Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph has revealed that he is resigned to All Blacks World Cup first five-eighth Colin Slade leaving his franchise and returning to the Crusaders next season.
Slade has been with the Highlanders for the last three years and has been restricted by various injuries but in recent weeks he has started to show the form he is capable of producing.
All Blacks first five Dan Carter is expected to take a sabbatical at the start of next year's Super Rugby season so there will be a vacancy with the Crusaders which Slade is considering.
"He's definitely looking at his options," Joseph told Sportal.
"His first two years were ruined by injury, he made a late start this year and it would be disappointing to lose him now just as he's starting to come right.
"He has the option to go back to Christchurch and that is something he is working through now. If he moves we'll be looking for another first five."
Joseph said that he is still waiting for All Black midfielder Ma'a Nonu to let him know about his plans for Super Rugby next year.
"Ma'a was offered a contract in April and he is yet to sign it. We want him but he hasn't signed so that suggests he's not sure."
Joseph said that it would be great to have former All Black Brad Thorn back for another Super Rugby campaign next season.
"Brad has been great. He's played well every week and he's set a tremendous example, on and off the field. He is an absolute professional."
The Highlanders coachg said that All Black prop Tony Woodcock in contracted to the end of next year's Super Rugby season while his fellow front rower captain Andrew Hore, 34, has yet to confirm his plans for next year.
In the outside backs Hosea Gear, Tamati Ellison and Kade Poki will go off contract although Ellison could return next season if the NZRU allow him as a foreign based player.
The Highlanders victory over the weekend has moved them off the bottom of the Super Rugby standings and Joseph said that they are determined to end their season positively against the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday.
"They're quite a tenacious team. Australian teams this year have been hard to track."
"They'll be difficult, particularly at home, and they'll be fresh (their last Super Rugby game was on June 7) while we've got a very short turnaround.
"We scored some brilliant individual tries against the Hurricanes and they were signs of a team wanting to attack. But we're still seeking that 80-minute performance.
"We've had two yellow cards in each of the past two games and you simply can't afford that. It's something we have to eliminate, as well as going to sleep on defence. We want our discipline improved."
No.8 Mose Tuiali'i was an injury concern for this week after he rolled his ankle against the Hurricanes but is now expected to play while Joseph said that his two young flankers TJ Ioane and Elliot Dixon, had shown in recent weeks "they can create something out of nothing."