Benji Marshall has denied there is a major issue between he and his head coach Paul McGregor but it is looking more likely by the day that his time at the St George Illawarra Dragons is coming to an end.
Reports out of Australia this morning suggest the Dragons have called off negotiations with Marshall's management over an extension. The former Kiwis captain is off-contract at the end of the season and is keen to continue his NRL career but there doesn't appear to be significant interest in his services from the Dragons or rival clubs.
The 31-year-old was one of the game's elite players a few seasons ago (he won the Golden Boot at the best player in the world in 2010) but as age has caught up with him Marshall has changed his style of play. He still has plenty to offer a first grade side but is also no longer one of the game's premier halves.
The veteran of over 250 first grade games could add much needed experience to a handful of clubs but his asking price will need to match what would be a significantly reduced role next season. Marshall won't want to go to a club where he isn't a starting half, which limits his choices.
Let's examine his options.
Clubs that will have no interest in him:
Broncos (Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford)
Raiders (Aiden Sezer and Blake Austin)
Bulldogs (Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds)
Sharks (Chad Townsend and James Maloney)
Titans (Ash Taylor, Kane Elgey and Tyrone Roberts)
Knights (Trent Hodkinson and Jarrod Mullen)
Cowboys (Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan)
Panthers (Nathan Cleary and Te Maire Martin)
Rabbitohs (Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker)
Roosters (Mitchell Pearce, Connor Watson and Ryan Matterson)
Tigers (Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses)
Current team the Dragons according to reports
That leaves four teams - the Sea Eagles, Storm, Eels and Warriors, who are not set in the halves for 2017 and may have some interest in his services at the right price.
The Sea Eagles are believed to be chasing Storm five-eighth Blake Green hard. It is expected he will go to the Northern Beaches next season so assuming that happens Marshall is down to three options. He could become an option for Manly should Green opt to sign elsewhere.
The Storm is likely to move exciting rookie Curtis Scott to the halves next season if Green leaves as a free agent as expected. They wouldn't want to pay much but if Marshall's motivation was to play first grade and money wasn't so much of a factor the Storm are a possibility and might be his best bet though that would mean a move away from Sydney.
The Eels are a mess and need to completely rebuild now that Kieran Foran has left and Jarryd Hayne isn't coming back in his place. Suspended half Corey Norman was playing well before his off-field indiscretions and is rumoured to be close to re-signing with the club. It is hard to see the Eels thinking of Marshall as a worthy stop-gap measure in what will clearly be a season or two of rebuilding their roster and their entire organization after a horror 2016. Marshall would hardly be motivated to play for a club in disarray and in rebuild mode whilst taking a big drop in salary at the same time.
The Warriors might be the best fit for Marshall but they don't appear to be interested in him. They have a fairly settled roster but have an opening in the halves with Thomas Leuluai heading back to England at the season's end. Coach Andrew McFadden and managing director Jim Doyle have made it clear they see Tuimoala Lolohea as Johnson's halves partner next season but the versatile Lolohea is yet to be proven as a first grade half. With rookie Ata Hingano and 2015 rookie Mason Lino the only other halves at the club, there is a risk the Warriors will be caught short if the Lolohea experiment doesn't work.
The other thing to add to the mix here is that Foran is taking an indefinite break from the game. Should he be available to play in 2017 there would be a number of clubs interested in his services, which could add other halves to the free agent mix as well.