IN a major boost, marquee midfielder Ronny Vargas will return on the bench for the Newcastle Jets in the F3 derby against the Central Coast Mariners at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
The silken-skilled No.10 hasn't played since being replaced after feeling a twinge in his hamstring in the second half of the Jets' 4-1 loss to Kashima Antlers in Japan on February 19.
He was expected to be sidelined until the road trip to Wellington Phoenix on March 30 but has trained strongly this week.
Jets coach Ernie Merrick flagged the Venezuelan's return on Wednesday saying he would need to pass a fitness test on Friday.
"If there is a chance of it getting worse, we would leave him another week," Merrick said. "By the same token, he is feeling good - he is certainly running well - and if he can pass a fitness test on Friday, he will definitely be on the bench."
Vargas was at his creative best during a small-sided game at training on Friday. At one stage he turned out of a tight situation and curled a shot into the top right corner.
Merrick confirmed after the session that both 32-year-old attacker and new arrival Kwabena Appiah would be on the bench.
Vargas has scored in his past three straight games, nailing an equaliser in the 1-all draw with Wellington, before also hitting the target in the Asian Champions League qualifiers against Persija and Kashima.