ACT Brumbies captain Christian Lealiifano says his next contract decision will be one of the toughest of his career as the veteran agonises over offers from around the world or a chance to stay in Canberra.
The inspirational leader is understood to have attracted offers from France, Ireland and Japan, while the Brumbies are keen to keep him and offered him a new deal in February.
The 31-year-old is a key piece in the Brumbies' contract puzzle for next year and beyond as the club keeps one eye on the future and the other on making a charge to the Super Rugby finals, starting with a clash against the Auckland Blues on Saturday night.
Lealiifano says he is genuinely torn about what he will do next and wants to make the right choice for his rugby and his family as he considers a variety of opportunities.
The skipper will deliberate in the background, but the Brumbies are already making moves to build a strong squad for 2020 and beyond. Those moves include:
- Adding NSW flanker Will Miller to their roster as a No. 7 option while David Pocock considers his playing future;
- Back-rower Tom Cusack set to sign a two-year contract extension with the club in the coming weeks;
- Giant youngster Nick Frost signing a two-year deal to help fill the second-row void left by departing pair Rory Arnold and Sam Carter;
- Scrumhalf Nic White likely to return to Canberra after agreeing to an Australian rugby deal to emerge as a World Cup bolter.
The Brumbies are also working with Matt Lucas and Lachlan McCaffrey in the hope they will re-sign, while the injured Pocock is yet to make a decision on whether he will stay in Australia after the World Cup.
"I'm really enjoying this group ... it's a tough one to weigh up," Leaiifano said. "I had a chat to [coach Dan McKellar] earlier in the week about it and said I was struggling to make a decision.
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"Purely because I find it so hard to leave this place, I love it so much. I think it's getting to crunch time ... I'm trying to get to a point where I'm comfortable to make a decision either way.
"It's nice to know the Brumbies still believe in me, especially after the last couple of years. Since [being diagnosed with leukaemia] I've said a decision won't be about money, it's all down to my health."
Pocock is struggling to overcome a niggling calf injury, which has kept him on the sidelines since March 8. He will miss the next two games, but it is hoped injections will speed up his recovery after initially suffering the injury at a pre-season Wallabies camp.
"I just want to see Poey back, I love playing with him," Lealiifano said. "He's at a stage that if he left now, he would leave a great legacy. But I just want to see him out on the field again."
All the talk about the future and recruitment hasn't overshadowed the Brumbies' push to be championship contenders this season.
They will be aiming to snap a three-game losing run against the Blues when they square off in Canberra this weekend.
It will be the Brumbies' second game in Canberra in nine weeks, but kick-starts a stretch of home games to finish the regular season.
A big win against the Blues could launch the Brumbies to the top of the Australian conference, depending on results in other games.
Lealiifano has played almost every minute of every game this season, averaging 76 minutes per game in his 10 appearances so far this year.
It's a remarkable feat when you consider Lealiifano was told he may never play again after he was diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2016.
Since then he has played in Ireland and Japan between Super Rugby seasons and has been a key figure in the Brumbies' push to get back into the play-offs.
He waited until after the Super Rugby season last year to finalise a dual deal with the Brumbies and a Japanese club and he says there is no timeframe on his next contract decision.
"It's down to me to decide whether I think I can go around again, especially after the last two or three years. It's changed my views on things," Lealiifano said.
"The challenge is always wanted to develop and grow. There's no set date to make a call, but I do want to let the parties know, especially the Brumbies, just to give clarity."
SUPER RUGBY ROUND 12
Saturday: ACT Brumbies v Auckland Blues at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. Tickets available from Ticketek.
Brumbies team: 15. Tom Banks, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Len Ikitau, 12. Irae Simone, 11. Toni Pulu, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 9. Joe Powell, 8. Pete Samu, 7. Tom Cusack, 6. Jahrome Brown, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Rory Arnold, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Folau Faingaa, 1. James Slipper. Reserves: Connal McInerney, Scott Sio, Les Leuluaialii-Makin, Darcy Swain, Murray Douglas, Ryan Lonergan, Tom Wright, Andy Muirhead.
Blues team: 15. Melani Nanai, 14. Matt Duffie, 13. TJ Faiane, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 11. Caleb Clark, 10. Otere Black, 9. Sam Nock, 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Blake Gibson, 6. Tom Robinson, 5. Josh Goodhue, 4. Gerard Cowley, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. Leni Apisai, 1. Alex Hodgman. Reserves: James Parsons, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Marcel Renata, Patrick Tuipulotu, Dalton Papalii, Augustine Pulu, Harry Plummer, Levi Aumua.