Kyle Stanley's immediate playing future is in doubt after the St George Illawarra youngster seriously re-injured his right knee.
It is the same injury that caused him to miss a large chunk of the 2012 season and will be Stanley's fourth reconstruction, having had two previous reconstructions on his left knee as a teen.
It is believed that Stanley, 21, has re-ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and was told of the crushing news late last week.
The injury leaves coach Steve Price with a dearth of options for halves, with Nathan Fien likely to partner Soward at the scrum base while Manly recruit Josh Drinkwater could be the club's only genuine back-up half.
Rugby League Medical Officers Association spokesman Sam Sorrenti, a knee specialist, said Stanley could make a comeback from his latest injury setback.
"If he has just ruptured his ligament and has no other damage then there is nothing to stop him from from having a successful career," Dr Sorrenti said.
"The only thing that may affect him is his mental state.
"If he has torn a meniscus or has done some damage to the ailing joint, it could lead to an early onset of arthritis."
While Dr Sorrenti said it was "very rare" for a ligament to rupture twice, he said a player was 20 to 30 per cent more likely to seriously injure their other knee.
"He may have some hereditary weakness," Dr Sorrenti said. "It could also be the structure of his knee joint; or on the other hand, it could be just a high element of bad luck.
"He may have to change the way he lands when he jumps, or the way he steps."
The injury comes as a cruel blow to the talented St George junior, who was pushing to fill a spot in the halves following Ben Hornby's retirement.
He has spent his 37 top-grade games as a relative nomad, switching between positions, but is keen to settle on his favoured five-eighth spot.
Stanley lasted just minutes as a replacement for Jamie Soward in the Dragons' round 19 clash against Cronulla.
"I was hoping it wasn't the worst-case scenario," Stanley said in August. "I knew what I had to go through, but now I'm mentally stronger. I know what I've got to do to get stronger to be back next year.
"I was playing five-eighth, my preferred position, and I only got five minutes at it."
St George & Sutherland Shire Leader