Melbourne Storm Test halfback Cooper Cronk is tracking for an NRL round one appearance with his recovery from shoulder surgery ahead of schedule.
Cronk was expected to miss Melbourne's blockbuster opening clash with old foe Manly at Brookvale Oval after going under the knife following Australia's triumphant World Cup campaign.
Kangaroos fullback Billy Slater also had minor surgery on his knee, which he injured late in the tournament but is set to be fit for the Sea Eagles game.
With the Storm's first trial match looming, against Canberra in Melbourne next Saturday, the pair were notable absentees on the training track on Friday.
But Storm forward Ryan Hinchcliffe said that Cronk was progressing well.
"He's tracking along really well and I think he's even ahead of where he needs to be," Hinchcliffe said.
"He's putting a lot of work into his shoulder and I expect him to be there for round one."
That's great news for the Storm, who were looking at an untried halves combination following the departure of five-eighth Gareth Widdop to St George Illawarra and the retirement of Brett Finch.
Hinchcliffe said one option if Cronk was missing was to shift Cameron Smith to hooker, with himself covering at No.9.
Hinchcliffe laughed at the question of Smith shifting from the Storm altogether to open up his favoured position on a permanent basis.
The captain is still mulling over a multi-million dollar to play with the Brisbane Broncos next season and is believed to now be leaning toward staying in Melbourne.
Coach Craig Bellamy wants a decision from the Test rake as soon as possible.
"We haven't spoken about it and we're very happy for Cameron to deal with it however he has to and we'll support him no matter what."
Hinchcliffe said the squad was eager to get out on the field after a huge pre-season which included a brutal army-style overnight training camp.
"It took a couple of weeks (to get over it) and looking back on it I was glad we did it but it was hard to see it at the time.
"It's very exciting. We've had a very tough pre-season and I know the players are looking forward to getting out on the field."