Australia's rugby board Monday promised to honour players' contracts if their club is axed from Super Rugby – but conceded legal difficulties could force them to keep all five Australian teams.
The Australian Ruby Union, lifting a moratorium on Super contracts, gave assurances to players for the threatened clubs, Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, who have been in limbo over their futures.
"If the process does result in a team leaving the competition, all player contracts will be honoured," ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said.
"The best we can do in terms of certainty is to say to players, 'No matter what the outcome you'll have the certainty of having your contract honoured.'"
The governing body announced plans to cull either the Rebels or Force from the 2018 competition seven weeks ago, as part of moves to slim the bloated Super Rugby schedule from 18 to 15 teams.
But Clyne complained that several "roadblocks" were stopping the ARU from carrying out its proposal, which has become bogged down in legal wrangling.
He said they were still working towards a 15-team competition – with two South African teams also being axed – but his language was far from definitive.
"We're certainly hopeful that the process we announced back in April will come to a conclusion at some point," he told reporters.
"I can't predict when that will be. A lot of elements are outside our control.
"It's hard to say when it will end. All we can do is make ourselves as available to get this process resolved as quickly as possible."
An ARU extraordinary general meeting has been scheduled for June 20 to seek a resolution to the impasse.
The meeting was called by the Victorian Rugby Union and the Rugby Union Players' Association, who both want answers on how the ARU plans to proceed with its intention to cut a team.
Asked by reporters if there was a possibility the ARU could be forced into keeping all five Australian teams, Clyne said it was still intention to reduce to four.
"At this stage we're still working down a process. We remain confident that will result in the process coming to a potential change," he said.
"But it's hard to speculate. Every roadblock that can be thrown in front is being thrown. When you get into a legal process it all becomes difficult."