Australia and Queensland Reds five-eighth Quade Cooper is expected to return to action two weeks earlier than expected after successful knee surgery.
The enigmatic Wallabies playmaker was expected to miss the first eight weeks of the competition for the Super Rugby champions after going down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament early in the World Cup bronze medal play-off with Wales.
But Reds coach Ewen McKenzie says Cooper should return before the halfway mark of the 2012 Super Rugby season after receiving encouraging feedback following surgery in Brisbane on Thursday.
Cooper was met by girlfriend Stephanie Rice outside hospital after his operation and says he won't rush his return to the Reds but is confident he can get back to his best.
McKenzie says he'll be targeting the round-seven clash on April 6 against the Brumbies as Cooper's long-awaited return.
That would mean Cooper would miss only the opening six games of the 18-round Super Rugby season - not eight as first feared.
McKenzie will trial up to six potential replacement candidates, including former North Harbour No.10 Mike Harris.