Blues fly-half Chris Noakes is set to undergo neck surgery which will rule him out of Bay of Plenty's ITM Cup campaign.
The 28-year-old is expected to take between five and six months to recover from the operation on a prolapsed disc which he aggravated towards the end of Blues' Super Rugby campaign.
Noakes started 12 of the Blues' first 14 games this season before missing the last two matches due to a groin injury.
His place in the Blues' starting XV could come under threat next season, with the Auckland-based franchise's expected to announce the signing of rugby league star Benji Marshall within the next few days.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has said Marshall will be well suited to playing at fly-half.
Noakes' absence clears the way for Willie Ripia to be Bay of Plenty's first-choice pivot this season.
Ripia's career suffered a setback 18 months ago when the Western Force alleged he had stolen money from team-mates.
The former Taranaki and Hurricanes playmaker resigned from the Perth-based outfit and returned to New Zealand to seek treatment for problem gambling.