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Key Magpies on verge of return Talented trio won't play in Perth but are Round 1 chances
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Collingwood is hopeful respected midfielder Luke Ball will play in round three of the Nab Cup

LUKE BALL'S return from a knee reconstruction is drawing closer, with Collingwood skipper Nick Maxwell indicating that the midfielder is aiming to return in round three of the NAB Cup.

Ball had a knee reconstruction after round three, 2012 and has spent almost a year on the sidelines.

According to Maxwell, the highly rated leader and ball-magnet has been progressing well and is aiming to play next week.

"He's running well … He has done a lot more training in the past two weeks than what he has done for a while so [we're] expecting him to play hopefully next week. That is what he is aiming for," Maxwell said.

Ball has been running recently alongside Dale Thomas who is getting back on track after an ankle operation in the pre-season.

Maxwell said Thomas has told him on Wednesday morning that he had recovered from the ankle injury but will take time to build his fitness having been confined to a moonboot for much of the pre-season.

"He [Thomas] is moving pretty well around the boundary and he'll start getting into more and more drills over the next couple of weeks," Maxwell said.

The skipper said both Thomas and Alan Didak – who suffered a minor hamstring strain recently – were pushing hard to get back for round one.

Didak has a good fitness base but it is unlikely any risks will be taken with the damaging forward. He was running in early drills at training on Wednesday.

While both remain far from certain starters in round one, Maxwell said their desire to get into the team when the ball was bounced for the first time was a great sign.  

"It just shows how keen those guys are to get back that they are still aiming for that round one," Maxwell said.

Luke Ball is a midfielder in NAB AFL Fantasy. He averaged 74 points in 2012. Register your team at our AFL Fantasy Hub.