The Canberra Raiders are taking a cautious approach to captain Terry Campese and are expecting the attacking linchpin to miss the first three rounds of next season.
Josh McCrone and Sam Williams will reunite in the halves as the former Kangaroos and NSW pivot continues his rehabilitation from a second knee reconstruction.
Campese is training alongside representative prop Brett White, who is also planning a comeback from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Raiders coach David Furner has been pleased with Campese's progression, but conceded his star playmaker was unlikely to be fit for the season opener against the Penrith Panthers at Centrebet Stadium on March 10.
''Do I think he's going to be ready for the start of the season? Probably not,'' Furner said. ''He'll be looking for game four or five.
''We want to make sure he's physically strong, mentally strong and ready to play footy. I know he will.''
Campese put on a brave face for fans who attended the club's members' Christmas party at the Raiders club in Belconnen on Monday.
The 28-year-old has endured a wretched run of injuries, playing just eight games in the past two seasons.
He sustained his first serious knee injury in the 2010 semi-final loss to the Wests Tigers, followed by a torn groin muscle eight minutes into his comeback game last year.
Campese showed glimpses of his brilliant best this season before going down in the round-seven loss to the Brisbane Broncos on April 11.
The Raiders are confident he can follow in the footsteps of Queensland veteran Brent Tate, who successfully regained his spot with the Maroons after three knee reconstructions.
''There's players that have been in that position before and they've finished off nice and strong, that's what we want to get out of Campo,'' Furner said.
''He's a player that's lived and breathed football for most of his life, so to have it taken away for a couple of years and only play a couple of games, it's bloody tough.
''The sooner we get him out there with the team, you'll see his enthusiasm go straight up.''
Campese completed the majority of last week's Tough Mudder 24-hour army camp at Kangaroo Valley.
The Raiders completed a series of gruelling challenges designed to improve their mental toughness, including hiking through mud lugging bags of supplies and logs, completing an obstacle course and surviving on rations.
''Some of the guys couldn't train today, but we knew that would've happened,'' Furner said. ''I'm reasonably happy with how the squad's responded to the camp. We got a lot out of it.''
Winger Dimitri Pelo is expected to return to training from a wrist injury at the start of next year.
Meanwhile, tickets for next year's historic rugby league Test between Australia and New Zealand at Canberra Stadium go on sale at 10 am on Wednesday.
The Kangaroos will take on the Kiwis on April 19 as part of Canberra's Centenary celebrations.