A GOLD Coast defensive pillar is closing in on a return after almost 12 months away from the game.
Reliable full-back Rory Thompson ticked another box in his rehabilitation from a ruptured ACL on Monday, taking part in his first full team warm-up.
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Thompson suffered the injury less than three weeks before the start of the 2019 season and has been working his way back since.
Following Monday's warm-up, the 28-year-old then completed some light leading drills opposed to teammate Sam Day.
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Football manager Jon Haines told AFL.com.au Gold Coast was hopeful Thompson would see some action during the Marsh Community Series starting in late February.
"We're entering an important phase for him now," Haines said.
"The first week of February, all things being equal, and he checks off the milestones, he can join into full training."
Thompson is one of just four Gold Coast players left from the club's original 2011 list alongside Jarrod Harbrow, David Swallow and Day (Zac Smith has also rejoined after four years with Geelong).
He was sorely missed last year, particularly after impressive sidekick Sam Collins suffered a hip injury in round nine that wiped out the rest of his season.
It left the Suns thin in the key defensive ranks, forcing them to turn to undersized pair Jack Hombsch and second-year tall Charlie Ballard to fight out of their weight division.
"It's difficult to quantify but all we know how important he is to the group, how important he is defensively and how he communicates," Haines said.
"He's an elite key defender. You can assure the player he's on is going to be in for a difficult day.
"The whole group is really excited about getting him back."