Queensland's prospects of a ninth-straight State Of Origin Series win have been given a significant boost with news that centre Justin Hodges is on course for a return to the Broncos prior to Origin I on May 28.
Hodges ran well in a gruelling fitness session at the Broncos' Red Hill headquarters on Monday and appears on track to make a much earlier than expected recovery from the snapped left Achilles he suffered in Round 22 last season.
Given the recovery process he went through when he missed the entire 2010 season after snapping the Achilles in his right leg, many expected he would miss the entire 2014 Origin Series as Hodges defiantly declared it would not force him into retirement.
Although he undertook individual drills to work on his lateral movement while his teammates completed an intense ballwork and defensive session, Broncos officials are aiming to see their star centre and co-captain back on the field for the Round 4 clash with the Dragons in Wollongong, two months before Origin I at Suncorp.
The Broncos will play their first trial of the season against the Cowboys at Redcliffe's Dolphin Oval on Saturday night and teammate David Stagg said it was encouraging for the entire squad to see Hodges back on the park and striding out.
"I'm sure he's probably glad to be out there running too," Stagg said of Hodges' return. "Obviously he's still a fair way off but that's all part of the rehab program. He seems to be going along quite nicely – obviously I'm no physio – but there is still quite a way to go I think."
Stagg, who just last week signed an extended deal that will keep him at Brisbane until at least the end of the 2015 season, missed a chunk of the 2013 season with a knee injury but is hopeful of playing in the trial against the Cowboys.
"Hopefully I get to have a go out there at Dolphin Oval, looking forward to it," the 200-game veteran said.
"You need [trials]. Not actually playing a game of footy for a couple of months you need to get out there and blow the cobwebs off and get back into the feel of it. They're certainly needed but obviously it's a matter of balancing how much game-time you get leading into when the season starts."
The Broncos team for Saturday night's trial will be announced on Tuesday afternoon while a squad for the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines is not expected until next week.