HAWTHORN has given the strongest indication yet of a return before the end of the season of the prized, but hobbled Jaeger O’Meara. 

Club elite performance manager Andrew Russell told hawthornfc.com.au on Wednesday that the midfielder was making strong progress on the training track after a season largely cruelled by a bruised patella.

“Jaeger is running pain free and is showing signs of healing, which is really great,” Russell said. “He’s on track to play some football towards the end of the season.”

Match preview: Geelong v Hawthorn

The Hawks have invested heavily in O’Meara, who has managed just four games for the season after his high-profile move from Gold Coast, where he didn't play at AFL level for two years because of a serious knee injury.

The Hawks traded away their first-round draft pick later this year to bring O’Meara to the club, but will be delighted to have him play a few games at the end of the season – even at VFL level – so they can enter the off-season with some certainty over his playing future.

Elsewhere, the news isn’t so flash for the Hawks who will likely take an unchanged side into Saturday’s big clash with Geelong at the MCG.

Small forward Paul Puopolo will miss another couple of weeks because of a groin injury, while Grant Birchall’s knee soreness will also keep him out for a few more weeks.

Josh Gibson also won’t be back for at least two weeks as he is still feeling the effects of his groin injury.

Star forward Cyril Rioli is back running and looking good, but the expectations are that he will not return this season unless the Hawks are somehow still in finals contention towards the end of the season.