SEA Eagles stalwart Glenn Stewart is keenly awaiting word from Manly about his future at Brookvale, declaring a burning desire to finish-up as a one-club player.
Whether Manly can find room in their tight salary cap to keep Stewart shapes as the most vexing point of 2014 for the Sea Eagles, who have enjoyed a relatively smooth summer to ease the pain of last year's grand final defeat.
The creative Origin and Test back rower is a mainstay of Manly's sustained excellence over the past decade. Like other senior stars, Stewart agreed to back-end his contract to ensure the side would not suffer the routine decimation that's become the accepted price of success.
However, the strategy puts Manly's salary cap under immense strain when those players reach the final year of their contract, which triggers the accumulation of increase clauses and bonuses to be paid in one hit.
Now 30, Stewart has witnessed enough of his team mates - including brother Brett - endure similar negotiations, and appreciates the juggling act might prove impossible.
Interest from Parramatta last year and Canberra during the off-season have opened his eyes to the possibility of playing elsewhere, but it's a prospect Stewart mostly wants to avoid.
"I would love to stay at Manly - it's been a such a huge part of mine and my family's life," he said.
"I don't want to go anywhere, but at the same time I can understand the club is under a lot of pressure with the salary cap. My manager has been talking to Manly and we're waiting to hear back about what they want to do.
"I know some players have taken less money to stay, or sacrificed money to the later years of their contract. I think that the quality of people here. It's only when it gets to an unreasonable amount and you can't bridge the gap, that's when people have had to leave.
"I'm a realist, but I don't want to think too far ahead because my priority is to stay. I started thinking about becoming a one-club player last year when I realised my contract was up (at the end of 2014). The set-up is great here and I've made so many great friends.
"I don't really want to go and play anywhere else, but if that happens I'll have to get my head around it."
While part of his mind might be fixed on contract negotiations, Stewart doesn't have to contend with issues concerning his body. Knee surgery hampered his all-round game in 2013, with Stewart unable to complete running sessions at training because of ongoing soreness that also forced him to pull-out of NSW Origin calculations.
"I was so far off the pace last year, but this is the best pre-season I've had in three or four years and my body feels like it did back then," he said.
"I'm really hoping to up it this year, because last year I was a long way from my best."
Apart from Richie Fa'aoso's retirement because of a broken neck suffered late last year, Manly's squad is firing fit. Thanks to the salary cap squeeze, there's been no big name signings, although the club is now in the market for a top line front rower after the departure of experienced props Brent Kite, George Rose, Joe Galuvao and David Gower. The return of co-captain Jason King from shoulder surgery will help balance those losses, while Brenton Lawrence and James Hasson must build on their impressive 2013 performances to ensure Manly are dominant up front.
"There's some good opportunities for the young blokes up front and they've been training the house down," Stewart said.
"I don't think we are going to lose anything there. In fact I think we're ahead of the same time last year. These new guys will add some strings to our bow."
The Sunday Telegraph