NZ Warriors plan to afford expectant father Shaun Johnson every opportunity to board the plane to Sydney for this weekend's match against Parramatta Eels.
Johnson and wife Kayla are awaiting the birth of their second child, who's due to arrive this week, putting his status for what would be his 200th NRL game on tenterhooks.
The unofficial cut-off point will be after Friday's captain's run, when the team depart Auckland to head across the Tasman, and coach Andrew Webster says they have no expectations either way as to whether their star half is aboard.
"It's down to mother nature," said Webster after Wednesday's training at Mt Smart. "That's all it is.
"He's keen to play if it works out. If it doesn't work out, then he won't. Nobody is going to begrudge someone the birth of their child, so we're fully supportive on that one.
"We know what we're going to do if he doesn't come, so I'm just going to give him every chance. We'll work it out on Friday."
The club icon's resurgent form has been one of the primary forces behind the reversal in the team's own fortunes and his absence would be keenly felt, particularly coming off the back of the team' worst loss of the season in Friday's capitulation against South Sydney Rabbitohs.
"Shaun's a quality player. He's been one of our best, if not our best, all season and he's your No. 7," Webster added.
"But whoever wears the jersey will do a great job. We'll work that out.
"Often this year, we haven't had every player available and we've done a good job, so I can't see why we can't do it again."
As to Johnson's potential replacement, Webster refused to elaborate, insisting he'd prefer to keep his opposition guessing.
"I'm just going to leave that one private," he said with a grin.
"There's a couple of things I just want to see how they go. We're confident we know what we're doing - we know what we're doing I just don't want to tell people yet.
"I want Parramatta to have to think about it. I don't think it's going to be a huge secret. We've got some options there about how we can move things around."
At the top of that list of options to accompany Luke Metcalf will likely be a Ronald Volkman, who could slot in as a like-for-like replacement for Johnson.
Another leading candidate will be Dylan Walker, with the utility reprising the role he filled temporarily earlier this season as Johnson's halves partner in place of the injured Te Maire Martin.
However, Walker has revealed he's yet to train in the halves this week, which suggests Volkman - who has been playing NSW Cup - would be the frontrunner to wear the No. 7 jersey should Johnson remain in New Zealand.
The Warriors will square off against an Eels side riding a five game win streak, which most recently includes a 48-20 demolition of the Dolphins.
But the timing of the match - so far as the Warriors are concerned - is impeccable, with the Sydneysiders set to be without playmakers Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson, as well as bruising forward Regan Campbell-Gillard absent on State of Origin duty.
Back-rower J'maine Hopgood has been named 19th man in coach Brad Fittler's squad but will likely be released for the match.
But after the Warriors' defeat to the Origin-depleted Brisbane Broncos in Napier in May - another contender for their worst outing of the season - Webster knows all too well the perils of taking on a team filled with younger players desperate to prove a point.
"I think I've rarely them play a bad game there [Commbank Stadium]," noted Webster.
"I think they love this situation…. It's still a great team so we're expecting a really strong performance from them.
"We're expecting a really aggressive hostile start, particularly down there. Parramatta fans, they love their footy. We haven't read too much into it.
"We've just started focusing on the team they've named and we can only play what's in front of us and we think they're a good side."
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