Cronulla have missed out on signing Mitchell Pearce after the former Sydney Roosters playmaker shunned interest from the Sharks to sign a long-term deal with Newcastle.
The Knights announced on Thursday night Pearce had agreed to terms on a four-year deal, reportedly worth in excess of $4million, after informing the Sharks and Manly of his decision on Thursday afternoon.
Despite signing representative star Matt Moylan from Penrith to replace the Panthers-bound James Maloney, Cronulla were interested in recruiting Pearce to join Moylan, 2016 premiership-winning halfback Chad Townsend and under-20s star Kyle Flanagan in their halves stocks.
Immediately being able to compete for another premiership was the carrot Sharks coach Shane Flanagan had hoped would lure Pearce to the shire.
Pearce met with Sharks officials and toured the training facilities at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Wednesday as speculation intensified about where the NSW State of Origin star would play next season.
The 28-year-old was granted a release from the Roosters in late November after the Tricolours signed champion Melbourne Storm halfback Cooper Cronk.
Cronulla’s main rivals for Pearce’s signature, Newcastle, were able to offer him more money than the Sharks, reportedly around $1million per season, with Manly also in the mix.
But the Knights, who have won three consecutive NRL wooden spoons and played finals football just once in the last six seasons, will offer Pearce a vastly different challenge to that of playing for Cronulla.
With the signings of representative stars Josh Dugan and Moylan to complement a cavalcade of existing stars – Valentine Holmes, Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita, Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis among them – the Sharks will be looking to win a second title in three years in 2018.
Speaking before being told of Pearce’s decision, Flanagan told the Leader signing Pearce would have been the “cherry on top” of an already impressive squad.
“My job as the coach is to put the best team on the park week in, week out and win football games. We look at a player of Mitchell Pearce’s calibre it’d be silly not to see if he wants to come to our club,” he said.
“If he doesn’t we’ll just move on, we’re in a really good position and I couldn’t be happier where we are at the moment.”
With Moylan and Dugan already added to the squad, Flanagan said he was excited by the evolution of his new-look side, even without Pearce.
“We’ve probably been more forward dominated for the last five or six years. We’ve had really good forwards and in ‘16 obviously we had a really good mix right across our backs with Benny Barba in there,” he said.
“We were down 29 tries this year compared to ‘16. Defensively our seasons were very, very similar. We let in 68, the year before I think we let in 72. Defensively our standards were pretty good. We came second overall defensively to the Melbourne Storm.
“But we just need to be able to score tries and having Moylan, Val Holmes, Dugan, throw them in with our current players it just gives us a lot more hope. I think I’ve got the team now that can score those points.”