IT was only three weeks ago that Jason Golden's career was in doubt - but now he is poised to return to York City Knights action.
Recurring shoulder problems - repeated dislocations since undergoing his latest round of complicated surgery last year - brought fears the popular 28-year-old may have to call it quits.
However, after intensive rehab, and with hopes afresh that his latest setback was not nearly as serious as first thought, the former Super League second-row has been put through a strenuous training session this week and, if there are no ill-effects, he is likely to go back into the team that hosts London Skolars in Championship One on Sunday.
In a further boost to the back row, big-hitting loose-forward Joe Pickets has also now penned a new deal with the club, as expected, following the end of his rugby union commitments.
Crowd-pleaser Pickets - the type of player who "can cause a fight even if he's the only player on the pitch" - will play tonight when the reserves entertain Halifax U20s (8pm), though Golden is being saved for Sunday.
Said head coach Gary Thornton: "This couple of weeks out has done him good. He's come back in terrific shape.
"It is a turnaround from a few weeks ago and it would be foolish to think he's solved all his problems in this two-week period.
"But we've given him a real good test - repeated contact, lots of work on the shoulder, lotsof work on the floor, putting him in awkward positions where his shoulder could be vulnerable - and as long as there's no reaction he will be fine for Skolars.
"The worst scenario is he gets the shoulder into a position where it pops out again. It might not happen. It might happen once every 20 games or once every four games. But for now he has got through a rigorous fitness test and he's up for selection.
"I truly hope it's the end of his problems. He's a great lad and brings great value to the group, and you wouldn't want someone like that to be forced to finish his career early."
Pickets - who, having returned from a ban, was sent off in the last of his 11 appearances for York last season for hitting Batley's Jonny Campbell with a haymaker off the ball - has already played a couple of midweek reserve games as his season with Beverley RUFC drew to a close.
Thornton says the Barnsley-based 23-year-old will have a battle on to regain a first-team place but is delighted to have him back in the fold, causing mayhem in training.
"His route will be pretty tough to get back into that back row. Lee Paterson has been fantastic at loose-forward and it will take something to shift him. There's Ben Crane, Ryan Backhouse and Jack Iley also in there trying to force a way in.
"But Joe is great to have around. His enthusiasm rubs off in training. He trains like he plays - just fires into people. We don't want anyone picking up injuries in training but you can't buy that enthusiasm and aggression. Everyone's on their toes when Joe's around."
Thornton has received two new injury blows, though, with player/assistant-coach James Ford and prop Iain Morrison set to remain on the sidelines.
Veteran centre Ford was pencilled in to make his return from a groin injury tonight but suffered a setback in training on Tuesday. He will sit out the Skolars game, though ay be back for the visit of Hemel Stags a week on Sunday.
Morrison, who missed games due to a chest infection prior to a knee injury, has now been in hospital suffering pleurisy.
EX-KNIGHTS cult hero Ryan MacDonald is set to face his former club on Sunday after signing a permanent deal with London Skolars - and being unable to agree terms back at Huntington Stadium.
The much-travelled prop, who helped North Wales Crusaders to promotion from Championship One last year, spoke to the Knights over the winter about a possible return to York, where he played in 2007, but instead stayed with the Wrexham-based outfit.
He struggled to nail down a first-team berth, though, so went on loan to the Skolars and, while talks reopened with the Knights, the parties could not agree terms and he is now to stay with the Londoners.
The Skolars' next outing is at York this weekend.