Newcastle CEO Phil Gardner is cautiously optimistic the "penny has finally dropped" when it comes to poor off-field behavior with Knights players set to return to training on Saturday after an incident-free holiday period.
The Knights boss said a stronger leadership group and "more maturity across the board" from the players along with harsher penalties had contributed to a vast improvement in behavior.
"There hasn't been a drama at all and it's the first year where I haven't had to worry about a thing," Gardner said.
"Clearly, you never know what's around the corner but right now, I could not be happier with how the players have been behaving and handling themselves."
It's a far cry from 12 months ago when the club was dealing with separate off-field incidents involving prop Jacob Saifiti and centre Tautau Moga.
Saifiti was involved in a much-publicised incident outside a Hamilton hotel that left him with a broken leg while Moga pleaded guilty in court to assaulting a taxi-driver outside a Newcastle night club following a day at the races.
In response to both incidents, the Knights introduced a severe fining system in a bid to curb poor off-field behavior. Saifiti was docked $25,000 and had a further $25,000 fine suspended despite being cleared of criminal involvement by police.
Moga was fined $60,000 with half of that figure suspended pending no further infringements. He was also suspended for two games by the club at the insistence of the NRL's Integrity Unity.
Gardner has no doubts the club's decision, backed by owners Wests Group, to slap players with far stiffer penalties than in the past, has had an effect. It's a stance that has been expanded on and adopted across the board by the NRL.
"There is no doubt they [the players] realise now the penalties are very harsh and the penny has dropped - that's certainly part of it," Gardner said.
"But I think generally, there is more maturity in the club. There is more leadership here now at player level as well with everyone a little bit older and a little bit wiser. There is more responsibility and far more accountability. Fingers crossed, it remains that way."
While the Knights have been squeaky clean since the end of last season, the same can't be said for elsewhere in the NRL with Melbourne Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Brisbane Broncos tearaway David Fifita involved in separate incidents in Bali during their off-season break.
Video of Asofa-Solomona wildly swinging punches outside a Bali nightspot in response to an attack on Storm teammate Suliasi Vunivalu in late October went viral on social media. He was later suspended for three end-of-season Tests by the NRL.
Fifita spent three days in a Bali jail after allegedly punching a security guard but was freed after coming to a "peace arrangement" with the victim. The NRL was widely criticised following the Integrity Unit's decision to take no further action against Fifita.
Gardner has no doubts those incidents and the media storm that followed was a reminder to every NRL player of their off-field obligations.
"In many respects, they have seen what's happened with our friends in Bali and I'm sure that's been another bit of a wake up call as well," he said. "There is plenty at stake for players who opt to do the wrong thing."
Gardner also quipped that the influence of new coach Adam O'Brien may have contributed to a quieter holiday period off the field.
"The players have definitely lifted to Adam's style of management and his tough demands on the training paddock," he said.
"I don't think any of them have had enough energy left to play up."
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