Marquee midfielder Ronny Vargas is making strong progress from a hamstring injury and could make a shock return for the Newcastle Jets on the bench against the Central Coast Mariners in the F3 derby at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
Vargas has not played since the 4-1 loss to Kashima Antlers in the Asian Champions League qualifier on February 18.
He was expected to be sidelined until the Jets trip to Wellington on March 31, but the Venezuelan trained strongly on Wednesday and coach Ernie Merrick said he was a chance of being on the bench in the derby.
The skillful playmaker ran freely in a small-sided game and did extra running at the end of the session.
A final decision will be made after training on Friday.
Merrick also indicated that recent arrival Kwabena Appiah would make his Jets on the bench.
However, midfielder enforcer Ben Kantarovski remains sidelined with a calf strain.
Nick Cowburn partnered Steve Ugarkovic at the base of midfield at training on Wednesday, with Matthew Ridenton pushed forward.
Vargas' return would be a major boost for a squad stretched due to injuries and international duties.
Joey Champness, Ivan Vujica and Johnny Koutroumbis are in camp with the Olyroos in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the Asian under-23 championship qualifiers in Cambodia next week.