Knights coach Adam O'Brien says the "genuine remorse" expressed by Mitchell Pearce over his off-season text messaging scandal will "galvanise" his squad as he steps down from the club captaincy.
Pearce said on Thursday that he is now "taking steps to address the issues" that led to his resignation. He read from a prepared statement and did not take questions from the media.
O'Brien insisted the decision was made by Pearce alone and conveyed to he and CEO Phil Gardner earlier this week before the ex-Origin halfback later broke down telling teammates of the move.
Pearce's wedding was postponed on Christmas Eve after his messages to a female club employee were revealed, with teammate Lachlan Fitzgibbon understood to be friends with the partner of that employee.
The 31-year-old's behaviour had raised the prospect of animosity among Newcastle's squad, but O'Brien said the opposite had taken place amid the incident's fall out.
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"The group is not divided," O'Brien said.
"If anything, Tuesday served as probably galvanising them a little bit. They understand that the team is like a family. They understand that family members make mistakes.
"We're a good family. You don't turn your back on family members, you support them. That's what the team spoke about.
"There was genuine remorse in that meeting and I think the players could see that clearly that there was a guy standing up there that was genuinely owning a mistake - a big mistake that's hurt some people.
"That fact was clear was to the playing group. I think that's what galvanised the group. They realised they need to get around a family member."
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In his brief statement, Pearce said he had resolved that giving up the Newcastle captaincy – which he has held since arriving at the club in late-2017 – was best for the club.
"For me, it’s been a traumatic few weeks for my personal life and for those I love," Pearce said.
"Unfortunately, my actions have impacted the team and more importantly the people I have closest to me - Kristin and my family.
"I’m taking steps now to address these issues and I feel it would be in the best interest of the club to step down as captain for this season.
"I love this club and I love my family and I’m committed to working as hard as I can to be the best man I can be, both on and off the field. I’d appreciate some respect moving forward and a bit of time to get back to training."
O'Brien was reluctant to be drawn on Pearce's future at the club beyond 2021 after delicate contract negotiations were put on hold over the Christmas break.
A pay cut from the multi-million-dollar, four-year deal that first lured him to Newcastle as a star signing in 2017 loomed well before his latest off-field drama.
We're a good family. You don't turn your back on family members, you support themKnights coach Adam O'Brien
"It's probably not the priority for today," O'Brien said.
"The number one thing for Mitch is to get out on that field with his teammates today.
"I will say this, Mitchell Pearce's best football is a huge asset to this club and that doesn't go lightly with his teammates. They've expressed that.
"They want to see Mitchell out there playing his best football and I think those discussions will naturally take place."
As for a captaincy successor, Newcastle hierarchy has been considering a change since the end of 2020, with O'Brien weighing up a new leadership model "for the past six months".
Senior contenders for a captaincy role, be it as a sole skipper or co-captains model, include injured half Blake Green and representative forwards David Klemmer and Tyson Frizell.
O'Brien said he was already wary of the pressure Pearce was under throughout 2020 as he led the Knights back to finals football despite a dip in his own form and a constant change-over of halves partners.
"Take this situation out of it and I felt last year Mitch was under immense pressure in terms of the injury we had," O'Brien said.
"There’s enough pressure on the number seven regardless if he’s the captain or not.
"I know Mitchell Pearce playing his best football as our number seven will naturally lead in the game.
"So I’m content with not having the 'c' beside his name because I know he will lead because of the position he plays in the team and the person that he is.
"I’m not going to allow [Pearce's off-field drama] to speed up a process that will take place over the next month and that will give us time to announce who will be the best leaders for us this season and that will allow them to train those traits in pre-season."