Sam Draper looks on during the R21 match between Essendon and West Coast at Marvel Stadium on August 5, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

ESSENDON'S talismanic ruck Sam Draper is closing in on a return to full training after groin surgery in the off-season.

Draper is expected to re-join the main group on a full-time basis by the end of next week, with the Bombers set to take on St Kilda in match simulation on February 23.

The 25-year-old missed rounds 14-22 with a groin injury, undergoing an operation after the season ended.

At training on Tuesday, Draper took part in select drills, running laps when not working with the main group.

In his absence over summer, veteran recruit Todd Goldstein has been working hard with fellow ruck Nick Bryan.

"Sam is a super important part of our team. Unfortunately, he hasn't been out there competing against guys like Nick Bryan and Todd Goldstein, because they're training really well as well," vice-captain Andrew McGrath said.


"He does add a buzz of excitement to our playing group and our fans. He's been running round, he's been joining in on a couple of drills, so it's only a matter of time before he's back in the full program. 

"We're super excited about that, to have two other rucks flying and healthy, that's a big positive for our playing group. When Sam gets back into the fold, it'll be great for competition.

"Todd's been amazing. I often marvel how long he's been playing for – I was a little kid watching him dominate the League, and now to playing with him and be able to learn off a guy with that experience is amazing. He's still doing it to an elite level, it's unbelievable."

Also on the comeback trail is Dylan Shiel (foot surgery), who is still at least several weeks away from full training, while key forward Peter Wright and defender Jordan Ridley were on light training duties on Tuesday.

Dylan Shiel in action during the R7 clash between Essendon and Geelong at the MCG on April 30. 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Game-breaker Jake Stringer ran laps with draftee Vigo Visentini to round out the training session, but had taken part in main drills up until that point.

"He's been in main training for most of it, today he missed one drill, but he's integrating back really well. He understands where his body is at, and he respects it, but he's also pushing the limit a bit with our physical staff, too," McGrath said.

"It's great to see him out there, you can see how talented he is when he gets his hand on the ball and does his thing, but we just want to see more of him. Hopefully he will be in full training really soon and be ready for games."

Elijah Tsatas is a young Bomber to watch in 2024, the top-five pick from 2022 now fully fit after last year's pre-season knee injury held him to just four games late in the campaign.

"Elijah's awesome, he's a great teammate. His appetite for learning, to get better – he's always in a rush. He wants to play, he wants to play well really quickly, and as an older guy now around the club, you love guys like that who push you harder," McGrath said.

Elijah Tsatas in action during Essendon's clash against North Melbourne in round 22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"He's one of the first ones in and one of the last to leave, he has an appetite to improve and become a really great AFL player. He's had a great pre-season, and I'm excited to see what he does.

"He unfortunately hurt his knee last year, but it gave him a great opportunity to build his frame, and he's just developed that to another level this off-season. He can play multiple roles, but he now has the body to compete at AFL level, and we're just going to see him get better and better."