Newcastle Knights captain Mitchell Pearce is confident outside noise surrounding Kalyn Ponga's future at the club won't distract the side throughout the year.
Ponga is free to negotiate with rival clubs from November 1 but recent reports linking him to a rugby union stint with the All Blacks has seen the star fullback in the spotlight over the pre-season.
The Knights are desperate to lock Ponga into a long-term deal in the coming months but Pearce told NRL.com the playing group wasn't at all concerned with the situation.
"The thing with KP is he's not one to read the papers and neither are the boys, no one really talks about it," Pearce said.
"We obviously know K's coming off contract and is going to earn good money.
"Hopefully that's with us but it's not a distraction for the team."
Pearce believes Ponga is primed for a big year after falling away towards the end of last season, which coincided with the side's poor finish where they won just two of their last 10 games.
The arrival of rookie coach Adam O'Brien is also expected to challenge Ponga, who will play his 50th NRL game on Saturday.
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"He's a young kid that's working his arse off and has learnt a lot over the last few years," Pearce said.
"Every day I'm seeing his game evolve nicely and he's working as hard as the rest of us and wants success.
"Ads is driving that with him and is adding a few things to his game he hasn't had before. It's what Kalyn wants and it can only be good for the team.
"I just know that he'll be there when it counts this year for us."
Pearce's own form towards the end of last year also brought criticism with some questions asked about his position as captain at the club.
The Knights were virtually unstoppable during a six-game winning streak last season which included Pearce churning out five man-of-the-match performances in a row.
But their finish to the year, along with the departure of Nathan Brown, undid their hard work to get back into finals contention.
"There's things around leadership I want to work on," Pearce said.
"We faded away last year and as a captain I take a chunk of responsibility for that.
"I needed to do better and you learn every year about different things in your game.
"We've reflected on the past and it's over now. We've had a big tick to the pre-season but we know and Ads knows it's about delivering on the field with winning results now.
"We've got a big road ahead of us like every team and we'll be judged on the way we play."
The Knights are expected to name a near full-strength side for their season opener against the Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium.
They've won their past two opening-round clashes in previous years on home turf.
"There's a lot of anticipation with the first game, there's no lack of motivation," Pearce said.
"We'll be coming off the back fence."