The Gold Coast Titans have stepped up their pursuit of Sam Tomkins, rasing doubts that the Warriors will land their No1 target.
The Herald on Sunday understands that senior Titans officials met with Tomkins and his representatives in England last week. Though he will command a massive salary and hefty transfer fee, Gold Coast have a potential ace up their sleeve - Matt Russell. The under-20s fullback is a former Wigan player who joined the Titans this season after finding his path blocked by Tomkins at the Lancashire club.
Russell appeals as a ready-made replacement and would allay fears at Wigan around replacing the 2012 Man of Steel.
St George have also been linked with the 24-year-old, as have the Roosters though it seems unlikely Tomkins could be squeezed under the salary cap at Bondi Junction.
Meanwhile, a decision on Feleti Mateo's future is expected in the next two weeks.
Insiders say it is still a 50-50 call over whether he will remain at Mt Smart.
The Dragons have aggressively targeted the back-rower and their willingness to pay a reported A$550,000 ($663,000) a year for Storm five-eighth Gareth Widdop indicates their financial muscle.
Despite a huge bid, Penrith missed out last week on their prime target Todd Carney, who re-signed with the Sharks. Since that development, they are now expected to focus once again on luring Mateo, who enjoyed success under Ivan Cleary.
While the Warriors remain hopeful that Mateo will choose to re-sign, the offers from the Sydney clubs are believed to be more lucrative and the recently confirmed signing of Sharks second rower Jayson Bukuya looks like a form of insurance policy by the Auckland club (though he could also be seen as a direct replacement for Elijah Taylor).
Mateo and wife Michelle are settled in New Zealand but the desire to be close to their Sydney-based families, especially with their first child expected in September, could ultimately be the deciding factor.