Sonny Bill Williams was close to a return for the Blues for their match against the Reds in Brisbane on Friday but has ruled himself out after the team's training run in Auckland today.
The midfielder had been bracketed in the team alongside Ma'a Nonu and he appeared to get through a practice session held in stormy conditions at the team's Alexandra Park headquarters satisfactorily but his troublesome knee, which has kept him on the sidelines since the win over the Stormers on March 30, is not quite 100 per cent.
"He's made big progress," coach Leon MacDonald said after he received the news from Williams.
"We always knew it was going to be a stretch target to make the game considering where he was at [following surgery]. He didn't quite make it through training today so we'll give him another week.
"It's just not quite there; he can't push off it the way he would like."
Given the Blues are unlikely to make the playoffs – they need two big wins from their final two games and hope other results go their way – their last match of the season will probably be against the Hurricanes in Wellington a week on Saturday.
If fit, that's also likely to be Williams' final match for the franchise and probably in Super Rugby because, as the Herald reported on Monday, he has yet to start negotiations on a contract extension and the Blues aren't expecting either the 33-year-old or fellow veteran Nonu, 37, back.
Adding another level of difficulty to their challenge of beating the Reds in Brisbane is the fact both Rieko Ioane and Patrick Tuipulotu are on All Black rest weeks. Another All Black, prop Karl Tu'inukuafe, remains out with illness but has begun light training.
The Blues are determined to play like they remain in the playoffs hunt, but given they have yet to win away from home this year a victory of any sort would be a good result for a team who have again under-performed this season.
Their streak of four consecutive wins in March and April ignited some hope, and their victories over the Highlanders and Chiefs were meritorious, but otherwise they have disappointed again.
"There's always a frustration when you know you're letting other teams in through your own mistakes," MacDonald said. "It's something we've addressed a lot throughout the week.
"We've challenged the group this week to bring a bit more steel around their personal preparation; just little things like the handling and nailing your roles are critical to winning these games and we have to be better this week at that.
"We're only four points away from everyone else … our only option is to play like we can make it. But we also want to show everyone how good a team we can be and go away on the road and put in a performance we can be proud of."
The Blues team to play the Reds at Suncorp Stadium on Friday, kick-off 9.40pm: 15. Melani Nanai, 14. Matt Duffie, 13. TJ Faiane, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 11. Tanielu Tele'a, 10. Otere Black, 9. Augustine Pulu, 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Blake Gibson, 6. Dalton Papalii, 5. Scott Scrafton, 4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. James Parsons, 1. Alex Hodgman.
Reserves: 16. Leni Apisai, 17. Marcel Renata, 18. Lua Li, 19. Tom Robinson, 20. Josh Goodhue, 21. Jonathan Ruru, 22. Harry Plummer, 23. Levi Aumua.