Newcastle Jets are set for a massive boost this weekend with marquee Ronny Vargas poised to complete a remarkable comeback from injury against Wellington Phoenix.
The Venezuelan international hasn't played since October after suffering a horrific broken ankle in his side's Round 3 win over Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium.
The 31-year-old was expected to miss the remainder of the season and there were initial fears the injury could bring a premature end to his career.
But after four months of intensive rehabilitation, the midfielder is tipped to feature off the bench on Saturday night in Auckland.
And in a further boost, Argentine attacker Pato Rodriguez has overcome a calf complaint and could come straight into Ernie Merrick's starting line-up after missing Newcastle's last two matches.
“Ronny could play up to a half. So he'll be on the bench. He'll definitely get game time," Merrick told reporters on Wednesday.
"And the way Pato is playing, he looks like starting. I haven't decided on that but he's looking really good."
Prior to his injury, Vargas loomed as a genuine star of the competition with his silky movement and ability to unlock defences a real joy to watch in the early rounds.
And while he expects the playmaker to gradually work his way back to fitness, Merrick is clearly relishing the Venezuelan's return as Newcastle prepare for a breakthrough Finals Series campaign.
"His vision and passing, and the quality of his pass, with the weight and accuracy, is so good," the Jets boss said.
"We're building him up for the finals. He'll play more and more game time over these last five games leading into the finals.
"He's already got that [swagger] back. He's a very confident player. He gets lots of touches on the ball.
"Sometimes I don't coach some of the youngsters. I just say 'look, watch Ronny, do that'.
"He's just such a good player."
While Vargas and Rodriguez return, Newcastle face a test of their depth with injured captain Nigel Boogaard out for the rest of the season while leading-scorer Andrew Nabbout has departed for Japan.
Adding to their woes is a two-week suspension to striker Roy O'Donovan, meaning rookie winger Joe Champness is set to deputise at the point of attack.
Lachlan Jackson will replace Boogaard in the centre of defence and play alongside Nikolai Topor-Stanley.