All Blacks first-five Beauden Barrett could be about to make a shock move from the Hurricanes to the Blues, a transfer a long time in the making and which would have a huge impact on the fortunes of both franchises.
The two-time World Rugby player of the year was close to joining the Blues in 2016, instead signing again with the Hurricanes, where he has been since 2011. But the Herald understands the underperforming Auckland-based franchise have never given up luring the quality playmaker north and will privately hope they have done enough to get him over the line this time.
Barrett is the one key All Black yet to declare his intentions after this year and initially wanted to announce his re-commitment to New Zealand Rugby alongside Brodie Retallick, who released his contract news today.
The longer the 28-year-old Barrett, who has played 73 tests, leaves it to confirm his intentions, the more likely it is that he will be joining the Blues because he will be aware any impending move will serve as a potential distraction to the Hurricanes, who play Leon MacDonald's side in Wellington on Saturday, and have already qualified for a home quarter-final.
Confirmation of his exit would be a huge blow to a franchise who won their maiden championship in 2016
Asked for comment, Blues chief executive Michael Redman sent the Herald a one-line statement which said: "Our policy remains unchanged that we never comment on speculation around player or staff recruitment."
The Blues have sought a quality No10 for many years, but for various reasons have either failed to recruit one – Barrett, Dan Carter and even former England international Jonny Wilkinson have turned them down – or develop their own. It is the one major reason why they haven't won a Super Rugby title since 2003.
A complicating factor is that even if he does move north, Barrett won't play for the Blues until 2021 because he is planning to take a sabbatical next year. That could involve playing in Japan or Europe, or simply taking some time off.
Late last year reports emerged out of France that clubs were willing to pay upwards of $2 million a year to lure Barrett to Europe.
The Blues, who have missed out on the Super Rugby playoffs for the eighth straight season, currently have three first-five options - Otere Black, Harry Plummer and Stephen Perofeta.
Last month, Hurricanes head coach John Plumtree told Radio Sport's D'Arcy Waldegrave his discussions with Barrett about his decision had been positive.
"First prize for us is that he stays at the Hurricanes in some capacity," Plumtree said.
"There might be a sabbatical involved or he might decide to go and play overseas. The chats that I've had with him have all been pretty positive around playing for New Zealand Rugby and his future in New Zealand Rugby, so I think we can probably wait for the rest."
Barrett recently told Radio Sport Breakfast he hoped to be able to announce his plans soon.
He said when re-signing with New Zealand Rugby and the Hurricanes in 2016: "I love playing for the All Blacks and representing my country in the black jersey and I'm loving my footy at the moment.
"The All Blacks are an incredibly special team to be part of and I'm looking forward to playing my role and adding my small part to the legacy over the next few years.
"As well, with the Hurricanes, we've built a great culture at the club and it's an exciting time to be involved with a great bunch of guys and a quality coaching staff. Next year I'm looking forward to doing everything I can to help build on our success this year.
"I'm also a proud Taranaki man, proud of my roots and stoked to be recommitting to my home province."
Barrett married long-time partner Hannah Laity on Rakino Island, near Auckland in January.