GOLD Coast star David Swallow concedes he returned from a knee injury too soon last year, but says he is benefitting from a "smarter" approach that has him on track to play in the NAB Challenge and season proper.
The 2014 club champion was restricted to just six games last year after suffering two separate ruptures of the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, in rounds four and 15, both of which required surgery.
Swallow said his recovery hadn't been as swift as he had hoped, with the knee often swelling after pre-Christmas training sessions. But the 23-year-old midfielder reported he had "turned the corner" soon after training resumed in the new year and was now on the verge of joining full training.
Although regaining fitness and touch are his priorities, Swallow revealed coach Rodney Eade had also challenged him to become a more versatile player and a more vocal leader off the field, to boost the Suns' quest for a maiden finals berth.
Swallow admitted his hasty return to the field late last season to help the struggling Suns backfired, but said he was thriving on a more conservative outlook and a "more individualised program" implemented by new elite performance director Justin Cordy.
"I rushed back too early last year and probably paid the price for it," Swallow told AFL.com.au.
"It's never enjoyable being on the sidelines, especially when the team isn't winning many games. I just wanted to get out there and help, so I tried to speed things up to get back out there earlier.
"In my first few years in general I probably didn't look after myself as well as I could have and always wanted to train as hard as I could.
"Hopefully I'm a bit smarter now, listening to my body more and being more patient to make sure I get my body right so I can stay out there longer.
"I'm feeling better after each session. I still get a few grumbles from (the knee), but it's just going to take time to get used to running again. Hopefully it keeps responding better with the more work I do."
With interchange rotations slashed to 90 this year, the workload of most players will increase, and Swallow is no different.
"I've had a couple of brief conversations with 'Rocket' (Eade) about it and he's pretty keen to play me a bit off half-back, like I did in my third year (2013), and even rest forward," Swallow said.
"If we can all become more rounded players, it'll help us as a team. Hawthorn's the role model of that – they've got so many guys going through the midfield that they can be hard to match up on."
Entering his third season in Gold Coast's leadership group, Swallow also acknowledges he needs to have a stronger voice and presence around his teammates.
"I say a lot on the field but Rocket's challenged me a few times to be more vocal off the field, in meetings and stuff," he said. "I learnt a bit last year on the sidelines. It's an area I need to grow."
Meanwhile, fellow Suns midfielder Jaeger O'Meara is also making good progress from a season-long patella tendon injury, but is some weeks behind Swallow in his recovery.