DAVID Zaharakis expects to return for Essendon next week after the Bombers' bye, following a "frustrating" six-week stint on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
The Essendon midfielder was tipped to only miss two weeks with the ligament problem he suffered in round six against Fremantle, but has not played since that night.
The club was hopeful of having him back for last week's game against West Coast in Perth, but had to delay his return after some complications with the injury, involving some scar tissue.
The 25-year-old told AFL.com.au on Friday he would be ready to face Hawthorn next Saturday afternoon at the MCG.
"The ankle's good now. I got through a big session here on Monday when the guys were on their break. I'm ready to go," he said.
"[Last week] I was great going into training and I had a little thing where it made me think that the ankle wasn't 100 per cent right, because I did a little movement and I felt something there.
"I waited another week and now it feels amazing, so all we had to do was wait another couple of days."
In Zaharakis' absence the Bombers have lost four of five games and struggled for zip. He brings class and pace across the ground, and is desperate to get out there with his team after it slumped to the mid-season break with four wins after 11 rounds.
"It's frustrating that you can't do anything about it [when you're injured], that you can't help your teammates when they're going through a tough patch on the field," the former best and fairest winner said.
"You can do as much as you can during the week and in meetings or at training, but on game day you physically can't do anything because you're not playing.
"I'd rather see them win five in a row when I'm out rather than lose, so it's been a bit of a mental test."
The Dons have relied on Dyson Heppell and Jobe Watson to carry the midfield load, but with Zaharakis set for a return and Heath Hocking (groin) and David Myers (shoulder) soon to resume playing after long-term injuries, the Bombers should have a bolstered engine room for the second half of the season.
Zaharakis acknowledged the club faced a tough task to back up last year's finals appearance with another top-eight finish in 2015, but said the Essendon still believed it could get there despite its first half of the season.
"We probably have to win seven of our last 11 games. It's going to be a challenge but I think we can do it. The group has proven before that we can play good footy," he said.
"We're not a good side at the moment but we have proven that we can be. We need to get back to the things that make us a good side."