Sam De Koning poses for a photo during Geelong's official team photo day on February 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

GEELONG defender Sam De Koning has put on a "few kilos" of muscle during a flawless off-season as he moves towards the peak of his career. 

In an ominous sign for opposition tall forwards, the 23-year-old has enjoyed a pre-season without any "hiccups".

After a breakout season in 2022 when he was a crucial part of the Cats' charge to the premiership, De Koning suffered a brutal facial fracture last year.

While he was only sidelined for three weeks, De Koning was forced to wear a large Phantom of the Opera-style mask for two games when he returned to try and protect his face.

Like several of his Geelong teammates, the 204cm giant failed to reach the heights of 2022 as the Cats missed finals last year.

"I've put on a few kilos in muscle which has been great; kept the skinfolds down," De Koning said.

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"In the first few years (at Geelong), obviously being a developing tall it's hard to put it all on at once because you risk getting injured.

"But I feel like I'm getting towards my peak, feeling really fit and strong. I put on those few kilos but I still feel like I'm moving all across the ground and feeling fast."

Missing the top eight for just the second time since 2006 has allowed Geelong to recharge for yet another tilt under coach Chris Scott.

The Cats were virtually at half-strength for their last home and away game.

"It's hard to put into words how hungry we are," De Koning said of heading into 2024 after finishing 12th last year.

Sam De Koning celebrates Geelong's Toyota AFL Grand Final win over Sydney. Picture: Cameron Spencer/AFL Photos

"A lot of us know what it tastes like (to win a premiership) so it would be good to have it again."

De Koning's first assignment will be against star St Kilda forward Max King when Geelong hosts the Saints at GMHBA Stadium on March 16.

With both players aged 23, they loom as stars of the AFL for the next decade.

"(KIng's) got so much ahead of him and he's a great player, so it will be a good test for me," De Koning said.

"I look at it as a good challenge."

Sam De Koning and Max King compete for the ball during Geelong's clash against St Kilda in round 21, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

It won't just be on the field where De Koning is hoping to have a more productive year.

A keen surfer, De Koning and fellow Torquay-based Cats teammate Mitch Knevitt hit the water at any chance they can get.

"We're just around the corner from the beach," De Koning said.

"It's a good outlet away from footy.

"Last year I wasn't able to get out on the water at all so having that as a bit of a balance for my footy will be great for me."