MANLY winger David Williams is expected to run for the first time next week since breaking his neck three months ago and is on track to play in the Sea Eagles' opening match of 2012.
Williams suffered the neck injury in Manly's spiteful round 25 clash against Melbourne at Brookvale Oval and there were fears his injury-plagued career might have been cut short.
The 25-year-old didn't need surgery but spent several weeks in a neck brace and - after plenty of time in the club's rehabilitation ward - he's ready to rejoin his teammates as they prepare to defend their crown.
Wolfman ... David Williams. Photo: Getty Images
New coach Geoff Toovey said he was confident the Wolfman would be available for selection when Manly begin their title defence with the grand final rematch against the New Zealand Warriors at Eden Park.
''Dave is coming good and he'll make a 100 per cent recovery when he gets better,'' Toovey said.
''He'll be running in the next week or two and he should be just about right for the kick-off.
''It was a freak accident and it was one of those injuries where all he could do was wait for it to heal.
''He should get the clearance off the doctor to return to training with the boys within a week or two but it's always better to be careful, especially with a serious injury around that area.''
The news of Williams' imminent return is a huge boost for the Sea Eagles, who have already lost wingers Michael Robertson (England) and Will Hopoate (Mormon mission) from last month's premiership-winning team.
Ben Farrar returns to Manly after a one-year stint with Catalans Dragons in the English Super League, bolstering Manly's depth in the back line alongside youngsters Dean Whare and Michael Oldfield.
While Toovey has plenty of confidence in the depth at his disposal, he labelled Williams' comeback as a vital cog in his plans for next season.
''Losing Michael Robertson and Will Hopoate, we are definitely light on outside backs,'' Toovey said. ''Getting Dave back will be good for us but the guys we've got there already are fantastic. I'm sure they will step up and fill the gap.''
Despite being close to returning to the training paddock, Williams won't be fit to play in the World Club Challenge against Leeds in February. There has been plenty of conjecture over the venue for the annual match between the English Super League and NRL champions and a plan is in place to bring the game to Australian soil. But Manly prop Brent Kite doesn't agree with the proposal, insisting the game is better served being played in England.
''I think it's probably better over there,'' Kite said. ''It's more of a showpiece over there. I'm not sure how well-supported it would be here right at the start of the year. We've got the All Stars and we've got some other fixtures on around that time, so it probably works well having it in England.''
The bulk of Manly's first-grade squad returned to training on Monday for the first week of the post-Des Hasler era. They remain united despite suggestion the club is in turmoil after the sacking of Hasler and the departure of several members of the coaching staff to Canterbury.
Kite said the drama surrounding the club wasn't going to tear the Sea Eagles apart. ''It's unfortunate that Dessie's gone, he's a good friend to a lot of us,'' he said. ''But we're sort of used to that. When you have a successful team, you lose players and good friends every year … Steve Menzies, Josh Perry, Matt Orford.
''In one way, although he's the head coach, it's something we're sort of used to and you look at your new squad and try and bring the new guys in and go forward.''
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