Penrith have released Dallin Watene-Zelezniak immediately from his contract, with the Kiwi captain expected to put pen to paper with a rival club in the coming days.
NRL.com understands Watene-Zelezniak has narrowed it down to two clubs, with the Wests Tigers and Bulldogs the frontrunners to sign him.
His immediate release is expected to set off a domino effect of trades, with Tigers skipper Moses Mbye linked with a move to North Queensland.
It’s understood the Cowboys have held dialogue with from Mbye’s representatives over the past 24 hours after NRL.com revealed his position at the Tigers was under a cloud following Michael Maguire’s intention to dump him to the bench back in round 11.
Any potential departure of a player from the Tigers will likely allow the joint-venture club to secure Watene-Zelezniak’s services.
The Cowboys have met Watene-Zelezniak about luring him to Townsville, however the former Panthers winger is reluctant to relocate with two young kids.
The Eels have also pulled out of the race to sign the New Zealand international after meeting with him during the week, while the Bulldogs are the other club linked to Watene-Zelezniak.
The Cowboys have also had plans to sign Melbourne’s Scott Drinkwater put on hold, leaving Mbye as a genuine option if the Tigers are willing to part with their skipper.
Mbye, who has been shifted to the centres this week to accommodate Corey Thompson’s shuffle to fullback, is currently being paid by the Tigers and the Bulldogs.
Any potential move could depend on how much the Tigers are willing to chip in, if they are willing to part ways with him at all.
Watene-Zelezniak, 23, was a member of the premiership-winning Panthers' NYC side in 2013 and made his NRL debut the following year.
Watene-Zelezniak played 106 NRL games and scored 41 tries in his time at the club.
"As a local junior and a product of the Panthers development system, Dallin has given our club great service," Panthers CEO Brian Fletcher said.
"While we’re obviously disappointed to release him, we do so knowing it is in the best interests of both parties.
"We extend our sincere thanks to Dallin for his contribution at Panthers and wish him the best of luck for the future."
Speaking before news of the release was announced, Kiwis teammate Isaac Liu backed Watene-Zelezniak to play against Tonga in a fortnight despite him not playing club football with the Panthers for a month.
The Test squad is announced on June 16.
Kiwis coach Michael Maguire has indicated he will stick with Watene-Zelezniak as captain if he's in the right head space to play, but also conceded the 23-year-old's situation was far from ideal.
Liu hoped to see him back in the black jersey of New Zealand later this month.
"He really led us well last year in those Test matches last year and on tour he was full of voice," the Sydney Roosters forward told NRL.com.
"He was playing out of his skin at fullback. That will be a decision for Madge but I know I'll be putting my hand up to be a part of the team."