WINGER Ade Gardner is back in light training and cannot be entirely ruled out of making a comeback before the curtain comes down on engage Super League XVI.
Gardner, who is in his testimonial season, suffered a severe Achilles injury in the first half of Saints’ 28-12 victory over Crusaders at the Stobart Stadium in late May as he tried to collect a towering Michael Witt kick.
“He is only running on soft grass at this moment in time, but could be back in full training by the second week of the play-offs,” said a club spokesman.
Whether coach Royce Simmons feels he will then be ready to challenge for a first-team spot remains in the melting pot, but there are high hopes that powerhouse prop Tony Puletua will be back in action for the business end of the campaign.
The New Zealand prop forward withdrew from the Saints squad ahead of their home game against Huddersfield Giants 19 days ago, complaining of shoulder soreness. A scan revealed he had damaged his rotator cuff (muscles and tendons around the shoulder), and initial fears were that he would need surgery, bringing his season to an end.
But medical experts insisted that only a period of rehabilitation was needed, leaving the door open for Puletua to make the play-offs.
Fellow prop Josh Perry is also two or three weeks ahead of schedule as he recovers from hamstring surgery, but will not be fit enough to return to action before next season.
The same also applies to Shaun Magennis, who recently underwent a hip operation.
There are also other injury worries ahead of Friday night’s home game against Salford City Reds, who recently added Knowsley Road legend Sean Long to their backroom staff.
Kyle Eastmond is suffering from a groin problem, but if he doesn’t make the squad, it could pave the way for Gary Wheeler to continue on the comeback trail following a shoulder operation.
Joint skipper James Graham, who missed the 24-22 defeat at Hull KR with a leg problem, is expected to return to action.
And although suffering a broken nose at Craven Park, hooker James Roby will play his 30th consecutive game of the season.
Saints, however, will definitely be without utility forward Jon Wilkin, who picked up a one-match ban and £300 fine, after being found guilty of tripping Kris Welham in the defeat at Hull KR by the RL disciplinary committee.
The panel accepted it was not premeditated, but they took into consideration a similar offence the player had committed three years ago.