Jacob Stockdale to miss start of new season after significant hamstring injury
This is not what Ulster need heading into a season of huge challenges.
The late acquisitions of Billy Burns and short-term signing Henry Speight have added some pep into Ulster Rugby's pre-season.
Simon Easterby has been seconded, away from his Ireland duties, up to Ravenhill to help the province to prepare for 2018/19 and lay some ground-work for the arrival of incoming head coach Dan McFarland.
Jono Gibbes and Les Kiss were the coaching ticket at the start of last season but both men have since moved on. Veterans Tommy Bowe, Paul Marshall, Andrew Trimble and Robbie Diack also finished up while Jared Payne was forced to retire.
Charles Piutau is now with Bristol while Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding moved on to Perpignan and Brive respectively. In return, Ulster have brought in Burns, Speight, Marty Moore, Jordi Murphy and Will Addison.
ULSTER POTENTIAL XV
Jack O'Toole took a dart at predicting Ulster's strongest XV when - in Utopian terms - everyone was fit and on form. That team includes try-scoring sensation Jacob Stockdale but he now looks set to miss the opening six weeks, at least, of the new season.
Stockdale finished last season tied for the all-time record of tries scored (20) for club and country and won Six Nations Player of the Tournament for his part in Ireland's Grand Slam glory. He was pushed to the brink by Australia during the summer tour but emerged with reputation intact and a winner again.
With the World Cup taking place in September and October of 2019, many of Ireland's top stars will be carefully managed over the coming season so Stockdale may not feature as much for Ulster and he, his coaches and fans, may like.
The 22-year-old may have been spared the opening games of the Guinness PRO14 season, and the South Africa leg to play Cheetahs and Southern Kings. September 29 would have been the perfect match to start 2018/19 after a delayed pre-season but that has been thrown into flux by a bad hamstring injury.
SportsJOE understands that Stockdale will miss up to two months of action after suffering a Grade Two tear early in his return to training with Ulster.
On Stockdale, a spokesperson for Ulster Rugby told us, "We're not in a position to update at this stage."
Medical staff and physios are still monitoring the winger and working out a return to training plan, with a playing comeback being pencilled in for early October. Ulster play Connacht at Kingspan Stadium on October 5 ahead of their first two Heineken Champions Cup pool matches.