REDS hooker James Hanson is set to resume full contact training next month after a neck injury sustained against the British and Irish Lions in June ended a year that could have finished with a Wallaby tour of Europe.
The 25-year-old was in camp with the national squad just days after the match against the Lions at Suncorp Stadium when he realised something was wrong.
After consulting with experts in Australia and the US, Hanson opted to bypass surgery in favour of a long recovery regime.
"Sometimes there's bigger fish at stake and for me the neck is pretty important for my future rugby career, but also life after footy," he said.
"It's always a concern when you have something wrong with your neck in the front row. But I spoke to a number of people. I saw many surgeons in Brisbane, and saw a top surgeon in America who deals with all the NFL and basketball players. It was comforting to know I was getting all the right advice and doing all the right things. Everyone seems to think I'll be back, hopefully by the start of the year."
While commentators such as former Wallaby Brendan Cannon have been critical of the new scrum laws, Hanson said the change - requiring opposing packs to be closer to each other prior to contact - could potentially extend his career.
"The shorter engagement is good for my neck, and it has a different challenge which we've been working on technically," the Gregory Terrace product said.
Hanson also said he believed Reds fans could look forward to success in 2014 under new coach Richard Graham who took over from Ewen McKenzie at the end of last season.
"I think the team is going in a good direction under a new coaching staff," he said.
"We've still got the youngest team in Australia on average ages. We've got a lot of years ahead of us in terms of playing our best footy."
Former Reds flanker Scott Higginbotham was yesterday appointed captain of the Melbourne Rebels.
The 27-year-old, who has 23 Test caps, exercised a clause in his Rebels contract to stay until at least the end of the 2015 season.
He said he was proud to lead the club's push forward as it looked for a first finals campaign in its fourth season in Super Rugby.
"It's a huge honour to be named captain of a club for the first time in my career," Higginbotham said.
"I look forward to repaying the faith of the coaching staff and the support of our members by leading this young and talented group of guys to success."
Higginbotham said the pre-season under new coach Tony McGahan had been the toughest in the club's short history.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.