All Blacks skipper Kieran Read is targeting a late role in the Crusaders' Super Rugby title defence, as he continues his recovery from spinal surgery.
Read, 32, has confirmed he is no chance of playing in next month's Test series against France, with the Rugby Championship opener against Australia in Sydney on August 18 looming as his probable international return.
Before then, the veteran No.8 is tentatively confident of playing a part in the Crusaders' last regular-season games and any playoff matches.
"There is no time frame on it, hopefully in July some time. It could be earlier - it could be later," Read told journalists on Thursday after completing a light training run.
"It is just about ticking milestones off, and this is one. It has been a long time since I have been on the field, actually running around properly. I still have a lot to do."Read's last match was in November against Scotland in Edinburgh, before severe back pain ruled him out of the tour-ending Test against Wales.
Crusaders teammate Sam Whitelock, having led the All Blacks in Cardiff, is favoured to be named skipper when coach Steve Hansen unveils his All Blacks squad on Sunday for the French series.
Whitelock was ruled out of Saturday's match for the Super Rugby leaders against the Blues at Eden Park with illness. But it is not believed to be a serious ailment.
The Crusaders will be captained by flanker Matt Todd, with Quinten Strange promoted to a starting lock role.
Test pair Ryan Crotty and Owen Franks are back starting after being rested from last week's 31-29 escape act against the NSW Waratahs.
Prop Tim Perry replaces Joe Moody, who is serving a two-game ban for taking out Waratahs back Kurtley Beale with a high elbow.