I've got a massive wrap on Ads as a coach and the boys are following him 100 per cent," he said.

"They've got full trust in the coaching staff. The boys will be marked when they start playing games.

"Every coach has different structures and systems. I'm totally behind the coach's approach to football and what he's trying to drive into this group.

"I know it works. I've been in good systems before and I can't speak highly enough of Ads and what he's brought to the group."

Although he is still unsure who will partner him in the halves come round one, one area Pearce said he needed to improve was his combination with star fullback Kalyn Ponga.

"You've got to evolve your game each year or you fall behind," he said.

"KP is one of the best players I've played with and he's one of the best young players in the game.

"I know Kalyn is enjoying the new mental challenges that have happened this season and it's only going to get the best out of someone of his quality."

The Knights were given another positive boost on Wednesday, announcing McDonald Jones Homes had extended their sponsorship with the club for a further three seasons.

Australian Associated Press