Highlanders pivot Colin Slade will not be rushed back by coach Jamie Joseph despite a lengthy injury list which is hampering his side.
Slade, who has had a horror run with injuries, is one of several players who would not be able to play if the Dunedin-based Super Rugby franchise had to play this weekend.
The Highlanders' casualty list includes Tamati Ellison, Declan O'Donnell, Ma'afu Fia and Chris King (shoulder), John Hardie (foot) and Lima Sopoaga (ankle).
"He's (Slade) a wee bit away at the moment," Joseph told Sportal.
"The guys are doing 10 sessions a week and Colin can probably do four or five of them.
"He started doing a bit of rugby last week but he's better to get his leg absolutely right.
"There could be a slight chance he could be available for the match against the Chiefs on February 22 bearing in mind that is more than five weeks away. But it's going to be touch and go and we're not going to rush him."
"I'm frustrated by the injuries but that's part of sport and what you have to deal with," added Joseph.
With regular skipper Andrew Hore banned for three games, All Blacks wing and Highlanders vice-captain Hosea Gear is set to lead the southerners in three pre-season clashes as well as the opening match of the tournament.
"Hosea will be back and he'll have his opportunity to stand up as a leader," Joseph said.
"We're fortunate that there are a few guys who could fill that role, including Jamie Mackintosh, Tony Woodcock and Brad Thorn."