Newcastle veteran Willie Mason insists he is unaffected by the club's ownership crisis but agreed with coach Wayne Bennett's assessment that off-field unrest had impacted on the team's on-field performance.
In an interview with ABC Radio on Sunday after Newcastle suffered a 23-20 loss to Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium - their sixth straight defeat - Bennett said the Knights had been ''in turmoil for quite a number of months for a whole lot of different reasons'', but he was doing all he could to remain positive and provide the best possible environment for his players.
The Knights Members Club resumed negotiations with the NRL after the game's governing body announced last Friday that it had reached an ''impasse'' in resolving the ownership dispute.
NRL head of club services Tony Crawford said the NRL and Hunter Sports Group had agreed on a settlement package to make the Knights ''one of the financially strongest clubs in the NRL'', but blamed the members club for holding up the process.
''No club is successful with the front office not running well,'' Bennett told the ABC on Sunday. ''That's the thing that I've known all my coaching life. Things out of our control are still spiralling along and all I can do, with everything around us, is make sure that I am upbeat and I am doing the best job I can for them, because I don't want to fail them and I don't want them to use that as an excuse as to why we can't do our best.
''If I turn the other way and go inward or it becomes all about me, or I lose track of what's important, then the season will be an absolute shambles. I'm holding it all together for them to make sure that they do come into training and they enjoy being there. It's the only chance we've got.''
Mason said the Knights had dealt with more drama than most teams. Apart from the uncertainty surrounding the club's ownership and management structure, they have seen one teammate, Alex McKinnon, suffer a career-ending neck injury, and another, Russell Packer, sent to jail.
Though he felt disheartened and disappointed with results in the past six weeks, Mason was satisfied the players were doing their best and were still in good spirits.
''I can see how Wayne can see that, because he's been around the game for 30, 40, 50 years, coaching … he sees the impact of the whole club situation impacting on players,'' Mason said after the team's recovery session at Mayfield.
''Personally, as one of the leaders in the playing group, I don't see it happening. That's my view on the whole thing. It hasn't affected me or the way I play, or the way I approach training, or my whole life … but we've got some really young, impressionable kids in the team, who have seen some things.
''They've seen a good mate go to jail, the Alex McKinnon thing, and they're all excuses.
''Obviously Wayne sees over the whole thing. We don't see that. But it would affect some people. Seventeen players take the field, and if it's affecting five or six of us, that's five or six of us off the mark every game, so who knows?''