DAVID Astbury is poised for a full pre-season program with Richmond optimistic his late-season VFL return will give him confidence in his battered knees.
The 23-year-old suffered a heartbreaking left patella dislocation in round nine this year when he went to change direction as he tried to tackle Melbourne's Jack Viney.
After losing 12 months to the same injury on his right side in round 12, 2011, Astbury was moved to tears when the Tigers came together at three-quarter time that afternoon at the MCG.
It was enough to make coach Damien Hardwick emotional as he struggled to accept the new blow to his much-improved defender amidst the wreckage of the Tigers' 17-point loss to the Demons less than a week after the death of club great Tommy Hafey.
But now things are looking brighter for Astbury, who will resume full training with the Tigers when they return in mid-November.
"He had the surgery and it was successful and he got back playing and worked really hard, which is a credit to him," Richmond football manager Dan Richardson told AFL.com.au.
"He'll be ready to go from the start of pre-season, which is terrific.
"I think getting back and playing one game, even though it was only one will give him the confidence that his knee is right to go."
Asbury had limited game time in the VFL match he played against Footscray late in August with the aim to simply get him through the game.
It was an important step in his recovery from the injury with the Tigers hopeful it would provide him with a springboard into the pre-season.
They also believe the athletic defender will take heart from his start to the year, which saw him put in strong performances against the likes of Travis Cloke, Jarryd Roughead and Tom Hawkins.
He was coming second in the club's best and fairest – which was won by captain Trent Cotchin – when the injury happened.
"He had a great start to the year, he did really well to get back and at least play a game and recovery fully from the knee," Richardson said.
"That gives him the opportunity to have another good pre-season, which he did last year.
"Hopefully he'll just pick up on the form he showed early this year."
Astbury signed a two-year contract extension in September, which keeps him at the club until at least the end of 2016.
Despite the fact the injury has now happened on both sides of his body, the Tigers believe he was just unlucky and his genetic structure was unrelated.
Fellow backman and recent All Australian Alex Rance believes a fit Astbury will complement the Tigers' defence when they start playing next year.
"I don't think too many people realise how big he is … he's about 196cm, and he's nearly 100 kilos," Rance told the club's website.
"So, if we can get him on the park, he can take the [Kurt] Tippetts and the other big boys in the competition.
"It just means he's a lock – and he’s really strong mentally as well.
"He doesn't stray away from the game plan too much, or get distracted by too much.
"He really locks down on his job and executes it."