Blues coach Leon MacDonald is working on the assumption that neither Ma'a Nonu nor Sonny Bill Williams will return to his side next year.
The two midfielders are not negotiating with the Blues over new
contracts and are likely to take up overseas offers which will rob the backline of a huge amount of experience in MacDonald's second year as head coach.
"We are assuming that they're not going to be there – that's the way we're looking at it," MacDonald told the Herald after Friday's 22-all draw with the Bulls at Eden Park. "It would be more of a surprise to see them stay and play another season in New Zealand - put it that way.
"I'm assuming they're more interested in another option, but if they came back to us and said New Zealand is where they want to be for another year then we'd definitely be talking."
Nonu, who turned 37 last month, still has a few good years in him, going by his form and consistency on his return from France to the Blues for this season. He has played 12 matches at an average of 71 minutes per game and hasn't missed a training session, but despite his consistency he is unlikely to make a dramatic return to the All Blacks due to the talent ahead of him.
Williams, on the other hand, has played only five matches at an average of 48 minutes per game, and is returning from knee surgery which has kept him out of the game since the Blues' 24-9 home victory over the Stormers in round seven on March 30.
The 33-year-old could return for the Blues against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium next Friday and will make the All Blacks Rugby Championship and World Cup squads should he remain fit, but while he can still be a devastating attacker and defender, his playing days appear numbered as almost 15 years at the top level of league and rugby take their toll on his body. Last year he played only six games for the Blues.
In February, Williams hinted to the Herald that this could be his final season with the Blues."It could be, bro, it could be," he said, before suggesting that he was experienced enough to know that plans could change quickly in rugby.
The Blues will miss both Williams and Nonu for their work ethic as much as anything. Both men are dedicated to their craft and put in long hours in the gym and on the field in order to perfect it.
MacDonald will likely be in the market for replacements to back up TJ Faiane and Levi Aumua, with Tanielu Tele'a currently used on the right wing, able to play in the midfield.
One player definitely leaving is lock Scott Scrafton, who has signed with the Hurricanes. Scrafton has been a good performer for the Blues over the last three years and recently returned from a serious knee injury.
The Blues are well off for locks, with Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Josh Goodhue three specialists and loose forward Tom Robinson able to play there too.
The concession of a late converted try to the Bulls on Friday which allowed the visitors to draw the match has all but shut the door on the Blues' playoffs chances.
In order to prgoress they need a minimum of wins against the Reds and then the Hurricanes in Wellington but even unlikely bonus point victories probably won't be enough.
"I've got a really good, clear idea of where we have to go to be successful," MacDonald said as he briefly turned his attention to next season. "I know where my focus areas are going to be when we come together and I know what my focus areas are for recruitment and retention.
"You feel like you're taking a step forward then you go on the park and you're taking three or four but the next day you're taking three back," he said of this season's challenges.
"When we get our mindset right around how we want to play the game, and the right people to do that, that's when we're really going to see some progress."