ADAM Henley is relishing renewing his battle for the Blackburn Rovers right-back spot with the fit-again Todd Kane.
Kane lost his place in the Rovers starting line-up to Henley initially through suspension and then through a thigh injury which has ruled him out of the last six matches.
But the on-loan Chelsea defender, 20, is determined to win the shirt back from his fellow rising star after returning to full training.
And it is a challenge Henley, 19, is willing to meet.
“Me and Todd get on really well so it’s just friendly competition,” said Henley, who is expected get the nod over Kane for tomorrow’s Ewood Park encounter with Derby County.
“But it’s important to have that competition, not just at right-back but all over the pitch, as it will help push the team forward.”
Kane was an ever present until a fifth booking of the season ruled him out of the 0-0 draw at QPR on December 7.
That gave Henley – fully recovered from his long-standing hamstring problems – the opportunity to make his first appearance for the first-team in nine months.
And it was an opportunity he grasped with both hands as he snuffed out the threat of QPR’s former Rovers winger Junior Hoilett.
Since then Henley has missed just one match, the New Year’s Day win at Leeds United.
But it was not until after last weekend’s 4-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest that the Wales Under-21s international felt that he is now well and truly over his injury woes.
“It’s hard to play so many games after coming back from injury – it has been in the back of my head,” said Henley, who gave away a penalty against Forest.
“The manager has been good with me. He rested me at Leeds and I think that was important right in the middle of a busy period.
“But we had three games in one week last week and playing in all three has given me a lot of confidence that I’ve put the injuries behind me.”
Rovers boss Gary Bowyer will continue to be careful with Henley and, with tomorrow’s clash with Derby followed by a trip to Barnsley on Tuesday and the visit of Blackpool next Saturday, he may decide to rest him again.
And Bowyer has that option now that Kane is back after a three-week spell on the sidelines.
“That is how football works, it is all about opportunities,” said Kane.
“I’ve seen Adam playing well and obviously I’ve got to wait for another opportunity to play.
“I felt my thigh in training a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was all right, I thought it would ease up.
“Then I said to Dave Fevre that it had got worse and then I realised it was a strain, it was annoying that it was worse than I first thought.
“But I’m pleased to be back and hopefully I’ll be ready to be involved or be in the squad for Saturday.”
Fourth-placed Derby are 10 points above eighth-placed Rovers.
But Henley believes the game represents a barometer of where Rovers can expect to finish the season.
The full-back said: “It’s a massive game for us and a good chance to come back and put in a good performance against a play-off side.
“Last weekend was disappointing for us all so it’s important we get back on the winning trail.
“You will get disappointments throughout the season but it’s important you respond to them quickly and don’t dwell on them too much.”
Rovers and Derby have both won three, drawn two and lost one of their last six league matches with only five Championship sides collecting more points during that span than the pair.