Taranaki's midfield stocks could be about to get leaner with mystery surrounding Isaia Tuifua's immediate future.
Tuifua, 25, has been playing in Spain in recent weeks and has yet to communicate with his club coach Kelvin McDowell about whether or not he will be returning.
"We're not 100 per cent sure what is happening because we believe it was a short-term contract in Spain," McDowell said.
"He could be coming back but we don't know as yet. We are hoping he will but we really don't know."
Tuifua was one of a number of fringe Taranaki players who were not offered a contract at the end of last season. His Tukapa team-mate, Chris Walker, also missed out and headed to Australia.
Despite being off contract, a Taranaki Rugby spokesman yesterday said the union did think Tuifua would return because his contract in Spain was only for four months.
While he made his debut for Taranaki in 2008, Tuifua has struggled for regular game time, making 26 appearances over five seasons.
Injury has played a part in that, so has the fact he has never really nailed down a permanent position, having been asked to play second five-eighth, centre and wing.
If Tuifua does not return, Taranaki coach Colin Cooper will be without the services of three of his regular midfield players from last season after Jayden Hayward headed to Perth and Willie Rickards retired.
Off-setting Hayward's departure will be the arrival of Hurricanes wider training squad member Ope Peleseuma, who signed a two-year deal from Wellington last year.
Cooper will also have the services of Seta Tamanivalu, who made his debut for Taranaki last season.
While Tamanivalu will turn out for Spotswood United, Peleseuma will continue to play his club rugby in Wellington as he fulfils his Hurricanes commitments.
Meanwhile, former Manawatu loose forward Mitchell Crosswell will line up for Tukapa this season. Crosswell, the younger brother of Chiefs loose forward Nick, had been playing for the Hino Red Dolphins in Japan but did not have his contract renewed.
Crosswell had taken up a job as development officer for Tasman last season before being offered a one-year deal in Japan.
His arrival was welcomed by McDowell, who lost No 8 Mark Atkins to Hawke's Bay several weeks ago.
"He used to train with us, because he is very good friends with Chris Walker," McDowell said. "He hasn't got a contract with Taranaki or anything, he's just going to have a go."
Tukapa will again play in the Spillane Cup early next month as they prepare for the start of the Taranaki senior A competition, which was pushed back to start on April 6 after the withdrawal of Eltham-Kaponga.
- Taranaki Daily News
Does more need to be done to protect NZ passports?