Melbourne Storm veteran Billy Slater will take a major step in his highly anticipated NRL comeback when he begins full contact work on his reconstructed shoulder next week.
Slater has been on the comeback trail since aggravating an existing shoulder issue in the opening game of the 2016 season that shut down his campaign.
The former Australian and Queensland star has played just eight games in two years.
However, Storm football director Frank Ponissi told media on Monday that the 33-year-old is set to return to full training, possibly in time for next week's camp in Geelong.
"He's in great nick so in the next week or so he'll start some contact work," Ponissi said.
"He's not far away from getting into some full contact. We'll do it slowly, he's not going to go bull at a gate, but in the very near future he is going to start that."
Slater's return would be a massive boost for a Storm roster that has lost four regulars, including Kiwi international Kevin Proctor, from the side that fell to Cronulla in last year's grand final.
Last year's No.1 Cameron Munster this week revealed he had been training at five-eighth, signalling Slater's likely comeback to the custodian role.
"A couple of other boys have been training there as well ... That six hasn't really been cemented yet. It'll depend on the trials and how well we go in the pre-season," Munster told Storm TV.
Melbourne kick off their preseason at the Auckland Nines on February 4-5 before trial matches against the Warriors on the Sunshine Coast and Canterbury in Hobart.