Central Coast coach Lawrie McKinna remains optimistic Tom Pondeljak will play in Sunday's A-League grand final but admits the key midfielder may be reduced to a bench role.
McKinna rated the 32-year-old a 40-60 chance of lining up against Newcastle at the Sydney Football Stadium, but said those odds had shortened considerably from mid week when Pondeljak had been considered next to no chance.
"We're optimistic," McKinna told reporters after Pondeljak returned to training after being sidelined for nearly a fortnight with an inflamed knee.
"It's maybe 60-40 against. It's not 50-50, but he's got a good chance to be in the squad.
"We're not going to take a risk that he's going to break down, we would have to be 100 per cent sure he's going to get through whatever we've decided, whether that's starting the game or on the bench,.
"I think more than likely he'll be involved."
A final decision on Pondeljak will be made on Saturday, with McKinna also still to decide on which of Andre Gumprecht or Greg Owens will get the nod if the five-time grand finalist fails to get fit.
Pondeljak failed to complete training, but what he did complete, McKinna said, was done at "100 per cent".
"Last night he went for a run and got up to 80 per cent and today he got it up to 100 per cent," said McKinna.
"In the warm up the boys did a lot of sprints and he got though them at full speed.
"He pushed himself, so he did go at full pelt.
"We'll have a look at it tomorrow, because he's a big game player, he's been in a lot of grand finals, and been in great form.
"We've always stated that the boys have to train 24 hours before the game (to play) and for Tommy that's tomorrow.
"It would have been nice to have it settled today, but the fact is we didn't think he would be ready, and he's popped up and he's looked okay."
Pondeljak's injury aside, the Mariners have enjoyed a relatively pain-free preparation for their second grand final.
Retiring defender Tony Vidmar likened the build up to an overseas Cup final and said he was "excited" at the prospect of drawing the curtain on his stellar career on the A-League's biggest stage.
"I'm just trying to enjoy it," the former Socceroo said of the build up since announcing his retirement last week.
"And you've got to go out and enjoy a cup final because if you get carried away with it you can lose all sight of what the game's about.
"When the game's over you can think `shit where the game's gone', it can just disappear like that and that's what I've said to the boys, `just enjoy it'.
"Sure it's a grand final, but don't put added pressure on yourself, just go out and enjoy it."
After a day off on Friday, Newcastle will finalise preparations tomorrow morning with captain Jade North confident young attacker James Holland would train after straining his right quadriceps muscle on Thursday.
"James just had a bit of a rest the other day as a minor precaution, but he's young and he'll bounce back," said North.
With both sides exchanging words in colourful lead-up to the derby decider, North said he expected a physical battle on Sunday.
"Definitely, it always is when we play the Central Coast, they're our main rivals, so I think it's going to be very physical.
"We've just to win. We got a bit of a touch up the last time against the Central Coast (a 3-0 loss) but the good thing is we get to have another go and try to get a bit of revenge in the grand final."