Wests Tigers have tabled Josh Addo-Carr a multimillion-dollar, four-year deal but the challenge of finding Melbourne a replacement continues after Alex Johnston said he wants to remain in Sydney.
NRL.com understands that the Tigers offer for Addo-Carr to play fullback has made them the leading contender for his services.
The deal would see Addo-Carr return to the Tigers - where he debuted five seasons ago - until the end of 2025.
The Wests Tigers are yet to make an official announcement on the matter.
It's believed that other Sydney-based sides have also registered offers with Addo-Carr's new manager Mario Tartak, though he declined to comment when contacted by NRL.com on Monday.
As well as Addo-Carr, it's expected Panthers veteran James Tamou will make a call on his future soon after being pursued as a potential leader of the Tigers young front-row cohort.
Papenhuyzen and Addo-Carr are at it again
Addo-Carr's release from his Storm contract is still dependent on Melbourne getting an outside back in return.
That critical element, the terms of which were agreed to by Addo-Carr last year when he requested a return to NSW on compassionate grounds, presents several scenarios that are all still in play.
The Tigers have considered offering a straight player trade between the clubs, while Melbourne can also source a winger from another NRL rival.
South Sydney's Alex Johnston had loomed as a possible option as he offers similar try-scoring prowess to Addo-Carr, with 97 tries from 138 NRL outings.
However, after initial talks Johnston is understood to have told Melbourne he and his partner's preference is to stay in Sydney, with Victoria's COVID-19 situation playing a part in his decision.
Every try from round 17
Johnston was told midway through the year that salary cap pressure would force him out of Redfern at the end of 2020.
Manly has been touted as another option for the 25-year-old.
The Rabbitohs have however revisited attempts keep Johnston in red and green next year, and may be able to do so if teen sensation Joseph Suaali chooses rugby union and the Waratahs over South Sydney's three-year offer.
The Storm are already slated to lose Fijian star Suliasi Vunivalu to the 15-man game next season after the Queensland Reds ensured his own lucrative offer for 2021 would be guaranteed by the franchise.
Vunivalu is set to be named in Craig Bellamy's 21-man squad for Sunday's clash with North Queensland, with a call to be made on a surprise early return from his broken jaw to be made later in the week.