Knights general manager of football Danny Buderus expects halfback Mitchell Pearce to remain at the club, but his future as captain appears doubtful.
While Pearce wasn't present when Newcastle resumed pre-season training after the Christmas break on Monday, the off-contract 31-year-old's name was a hot topic following a recent off-field incident.
Buderus said it was "a private matter between two parties" and declined to go into great detail. Pearce was reportedly caught texting a female club employee whose partner has friends in the NRL squad.
"I think Mitchell will be a player in 2021 at the Newcastle Knights. At this stage, there's nothing for us to say he won't be a part of us in 2021," Buderus said after confirming the club want to keep Pearce.
However, the latest drama could mean Pearce's time as skipper – a position he has held since moving from the Roosters in 2018 – is over.
Frizell 'starting again' with Knights
"For several months we've been addressing and looking at our leadership model within the club," Buderus said.
"[Coach] Adam O'Brien's a big believer in strong leadership, group leadership, and we need to hone down into that and work it out. We're still to really finalise those decisions and which way we're going to go with the leadership. We're going to take our time and roll it out.
"But we have got some good candidates for leadership within that group. That will be for Adam and his team, more importantly, to work out which way that captaincy will go."
Analysing the Knights' 2021 draw
A review into Newcastle's leadership system was planned prior to the incident, according to Buderus, with there being thought Pearce would be freed-up to play at his best without added responsibility.
O'Brien spoke after last year's finals loss to South Sydney about easing the load on his chief playmaker.
Buderus was adamant the team's focus hasn't been lost. Pearce, who was always going to have a longer break, is due back at training later this week where he is set to clear the air with the group.
"I think there will be an address from Mitchell where we can all move on from that," Buderus said.
"Understanding what he will say to the group, I'm sure it will be enough to make them all move on and not affect what we're all after here and craving here: it's success, to get that trophy and to build towards something special.
"That's never going to change within the group. I'm sure Mitch will be a part of that to make sure that's what everyone aspires to be and do.
I think Mitchell will be a player in 2021 at the Newcastle KnightsKnights general manager of football Danny Buderus
"If handled right, it should be all OK for our players to put it behind them. You know the story, one of our players is close to one of the people within the parties, but he's showed some really good leadership in and around it and understanding what he needs to move on from it."
Prop Daniel Saifiti denied any division in the squad.
"Adsy [O'Brien] has done a real good job of bringing us closer together," he said.
"Even before that, a lot of us boys have come together for four or five years now. We're the type of group that have a lot of older heads and straight-up aggressive people that if there was a split, we'd address it straight away.
"There's not at all [a split]. Some of the boys it would have affected, but me personally, I know there's not one."
Pearce's planned wedding was postponed amid the incident, though he told News Corp the reason was COVID-19 restrictions.
"It's difficult, you could only imagine how he's going," Buderus said.
"Personally, that's the disappointing part of it all, and professionally, it will look after itself, I'm sure."
Buderus added the situation is "not acceptable" and doesn't fit into the kind of culture the club is striving to form.