Newcastle are poised to revisit contract negotiations again with former captain Mitchell Pearce as thumb surgery adds further disruption to his horror off-season.
Pearce was scheduled to have a small pin inserted in his right thumb on Wednesday afternoon, with his recovery from a training mishap to be completed well before Newcastle's March 12 season opener against Canterbury.
The off-contract half has not ruled out taking part in the February 27 trial against Melbourne, the injury setback coming amid a summer of unwanted headlines for Pearce.
Three weeks ago he was stood down from Newcastle's captaincy when his texting of a female staff member led to his wedding postponed on Christmas eve.
Pearce's latest off-field drama came at a delicate point in contract talks beyond 2021, putting negotiations on hold as he settled back into training and took "steps to address the issues" in his personal life.
Ponga wants to be a leader
NRL.com understands the Knights will look to start those negotiations once more in coming weeks, though a pay cut from Pearce's original multimillion-dollar, four-year deal still looms.
A one-year deal is expected to be tabled by the club given where Pearce, 31, is at in a career that started before his 18th birthday and spanned 297 NRL games to date.
While Pearce's future made for plenty of newsprint after Newcastle's 2020 finals return, both he and the club have reiterated plans for him to stay put beyond his current contract.
Knights sources have indicated Pearce remains a part of their post-2021 plans.
"I'm not too sure what's going to happen there," Pearce said when asked about staying beyond 2021.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time, you never know what's going to happen around the corner.
"I'd love to stay here but at the moment I'll get the operation, get a good sleep and then I'll worry about winning the day tomorrow."
The 31-year-old did not dwell on his personal life when asked about his mental state, saying: "It’s a private matter so we’re working on it privately, but things are going well."
The former NSW halfback said his teammates had supported him in the weeks since he relinquished the captaincy in early January, delivering the news to them in an emotional address before it was made public.
Lachlan Fitzgibbon told NRL.com that he and his teammates have moved on from the drama, with the back-rower understood to be friends with the partner of the club staffer Pearce had texted.
"It's more than professional," Fitzgibbon said.
"We've moved on as a club and moved on as blokes. We're a tight family here and our focus is to get on with it and look forward to round one. That's what we've done."
Pearce was not considered for the five-man leadership group Newcastle named on the weekend.
But like the rest of his teammates, his opinion was voiced before Blake Green, Kalyn Ponga, Mitch Barnett, Daniel Saifiti and Jayden Brailey were locked in.
Green is believed to favourite for the captaincy which will be named at Newcastle's official season launch in March.
Pearce said despite relinquishing the captain's armband he has worn since arriving in the Hunter in late-2017, he planned to lead the side as always from the scrumbase.
"I'm still going to be doing my best and leading as well as I can," Pearce said.
"There was obviously reasons to why that happened, we all know that. It's not going to change my motivation. I've come out of this more motivated than I've ever been.
"Stepping down as [captain] in no way is me looking for an out or to escape from anything.
"I'm more motivated than I've ever been. I'll be leading as well as I can in the way that I do it."