Mitchell Pearce is about to discover who his real mates are. In time, he'll be able to count them on one hand.
Mitchell Pearce: will 'cop whatever comes'
Speaking at Sydney Airport after a month-long stay in an overseas alcohol rehab centre, Pearce says he is keen to get back to football. (Vision courtesy ABC News 24)
His real mates won't ask him to start at the Pav, before heading to the Sheaf, before finishing at Casablanca.
His real mates won't pester him with a deadline about when he can have his next beer with them. Round 20? After the finals? Mad Monday?
His real mates won't tell him he can "just have a couple". It'll be sweet, bra. You're with me, bra. I'll look after you, bra.
There's a well-used saying in recovery: if you sit in a barber's chair long enough, you'll eventually get a haircut. Sit in a bar long enough, you'll eventually have a drink. Then maybe another. Then it's suddenly the next afternoon and the coach's name is coming up on your mobile phone …
Instead, his real mates will take him to dinner and then go home and watch a DVD with him.
Pearce's real mates won't make excuses and there are plenty of people lining up to make excuses for Pearce now he's returned to Sydney following a month in a Thai rehab clinic.
"If we had video footage of everyone who snorted cocaine and stuck their tongues down people's throats, there would be job vacancies everywhere," Alan Jones graphically argued on 2GB on Monday morning minutes before his interview with Pearce.
In other words, the person most at fault in the Australia Day scandal in which Pearce – the Roosters captain on $750,000-a-season – was filmed simulating sex with a dog, was the bloke who shot the video.
Well, it's actually not.
- Play Ultimate League: The draft style fantasy rugby league game
- Fixtures: The NRL 2016 draw
- The People's Power Rankings: Have your say
The person who shot the video is, indeed, a "grub". If he's broken the law, may the law come down hard on him. As reported by Fairfax Media, the Roosters are exploring their options.
Posting video footage on social media of a drunken footy player is bad enough. Using it for financial gain doesn't make you a "grub", but a special breed of "grub".
But the video doesn't exist if Pearce isn't in some random person's apartment late at night.
That's why the most reassuring sentence to come from Pearce as he did the media rounds on Monday morning was this: "I've taken full ownership of my mistakes."
(For the record, Pearce has denied being affected by recreational drugs on the night in question, and urinating on a couch).
The Roosters are angling for a four- to six-week suspension and $50,000 fine, having previously pushed for 12 weeks on the sidelines.
The strong feeling within the NRL is that half a season will be adequate punishment, although others want a year, which is far too heavy.
Half a season seems about right.
You can be assured, no matter what, that legal arguments about whether the Surveillance Devices Act has been breached won't be a consideration for the NRL integrity unit when his punishment is eventually determined.
There's much concern about what is best for Mitchell Pearce right now, but let's not forget the game copped a pounding when the video footage went viral around the world.
There were more tweets about Pearce's indiscretion than the All Stars or the Auckland Nines.
On a recent trip to San Francisco for Super Bowl, I mentioned to three US reporters that rugby league was the game mostly followed in NSW and Queensland.
Their next question wasn't about Jarryd Hayne – it was about "the guy having sex with the dog". But it was simulated sex!
And while the mock outrage from a month or so ago has subsided, surely a punishment that sends a strong message to other players needs to be set.
Let's also ask this question: how many other young, unknown players are afforded second or third or fourth chances? If Pearce was a 20-year-old fringe first grader, he'd be looking for a new career.
To that end, Pearce is fortunate that he has the strength of a football club around him as he rebuilds his life. Just as the culture of footy can be the problem, the strong culture of a club can be the cure.
I wrote in late January that Pearce and the Roosters should part ways, for his sake as much as theirs. A fresh start could be exactly what he needed.
That angered some at the club and I'm big enough to admit it was probably premature.
The Roosters are a brilliant club. Coach Trent Robinson is a modern-day Gould or Bennett in terms of man management. Chairman Nick Politis has a long history of caring for his players, even after he's had to sack some of them.
But when you write enough columns defending Pearce, from off-field indiscretions to unfair criticism after NSW loses an Origin, and he's suddenly making international headlines, sometimes you can't defend him any longer.
You only had to sniff the breeze the day the story broke to understand the anger from Roosters fans and members. Many of them wanted him gone, such was the embarrassment it caused the club.
Politis was especially angry. I've never heard him so disappointed.
The clarity of Pearce's public statements on Monday indicates he knows the hard work has only started.
Rehab is not for the faint-hearted. It can be brutal. And it's only the beginning.
When Todd Carney made a return to the NRL after a year playing bush footy for Atherton after one-too-many alcohol-related incidents, he starred in his first match for the Roosters in the opening match of the season.
He was swamped by reporters and friends and family in the dressing room afterwards. The redemption story wrote itself.
In the corner stood then Roosters coach Brian Smith. I'll never forget his words that day.
"Now isn't the problem," he said. "It's what happens in a few weeks or months, when he has injury or is struggling with form. Or the off-season. That's what matters most."
Carney was later sacked by the Roosters, then the Sharks, and is now playing in the Super League.
That's why the second most reassuring statement to come from Mitchell Pearce was this: "It's not going away overnight – the hard work starts now."