Hopes are high that backrow forward Stephen Ferris will be back in action for Ulster by February.
The British Lion and Irish international has been out injury since November 2, 2012 but has been making major progress on his ankle injury since an operation in the summer.
As revealed yesterday morning by the News Letter, Ulster are expected to announce soon a further short-term extension to his contract.
The length of that contract is not fully known yet, but there was speculation it could be three months giving the popular Ravenhill figure a realistic chance to prove his fitness.
It is understood, however, that Ferris could target a return to playing during the PRO12 matches over the Six Nations period which would either be February or March.
Yesterday, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe was not offering any definitive deadlines.
“The contract will obviously give Stephen a real chance to continue the hard work he has done already.
“And he has trained hard. He has a smile on his face again and he has come through a hell of a lot in the past few months.
“But we are not putting any time frames on it. Deadlines can get you anxious and nervous and then people start to take short cuts. That is the last thing we want to do in Stephen’s case.
“It’s our job to encourage and support Stephen in the work he is doing and to give hin hope and faith that something is around the corner without putting a deadline on it.”
“The last thing we want to do with him it take short cuts,” added Anscombe.