Pressure is mounting on the Canberra Raiders star halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer as the club prepares to revisit contract negotiations in coming weeks with the high profile playmakers.
After three straight losses by a combined five points to start 2018, Austin was dropped to an extended bench by Ricky Stuart for Saturday's crucial clash with Manly Warringah Sea Eagles.
The 2015 Dally M five-eighth may yet come into the Raiders game-day 17 given Sezer is battling a back injury, but the side's slow start has both men under the pump given last year’s fall out of finals football and the off-season signings of fellow halves Sam Williams and Ata Hingano.
Raiders recruitment manager Peter Mulholland dismissed the suggestion that Austin's demotion put him on the outer at the club, stressing that Canberra had always planned to use the first six weeks of the Telstra Premiership as a barometer for their roster management.
"It's not going to have any effect, 18 just doesn't go into 17 sometimes," Mulholland told NRL.com when asked about Austin's selection and contract prospects.
"We've always said we'd talk after five or six rounds. We've had preliminary discussions, and we've both agreed to look at it again after five or six rounds, so it's still a couple of weeks to go before we pick those up again."
NRL Teams - Round 4
Negotiations between Austin and the Raiders have been ongoing for some time, with the 27-year-old knocking back what's understood to have been a three-year-deal late in 2017.
Time will tell if that was the right move by the one-time NSW Origin prospect, who has been switching between the scrum base and the bench this year as Stuart covers the loss of injured hooker Josh Hodgson.
Sezer has shuffled throughout Canberra's line-up in similar fashion, with persistent rumours of a return to his junior club Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs doing the rounds.
Sezer's manager Sam Ayoub has denied recent reports of a meeting between the former Titans No.7 and Bulldogs coach Dean Pay.
Both the Raiders and Ayoub have flatly denied any suggestion Sezer could seek, or would be granted an early release from his 2018 contract.
Raiders star Josh Papalii backed Austin to return to his best soon enough, declaring the five-eighth won't be out of the run-on side for long if he does not take to Lottoland in pursuit of Canberra's first win in 2018.
"I think he'll be alright, I know Blake as a player and as a person and I think he'll bounce back pretty quickly," Papalii said.
Austin's fall has opened the door for Hingano to make his club debut just a month after moving across the ditch from the Warriors.
With the ability to play in the halves and as a dummy-half or utility, Hingano has been named in the No.14 jumper against Manly.
"He played really well in the World Cup for Tonga, he's a talented kid, he's got good footwork and I reckon he'll go well this weekend if he gets the opportunity," winger Nick Cotric said.
Cotric enjoyed his best individual game of the season last round, making two line-breaks and running for 131 metres with a sensational individual try.
However, the reigning NRL rookie of the year says positive performances that lead to team wins are the true yard stick of success.
"I have been going alright I guess, I just have to keep working on the little things at training," Cotric said.
"The boys have been really helping me out heaps, just hopefully we can get a win this week.
"I do feel a bit more confident after last year, I'm not as nervous as I was last year, but I'm still enjoying my footy, it's still fun and I'm still happy to be out there."