Broncos centre Justin Hodges took big steps towards a return to the playing field at the weekend when he ran strongly and without discomfort at training at Red Hill.
An arthroscope last Tuesday revealed posterior cruciate ligament damage to Hodges' right knee, and the 23-year-old was initially ruled out for 3-4 weeks. However much like prop Shane Webcke, Hodges has made remarkable progress from the injury and said he was 'hopeful' of playing against the Wests Tigers in Sunday's Second Preliminary Final at Aussie Stadium.
"It feels good," said Hodges after 'testing' his knee this morning.
"Obviously I would love nothing more than to play on Sunday, but I won't be doing anything stupid. Firstly I don't want to get out there against the Tigers, find the knee is not 100 per cent and let the team down. And secondly, I am sure we can beat the Tigers so there is always the next week, and the next - the grand final."
Hodges ran mostly straight lines this morning under the watchful eye of Broncos physiotherapist Rob Godbolt and experienced no pain or discomfort. The knee was heavily strapped.
"I did some light stepping and ran a few angles late in the session, and everything felt really good," he said.
"Personally, I'm okay with how the knee is, but a lot with depend on the medical advice. And I think that if I do play, my brain will need to be really switched on to the fact that my knee is not going to give me any problems."
And that is where veteran prop Webcke may well come in to play as the Broncos face the first of a possible two knockout games en route to the NRL Grand Final on October 2. Webcke damaged his knee the same weekend as Hodges - against Penrith on August 21 - and made his comeback just 12 days later. Not only is Webcke a freakishly quick healer, but his mindset is so strong that he can play with injury, and pain.
"If I was Shane Webcke, I would be saying right now that I will definitely play on Sunday," Hodges joked after training today.
"But I will wait and see. A lot depends on how I pull up tomorrow after this hit-out this morning."
Wayne Bennett is expected to name the same side that was beaten 24-18 in a thriller against Melbourne at Suncorp Stadium last Saturday night, with Hodges, Berrick Barnes, Neville Costigan and Darren Mapp added to an extended bench.