DOUBT continues to surround Joe Daniher's return to football after Essendon coach John Worsfold said the key forward was still "a fair way off" training at the intensity to be ready to play.
The Bombers had hoped the 2017 best and fairest winner would be able to resume his career after football's COVID-19 shutdown period, with Worsfold saying in April he was confident the goalkicker would be ready to go for round two.
But with a date now set – June 11 – for the game's reboot, that chance has faded, with the Bombers ruling out a return any time soon for the matchwinner.
"When I look at what Joe's doing at the moment, it's not enough to say he'll be ready for round two. We'll just keep progressing him. We're not too concerned about saying 'get him back as quickly as possibly', we're just following the protocol," Worsfold said on Tuesday.
"This is about long-term for Joe to help him absolutely get over this so his career progresses at the rate we want rather than trying to get him back one or two weeks earlier.
"He's obviously a fair way off what we would say is the intensity to be ready to play, so we'll just keep progressing him up and that will take care of itself.
"The next step will be about getting him to a point of training where he can join in the group, and then there's usually a couple of weeks required where he's in full training with the group before we'd say someone's back ready to play."
Daniher managed seven games in 2018 before succumbing to the debilitating osteitis pubis, which again flared last year after he returned for four games.
He has not played since May 18 last year, but the 12-month stint on the sidelines is set to extend. Worsfold could not confirm whether Daniher would feature for the Bombers in 2020.
"I can't answer that question. All I can say is that's our aim - to help him get back and play and resume his career. That's what we're aiming for. He's progressing well and we're trying to get him up ready to go," he said.
Worsfold said he had not spoken to the free agent about his future at the club after his failed bid to be traded to Sydney at the end of last year.
The Bombers also look set to be without captain Dyson Heppell when their season resumes, with the skipper not yet back to full training as he recovers from foot surgery.
Heppell said before round one that he expected to play within the first month of the season, but despite the coronavirus-enforced lay-off the midfielder is unlikely to be ready in three weeks.
"It's going to be line-ball I would guess [for him to be ready], but the good part is that we're talking that way and he's prepping to play now, whether it's in a couple of weeks or it stretches out by a week or so," he said.
Conor McKenna arrived back in Melbourne on Saturday but Worsfold admitted the half-back's mandatory two-week quarantine period meant he was unlikely to be available for their first game back.
However, defensive pair Cale Hooker (hip) and Patrick Ambrose (knee) have rejoined full training and should be ready to return from their injury concerns.