Mason Lino has vowed to fight for the contentious five-eighth spot in the Knights side this season after returning from serious shoulder surgery well ahead of schedule.
After initially fearing he could be sidelined for between six to eight months following an off-season shoulder reconstruction, Lino is hopeful of being back in full training with the squad as early as next week, just five months after the surgery.
He is now on target to play in the club's opening trial against St George Illawarra in Maitland on February 22 and ready to make a serious challenge for a spot in the round one squad.
"It's coming along good," Lino said. "I'm doing some contact progressions this week and hopefully in the next couple of days heading into next week, I can transition back with the team. I'm looking forward to the first trial and if I go well there, hopefully I can get another shot in the second [trial]."
Utility Kurt Mann has stolen a march on both Lino and youngster Phoenix Crossland with the three players all vying to be Mitchell Pearce's halves partner for the premiership opener in March against the Warriors.
While Mann has hardly missed a session since November, Lino has spent all pre-season in the rehab squad while Crossland finished last season with a stress fracture in his heel which he took time to recover from and in just the past week, has been battling a groin strain.
Lino, who comes off contract at the end of the season, is ready to make up for lost time.
"I'm not too far behind [fitness wise] to be honest. Pretty much in rehab, all you do is run," he said.
"For me, I think it's just about getting that game fitness back into me and getting the timing and all that with the team and getting some confidence going."
He says his contract situation is not an issue right now.
"I haven't thought too much about it," he said. "It is what it is and I've got to face the facts and put my best foot forward and play some good football.
"I guess at the moment, I'm just thinking about my shoulder and getting that right and I know if I can get that right and get my fitness and a few other things right, I can put my best foot forward and everything will kind of look after itself. I'm really happy here and happy to fight for my position.
"Obviously, there is an opportunity there [at five-eighth] that's up for grabs. It's been heavily advertised and Kurt's been going really well.
"But it's a long season and everything changes."
Lino, whose goal-kicking adds another string to his bow, says he has worked hard to get back early but also praised the Knights staff.
"I'm just really fortunate that we've got a good physio team here and it progressed really quickly," he said.
"With the reconstruction, I was thinking six to eight months but I think next week will be five and hopefully I'll be back with the team."
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