DURING his rugby league career, Kieran Pearce has played in nine first grade grand finals.
And when he runs on the Collegians Sporting Complex on Sunday with his Jamberoos Superoos to battle the Kiama Knights, in the 2019 Group Seven decider, it will make it 10.
Although he wouldn't trade any of the seven with Gundagai or two with Bega, Pearce admits this grand final will be one of the most special he's been a part of - for two reasons.
The first is because of the Jamberoo club.
"Jamberoo is a great tight-knit footy club, which reminds me of back home at Gundagai," Pearce said.
"Country footy clubs like this are hard to come by and I've loved every minute of the past 18 months I've been here - it's one of those clubs where everyone is willing to help each other out, no matter what."
This other reason can be seen on the front of the Superoos jersey - a logo of their fallen mate Joey Rose.
"Joey's logo on the front of our jerseys illustrates the impact he had on everyone at the club, in such a short time (he and his partner Chelsea joined the Roos at the start of 2018)," Pearce said.
"There's no doubt the boys have been playing for him all year - it's galvanised the group and we are as tight as any team I've ever been a part of."
Unlike most at the Kevin Walsh Oval based club, Pearce knew Rose since he was nine years of age, as he grew up playing with his two older brothers Matt and Chris.
"After finishing boarding school, I moved to Gundagai and started playing under 18s with the Tigers, which Joey's dad Steve was the coach of," Pearce said.
"The Rose family mean the world to me, as I played all my footy at Gundagai with Joey's brothers, while Steve is like a second father to me."
The 2015 season will always be remembered as one of the biggest in the Tigers' history, with them winning three Group Nine premierships.
"That year I was lucky enough to break through and end a 32-year first grade drought with the Tigers, playing alongside Matt and Chris," Pearce said.
"On the same day, Joey's reserve grade and Chelsea's women's league tag side won their grand finals too - it was one of my favourite days being involved with footy."
But after spending from 2002-2009 and 2012-2017 at Gundagai, with a two-year stint in Bega squeezed in the middle, Pearce and his wife Ashlee decided to make a coastal move.
"At that time, Ashlee and I had just got married and were expecting our first child, so we wanted to move closer to her family in Manly," he said.
"So we chose Wollongong and I always said I wanted to play for Jamberoo at some point during my career - I early joined them instead of Bega when Matt Schubert was at the club.
"We made the move and I joined the club before the June 30 deadline, which was exciting.
"It was an added bonus that Joey and Chelsea were already at the club."
Unfortunately, Pearce and Rose would only spend a matter of months together at the club, as the latter took his life at the end of 2018.
"Joey's passing is one of those tough things we all had to get past together but definitely not forget - he and his family will always be in the back of my mind," Pearce said.
"He made an everlasting mark on everyone he met and I'm proud of the man he grew up to be."
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Following Rose's passing, his two former clubs - Gundagai and Jamberoo - decided to hold the inaugural Joey Rose Cup as a pre-season match.
"It was great to see the heart and spirit of the two clubs come together for Joey and his family," Pearce, who didn't actually play on the day, said.
"The two clubs had actually played a trial match in 2018 but on the back of this year's event in Gundagai, I know both clubs are keen to make an annual tradition."
Looking ahead to Sunday, the Roos will be out to claim their second premiership in three seasons, when they kick-off at 4pm.
And although the majority of Jono Dallas' 17-man squad were part of the 2017 drought breaking premiership, Pearce admits that season has very little bearing on this year's campaign.
"2017 or even 2018 haven't been mentioned for that matter because neither impact this year," he said.
"Sure there's not the same sense of expectation as 2017, as the boys hadn't won a competition in 43 years but all the boys know the task at hand.
"We have a strong mix of youth and experience and there's a real excitement around the club.
"In terms of my role, I'll be aiming to make an impact off the bench and play the best footy I can - if we all do that, the result will take care of itself."
Making Sunday even bigger for Jamberoo and the Rose family is the fact Chelsea Tout's Superoos team will be looking to avenge last year's WLT loss to Kiama from 9.50am.
"I know Joey would be chuffed that both Chelsea and I are in our respective grand finals," he said.
"Chelsea is a great footballer and an even better person and I know she will look to the stars and want to give her best for Joey.
"Hopefully we can all sit down and have a drink on Sunday, after winning two premierships, and remember the bloke that Joey was."
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