Central Coast Mariners striker Nik Mrdja fears his chronic knee problem could send another season in an already injury-plagued career down the drain.
The A-League leaders are riding high, three points clear atop the competition, but Mrdja says he's endured the darkest days of his career since a recurring knee injury flared up and sidelined him month ago.
The 28-year-old is rated an outside chance of a return in Sunday's match against Queensland, but admits he would be playing through the pain barrier and with concerns over the long term health of the knee at the back of his mind.
A recent trip to the specialist proved inconclusive and Mrdja said on Thursday if the pain didn't go away soon, he may have no choice but to undergo season-ending surgery.
"We're still not sure (what it is) at the moment, but if it's not going to improve and get any better and basically be comfortable for me to run around on, well then the next step would be surgery," Mrdja said.
"That would be another season gone down the drain and it's very disappointing."
Mrdja has had a horrid couple of years battling the injury.
He missed the Mariners' entire 2005/06 season and played only six games in 2006/07.
Adding to his frustration this season, is the impressive form with which he started the year, scoring two goals in his first three games and sparking up a promising striking partnership with new signing Sasho Petrovski.
His early-season form even earned him a shock call-up to the Socceroos' squad to face Argentina, but all his momentum has been brought to a shuddering halt.
"It's probably the worst time that I'm going through now, that I've every been through," Mrdja said.
"But what can I do? I can't do anything about it, it's out of my hands so I've just got to look forward and get back on the park as soon as possible.
"To play again is all I really want to do and it's quite gut wrenching not being able to run around with the boys.
"I want to get back out there and play and keep playing and it's disappointing not to be out there ... it is pretty upsetting to be honest."
Mrdja said he would have a run at Friday's training session before deciding whether to risk playing on Sunday.