Widnes Vikings scrum-half Joe Mellor will miss at least the first six weeks of the Super League season with a knee injury.
Vikings coach Denis Betts had pinned his hopes on Mellor and Tom Gilmore forming an effective pairing following Kevin Brown’s sudden move to Warrington.
But, after naming Mellor as one of his co-captains earlier on Wednesday, Betts has been forced to revise his thinking ahead of their opening game against Huddersfield on February 10.
The knee injury sustained by Mellor, 26, in the friendly against Warrington in December proved to be worse than initially thought.
“I’ve got the brace on for another two weeks and I’ll have about six weeks of rehab after that,” Mellor said.
“To miss the start of the season is gutting. I want to lead the team out. I can’t do anything about it. I’ve just got to get on with it.”
Betts is determined not to rush Mellor back and, in the meantime, will give Gilmore the chance to stake a claim for a regular place in the team after making just 18 Super League appearances in the last five seasons.
“It’s unfortunate,” Betts said. “We lose Kevin so everything is pushed on to Joe and then Joe falls down.
“So Gilly is the last man standing now. He’s not in the side at the start of pre-season and looking at going out on loan and the next minute he’s the only one here.
“That’s the nature of the game. Tom has now got to play week in, week out, to fulfil his potential. He’s always had the confidence, he’s just not had the opportunity.
“It’s not as if he’s 18 and he’s just been thrown in at the deep end. He’s been around a bit now and he knows how I think.
“I’ve got a good idea of my half-backs for the Huddersfield game but it could change over these next two or three weeks.”
Gilmore, who turns 23 next week, is determined to seize his long-awaited opportunity.
“I’ve been biding my time and luckily for me Browny left and the door opened,” said Gilmore, who has been made a vice-captain for this year.
“I need to have a solid season and make that place my own. I always wanted to be scrum-half at Widnes Vikings, that’s all I ever wanted to do, I’m a local lad and all you want to do is play for your home-town team.”