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Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce

Rugby league fans eagerly await Cameron Smith busting the 400-game milestone as it's widely thought he could be the only player to do so.

But in the words of Yoda, "There is another."

Newcastle skipper Mitchell Pearce was the youngest player to 200 games, achieving the feat at the age of 26.

He celebrates his 30th birthday on Sunday as the Knights host the Dragons at McDonald Jones Stadium.

It will be Pearce's 257th NRL game. When Smith turned 30 in 2013, he was up to 251.

"Am I ahead of him?" Pearce asked NRL.com during the line of questioning on who else could reach the 400 mark.

"Good … I’m on track."

Pearce would have been much further ahead if he had not missed virtually a season with his behavioural suspension in 2016 (only played 12 games) and his pectoral tear in 2018 (played 15).

Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce.
Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce. ©Keegan Carroll/NRL Photos

"Have I even thought about 300 games, or more? Your goals change as you get older and you never set out saying ‘I want to play this many games’," Pearce said.

"I’ve always been fit and enjoyed footy so I just wanted to play for as long as I could.

"But as you get older you realise you’ve played a lot of games and those sorts of figures come into play.

"For me though, statistics aren’t that important. It is the experience I can bring to the group now."

Pearce takes being Knights captain and the senior player, very seriously.

"If I was asked what’s the one thing I’ve learned as I head towards 30, it would be that I believe more in the knowledge I’ve gathered," he said.

"I’ve been up and down, had good times and bad, but throughout I’ve been in a lot of good systems - Roosters, Blues, Knights. So the best thing I can pass on now, going into the captaincy role, is experience.

"When I was 20 I didn’t have the life experiences but now I have. I’ve walked the shoes some guys here are now in.

"I will try and focus more now on passing on that knowledge to help other people. I have the confidence now to do that.

"I know I’m a big signing for the club and I have to deliver on it."

But that trademark cheeky grin comes, when Pearce pauses and thinks he's about to leave his 20s behind forever.

"I’ll have to change my nickname from ‘Junior’ to ‘Senior’… but I can't  - that’s my dad," he said.

"You realise when you get to 30 that you’ve been playing for a long time, and that you’re at the back end of your career.

Knights v Dragons - Round 4

"I don’t know how much longer I’ve got but I know it’s coming quicker. I believe I’m enjoying my football now a lot more to be honest.

"I don’t stress as much about what other people think, like I used to. I think that’s maturity coming through.

"For me, I just want to keep enjoying my career as much as I can and keep working as hard as I can for the next four years or so because that’s maybe all I’ll have.

"I want to bring success here. That’s where my head space is at."