Roosters players are expecting to reunite with their great friend and one-time leader Mitchell Pearce in the next 48 hours after his stint in rehab. Some of them, including current skipper Jake Friend, have been in text message contact with Pearce.
To say his mates feel for him is an understatement. Hands down he is the most loved member of the squad and, while there is some disappointment with his behaviour, they are supportive of Pearce the person. Pearce has long battled with the pressure of growing up as rugby league royalty. His dad Wayne was a great of the game, with a perfect public image. That's not an easy thing to deal with for any young man.
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Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith, speaking at the 2016 NRL season launch, says Billy Slater's absence played a part in a disappointing 2015.
He clearly has an issue with binge drinking and recognising that is a huge thing. Rehab is a brave step. I've had a lot to do with Pearce and from my experience he is a warm, considerate young bloke. His professional resilience has to be admired.
But he is easily led. Too easily. When he first entered the Thailand facility his head was spinning. It took time for him to realise he needed to be there. He has embraced the experience and we may now see a different person. As for a penalty? Maybe I've seen too much, but I wasn't horrified by what I saw. I was embarrassed for him. It was a young man whose issues were exposed. It was sad. There was no police action. No one was hurt.
Was the game's image destroyed? Because it was captured on video it took a dent, but his actions were such that they were able to be broadcast on prime-time television.
Early reports that breathlessly declared that Pearce had done something horrific to the animal didn't help. One News Limited paper nailed it when they blacked out the dog's face so we could not recognise the pooch. It was drunken stupidity and when Pearce is hit with a ban his remorse and dedication to being a better man should be taken into account.
I think the public shame has been a massive penalty. Give him six weeks and a hefty fine. Then give him some love and a chance to regain his dignity. This mistake will stay with him for a long time and it would be sad to lose him to the game.
SHARK'S HEAD IN THE CLOUDS
Paul Gallen enjoyed his helicopter ride from the Central Coast to the NRL launch so much that he started to ask about the cost of getting a chopper licence.
Gallen was whisked down from the Sharks' training camp in Terrigal by the NRL to attend the season launch.
"When I got in the chopper I started to get very claustrophobic," he said. "The same thing happened when I got the chance to drive in a V8 — I had to get out. I thought the same thing was going to happen again, but I just had to talk myself into it.
High-flyer: Sharks captain Paul Gallen was flown by helicopter to the 2016 season launch at Sydney Botanical Gardens courtesy of the NRL. Photo: Getty Images
"I told myself to man up and I ended up loving the ride. It was a real buzz — I was asking about getting a licence by the end of it all. But it sounds too expensive." Gallen and the Sharks presented themselves to the media earlier in the week and were way beyond co-operatative.
The club took the day seriously; coach Shane Flanagan was there, as was Cronulla boss Lyall Gorman.
It's hard not to think the Sharks have finally bounced back from the ASADA drama. They appear to be a very united bunch.
IT'S OVER FOR KEARY
Deep down – maybe even not too deep – Luke Keary knows his days are numbered at South Sydney.
One of the best young players in the game – no less than Cooper Cronk is a huge fan of his ability and attitude – Keary has all but reached the point of no return at the Rabbits.
There was a public apology from Russell Crowe after their very public spat, but the wounds are still there. Keary no longer has a good working relationship with Michael Maguire. To say that the pair don't speak might be a stretch, but they no longer get along. The communication is minimal, the respect the same.
Maguire lost Keary at the Crowe camp; truth be told he lost a few of his players then and there is a fear from the coach that he has lost control of some elements of the team.
Days numbered at Souths: Luke Keary of the Rabbitohs. Photo: Bradley Kanaris
Keary is a gun – an off-contract gun – but it's almost March and there is no offer to sign him up. In fact, Souths don't mind if Keary looks around. Plenty of clubs in the NRL will be keen on Keary. He is an Origin-standard player and there is more to him than his ability. He has the old-school cheek that all the best halves possess.
His rise was rapid and his departure from the club where he won a competition looks like it will be just as quick. He will attract big dollars from clubs like the Titans - and the Roosters may become a home if Mitchell Pearce is rubbed out for any significant period. He does have some strong supporters at the neighbouring club including new Roosters boss, the old Souths supremo, John Lee.
It would be a poor look if Souths lost two fantastic players in Dylan Walker and Keary in the space of two years – but at this point it's a better chance of happening than not.
There will be even more of a female touch in this year's free-to-air league coverage. Regular host Yvonne Sampson will do that job along with Peter Sterling as well as doing a sideline role at times. Footy Show co-host Erin Molan has been drafted into the Friday night sideline duties.
FOCUS ON BURGESS
Sam Burgess is an excellent media talent and it's no surprise he is being offered to networks to play a big role in that area. It would appear he is eyeing off a career in the media. Right now he is behind the likes of Paul Gallen and Mick Ennis, but he will develop.
His English accent is not seen as a major turn-off, but at this point it's clearly better seeing him talk rather than trying to decipher him in commentary. As he spends more time around his teammates his accent will soften.
Burgess has been living in the heart of Roosters territory in Bondi and lapping up the lifestyle with wife Phoebe, but he has bought a beautiful home in south Coogee. His brother is also in the market for a Coogee property.
ENNIS GETTING AHEAD
Mick Ennis is as important to the Sharks as Johnathan Thurston is to the Cowboys. Like Thurston, Ennis now has a head-gear sponsor. His massive head cut last year converted him to head gear and he's now happy to be a Canterbury ambassador.
Safety first: Michael Ennis is now a Canterbury head-gear ambassador
POLITIS SBW KEY
Roosters fans who are dismayed at what has taken place at their club need to know that Nick Politis is their only hope of luring Sonny Bill Williams back to the eastern suburbs and it's got nothing to do with money.
There is a crucial meeting coming up in the next few days between Politis and Khoder Nasser.
Politis is in the position to make an offer to Williams because so many of the team's talented players have left the club. The Michael Jennings departure was always budgeted for, but it came a year early. Sooner or later Politis will need to know what SBW wants to do so they can start working out which players should be targeted for 2017 and beyond.
The problem is that Williams is in no hurry. If cash was the key component the Roosters would have no chance; the money on offer from French rugby and even English Super League is immense.
Politis has a real personal connection with Williams and there is huge mutual respect. It's the best thing the Roosters have going for them. Williams' next deal will need to take into account his life after football.
Make no mistake, the Silvertails are back ready for the big time. One could feel the excitement oozing out of the players, coaching staff and sponsors at Manly's classy launch at Luna Park last week.
Players like Dylan Walker and Martin Taupau joked their way through interviews as the Sea Eagles cleverly went live into television news. It was clear to all present that new coach Trent Barrett has quickly won over his senior players.
In a good space: Manly coach Trent Barrett has quickly won over his players. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
The night was a triumph for four new life members – Jamie Lyon, Brett Stewart, Steve Matai and Brent Kite. Matai sent a message via video as he was at the bedside of his partner Kate who gave birth to a baby boy the following day.
It proved a great night for Stewart, the Prince of Brookvale, who bought two $5 tickets in a raffle for a $3000 diamond and sapphire ring donated by Sam Rahme from Affinity Diamonds, the maker of the NRL grand final rings. Stewart's number came up and he immediately presented the ring to his mum Narelle. It was a nice touch by the Snake who looks certain to miss Friday's round one clash against the Bulldogs at Brookvale.
MY SKD SHOCK
An interview that featured Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Jessica Peris professing their love for one another did not seem like anything out of the ordinary when it was aired on Nine News on July 28.
The story featured the pair sharing a kiss outside NRL headquarters. I asked Peris to meet him there because SKD had re-signed with the Roosters and I was looking for a more human angle to the story. She agreed in a flash and waited for over an hour on a particularly cold and windy day for him to finish.
This was shortly before they broke up and well and truly after most of the drama they had been through as a couple. I would have never picked there was an issue; their words and, more than that, Jessica's willingness to wait around to do an interview and praise her man made the initial split a real shock.