COLLINGWOOD coach Nathan Buckley has warned the AFL risks losing its biggest stars to injury unless a more gradual return-to-training structure of up to six weeks is adopted.
League decision-makers are bracing for next Friday's National Cabinet update, where government officials could give the green light for players to train in groups of 10 rather than two.
That move see them transitioning from 'level A' restrictions to 'level B' and enable them to complete controlled kicking, marking and handballing drills, albeit without tackling or contact.
Full training won't be allowed until the government announces athletes can progress to level C.
"These guys are elite athletes … we could play three days after returning and you could actually go and play a game of football but you're not going to get quality," Buckley told SEN radio.
"You are going to get athletes who are sore and you will lose guys. We've got to get a season out, there's no doubt, but we might as well try and get a quality season out.
"You might as well get the best you can get out and if time allows, and I think it does, I think a couple of weeks at that level B with the up to 10 and three at level C (would be ideal).
"Now, if it came in at level C straight away, then three weeks, four weeks might be enough but I believe slowly ramping it up, or more gradually ramping it up, is going to be important to look after the players and still get the product out at the end."
Hawthorn star Isaac Smith also guessed players and teams would receive between four to six weeks, while speaking during his regular RSN radio timeslot on Tuesday.
Smith said he would increase his training loads towards the end of this week after a brief rest period, while Buckley's Magpies increased their football-specific training in the last fortnight.
"There's been layers to the programs we've put out and it seems like our players have responded really well to it, but you don't really know until you get them back and have a look at how they've handled this period," Buckley said.
"Some will handle it better than others. I just think the fact we haven't been able to run around and change direction for six weeks – that's a long time.
"They'll be fit. But running good 5km, 6km times, or repeat 200s, is one thing but change of direction and being able to cut and turn and accelerate and decelerate is where the real challenge is."
Smith, one of the AFL's best endurance athletes, is confident he has enough pre-seasons under his belt that he will "bounce back pretty quickly".
He has long been an advocate for more individualised training and less club contact time and sees both pros and cons to training in groups of 10, compared to the full complement of players.
"When there are 45 or 47 players out there on a training track, you're doing things that ultimately help the collective and don't necessarily help the individual," Smith said.
"I'm not sure how we'd break the groups up – whether you break them up in midfielders, defenders, forwards, or age – we haven't even got to those steps of discussion yet.
"But I'm sure we'll be able to do things specific to how players want to play and certain areas we want to play, so there will be benefits in that sense.
"The flipside is you won't get to be training and doing 18 on 18 and match play or game-type scenarios on a bigger level."