Mason Lino will miss the Nines tournament in Perth due to his freshly-healed shoulder but he's targeting two NRL trials later in February as his audition for the Knights No.6 jersey.
"Obviously there is an opportunity to play five-eighth again this year but I think for me it's all about getting my shoulder ready for the upcoming trials," Lino told NRL.com.
"The injury has been responding really well and I'm just looking forward to getting a crack with the boys again."
The side-on tackle on the point of his left shoulder by Panthers lock James Fisher-Harris, in the opening 10 minutes of the last game of the 2019 regular season, ended Lino's hopes of adding to his Samoan jersey collection.
"The shoulder just popped out and I needed a full reconstruction," Lino said.
It robbed him of being named in Samoa's World Nines squad for the Bankwest Stadium event, and the end-of-season Pacific Tests in October.
Four months on and Lino feels the rehabilitation is just about complete.
O'Brien brings new mentality to Newcastle
"It's tracking ahead of progress. I expect to be back fully next week I hope, if things go well in the next couple of days," he said.
"I've been doing all the contact sessions this month so far. But the way the shoulder is now I'm not really likely for the Nines. If I had a couple more weeks I probably would have been a shot.
"I'm hoping to get a look-in for those couple of trials," Lino said of the February 22 meeting with the Dragons in Maitland and the February 29 match against the Roosters at Gosford.
It is here that Lino, who turns 26 in February, wants to impress new coach Adam O'Brien and show he can put his stamp on the five-eighth role outside halfback Mitchell Pearce. Pearce had a few No.6 partners in 2019 including Lino (12 games), Connor Watson, Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Mann, with youngster Phoenix Crossland also in contention this season.
"For sure I want that five-eighth position, like a few do. It's about putting my best foot forward and hopefully the coach likes what I can put out there," Lino said.
"I'm getting really confident about my shoulder but I know I have to do a lot more contact work. I've got to get all that out of the way first."
The injury is stopping Lino from having that all-important conversation with O'Brien about positions for 2020.
"I haven't had that kind of chat with him yet as I've been trying to get my shoulder ready. I think that conversation will be coming in the next week or so.
"The only conversations so far have been about my rehab."
Knights spine eager for continuity
It will be Lino's second season at the Knights. The first had some highs, such as being named starting five-eighth which he left the Warriors for, and some lows like a minor push-and-shove incident outside a Newcastle hotel in July. Lino regrets being caught up in that verbal stoush.
"It wasn't a good thing that I had done but I'm glad it's in the past for me. I made a mistake but I'm looking beyond that now, knowing I won't let it happen again."
He's now more familiar with the one-team-town goldfish bowl. He escaped a lot of that in Auckland with rugby union stars attracting most of the limelight.
"People here in Newcastle are really nice people. They just want to get to know you and talk to you about your game – just have a chat about footy," Lino said.
"I love it here in Newcastle with everyone being really welcoming. I guess on a performance level I probably didn't do as well as I wanted to.
"But I was happy with the opportunities I got last year. Again, I've got to put my best foot forward this year to get more chances in the No.6 position."