Kiwis captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak may not feature in the upcoming blockbuster league test against Tonga.
Watene-Zelezniak was one of the best performers in the black and white V last year in the tests against Australia and England.
The 23-year-old was a surprise choice as skipper by coach Michael Maguire but more than justified that call with a series of inspirational performances, particularly in the memorable win over the Kangaroos at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
But things have changed.
Watene-Zelezniak has been affected by the malaise at Penrith.
He managed just one try in his first 10 games of the campaign, and his attacking output was down across
the board. The 23-year-old hasn't featured in first grade for almost a month — after asking for permission to explore his options on the open market — and on Friday was officially granted a release from his contract.
With the test at Mt Smart two weeks away, Maguire and his selectors will need to assess if Watene-Zelezniak is mentally and physically ready.
Ideally, Maguire would like to find a place for his leader but will be reluctant to expose him to the kind of pressure he may not be ready for.
"I wouldn't say I'm concerned, but we have to be aware of where he is at when we are going into this test match," Maguire told the Herald on Sunday. "He has obviously been going through a few challenges himself, which I know Dallin will come out of. He is a remarkable young man. I know if everything around him is in a good place, then his football is going to be in a good place.
"It's just making sure those things are in place once we get to that test match. I'll continually chat to him and when that time comes to talk to the selectors, we will make some decisions."
Watene-Zelezniak has been linked with the Cowboys and Eels but is now expected to join the Tigers, if they can fit him into their salary cap.
That will reinforce the already strong relationship between Watene-Zelezniak and Maguire but doesn't guarantee he will be part of the action on June 22.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be favoured for the No1 jersey, while Maguire has several options on the flanks.
Maguire remains hopeful Shaun Johnson will be available for selection. The mercurial Kiwis half has been sidelined since the end of April with a hamstring strain, after limping off during Cronulla's round seven clash with Brisbane.
He is slated to return for the Sharks on Thursday against the Raiders in Canberra. That will give the playmaker just 80 minutes of action before the test but Maguire is optimistic Johnson could be part of the Kiwis equation.
"I've spoken to him a number of times and I hope he will be right for the game," said Maguire.
"But in saying that, we are getting really good depth across the [halves], with Kieran Foran, Benji Marshall, Kodi Nikorima.
"A lot of those boys are playing really good, strong football so it's a good foundation to create depth."
Maguire will show loyalty to incumbents Johnson and Nikorima, although form and fitness will be the ultimate decider.