North Queensland coach Graham Murray says a decision on skipper Johnathan Thurston's availability for the Cowboys' NRL season opener at the Gold Coast will be made on Friday.
While still keeping his cards close to his chest, Murray on Thursday gave his strongest hint yet that the two-time Dally M Medal winner would make a remarkable comeback against the Titans on Friday night.
Murray would not confirm or deny that Thurston would return more than a month ahead of schedule at a sold out Skilled Park.
But he said a final decision on Thurston's availability was yet to be made.
"The medical staff have enabled him to get back into full contact and he's done everything that's been asked of him," Murray told reporters at Townsville airport.
Asked point blank if Thurston would play, Murray said: "A decision will be made tomorrow".
It would mark a stunning comeback by Thurston.
He was expected to miss at least the first four rounds after undergoing two shoulder reconstructions in the off-season.
Speculation was rife that Thurston would make a miraculous comeback after a huge betting plunge on the Cowboys.
After starting at $2.30 on Wednesday, the Cowboys were at $1.95 by Thursday morning with Sportingbet Australia.
The Titans were still slight $1.87 favourites.
Betting agencies around the country took tens of thousands of dollars on the Cowboys on Wednesday.
Further fuel was added to the fire when the Cowboys confirmed Thurston would be travelling down with the team to the Gold Coast.
However, a Cowboys spokesman said Thurston had been booked "months ago" on the flight so he could take in the match as a spectator.
Thurston said as much in his Townsville Bulletin column.
"I will be watching from the grandstand at Skilled Park on Friday night, but I am not down in the dumps about it," he wrote.
"Sure, I would rather be out there playing, but that feeling has sort of been over-ridden by the fact that we are back playing footy again."
Cowboys boss Peter Parr said North Queensland fans should not expect miracles when Thurston returned.
"Whenever he comes back, whether it be this week, next week or in a month he'll lift our football team, there's no doubt about that," he told ABC Radio.
"He's one of the best players in the world and obviously when he does come back we won't be expecting any miracles from him either because he has been out."
The Cowboys on Wednesday tried to distance themselves from the rumours, saying Thurston would be assessed after a week of full contact training.
Thurston only received the green light to resume full contact training on Tuesday.
He only had a 10 minute, light session with a tackle bag - his first hit-out in six months.
But he was still well ahead of schedule in his recovery.
He was initially set to return to contact training by round three.
Thurston was not named in the Cowboys team on Tuesday.
Off-season recruit Travis Burns was unveiled as halfback and veteran utility Justin Smith at pivot.
If Thurston plays, Burns is expected to switch to his regular five-eighth role with Smith dropping back to the bench.Like