NATHAN Kreuger could be forgiven for taking a back seat at Geelong in 2020.
Knee surgery in December has delayed the athletic 196cm forward's preparations for a season where he has fallen further down the pecking order in attack given the signing of Josh Jenkins.
And with two seasons to run on the three-year contract he signed when he was drafted, the 20-year-old is seen as a long-term forward prospect.
But try telling him that.
"I don't really think that way, I like to think my time is now, it's not later," Kreuger told AFL.com.au.
"I'd like to see if I can get in as fast as I can."
Used as a swingman in his first VFL season to showcase his strong marking ability, the South Australian finished with 18 goals from 16 matches including a bag of six against Coburg in May.
He has since settled in the forward 'Wolfpack' and will rejoin main training in three weeks as he works back from an operation to repair meniscus damage.
While a return via the Marsh Community Series would appear premature, Kreuger has set his sights on offering a different dimension for the Cats forward line and winning an early season debut with the help of new Cats development coach Shaun Grigg.
"He spoke about it in a meeting we had, your time isn't going to be later, it's now," Kreuger said.
"One of his examples was (Grigg's premiership teammate) Jack Graham, a 19-year-old playing in a Grand Final, it's always possible, anyone can get in at any time.
"I absolutely loved that and have been working towards that.
"It's not ideal to play VFL when you're at an AFL club but the way I see it, it is all about being ready when they need me to play a role.
"Even if it's five or six games if someone gets injured and I come in and play a role, I'm more than happy to be part of the team that way. If I do stay in there permanently then it's a major goal fulfilled."
Kreuger has impressed the Cats' coaching staff this summer – firstly with intensity during training and his professionalism during rehabilitation from surgery.
He has actively pursued growth in his mental wellbeing and with new Cats psychologist and familiar face David Williams. The pair's relationship has been ongoing since working together when Kreuger was part of the Flying Boomerangs pathway as a teenager.
"They're sessions for no longer than 20 minutes of your time, just chatting and working out little triggers and things about yourself and your game," he said.
"It's more what I want to get out of footy on a mental side as well. I'm really big on reflecting back and just getting the mental side right.
"I've seen a lot of AFL players with mental health issues exiting the game and I don't want to be one of those players. I feel like if I can get my mental state right it will contribute better to my footy and life in general.
"They (Geelong) want everyone to be ready when they exit the game at any point and it's awesome."
Kreuger knows all too well about upskilling for the outside world.
The Victor Harbor product was laying cables for Telstra in 2018 while playing SANFL for South Adelaide after being overlooked for the 2017 NAB AFL Draft.
Inside 18 months he's calling Gary Ablett a teammate and watching the champion play basketball during a lunch break..
"It still gets like that sometimes; you look around and you count your blessings," Kreuger said.
"I'm used to it now but when he comes out and has five or six shots and drains them all you have to pinch yourself.
"We've had a few one-on-one's (Kreuger with a 14cm height advantage on Ablett) and he's beaten me but it's Gary Ablett, so I don't feel too bad."
Kreuger's rise will be tracked closely in coming months – to see if make the switch from Ablett's basketball opponent to on-field teammate for the modern-day great's final year in the game.