The Melbourne Rebels are hopeful of having Fijian flyer Sefanaia Naivalu on deck for round one of the Super Rugby competition as he continues his comeback from a badly broken leg.
The 23-year-old suffered the injury in round 16 in late May and was forced to remain behind in South Africa for surgery.
“Super Sefa” became a Melbourne crowd favourite in his first Super Rugby season, turning on the jetburners to score four tries in 13 games.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan said Naivalu was on track for their season opener on February 27 against the Western Force in Perth.
“He’s on target; he’s been working really hard on his really serious injury,” McGahan said.
“We hope to have him back in and around in January sometime to get back into it.
“He’s making progress but it’s one of those slow and cumbersome injuries.”
Halfback Nic Stirzaker also underwent off-season shoulder surgery but planned to be ready to get back into the pre-season slog next month and be in full-contact training by Christmas.
McGahan said the Rebels had all positions in the squad filled, adding some valuable experience in Reds hooker James Hanson and backrower Adam Thomson, Irish prop Jamie Hagan and former Blues lock Culum Retallick joining the squad.
Australian under 20 centre Reece Hodge and former Australian Schoolboys captain No.8 Harley Fox have also signed up.
McGahan said the Rebels need to keep improving right across the field to go better than their best-ever 10th placing last season.
“It’s our defence, it’s our attack, it’s our goal-kicking; it’s pretty much every part of it,” he said.
“We lost six games by less than seven points so whilst it doesn’t sound much, to be able to turn those games around into results takes a lot of work.”