DANIEL Rich's goal of playing in round one next year appears on track with the Brisbane Lions midfielder set to start the pre-season with his teammates.
The 24-year-old hasn't played since he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in round three this season against Gold Coast.
He underwent a traditional reconstruction in April, which came with the standard 12 months of rehabilitation, and started running in July.
He set the goal of returning for the Lions in the opening round of 2015 - which is on April 4 against Collingwood - and will give himself the best chance of achieving that when he starts summer training later this month.
"I'm pretty much ready to go with the boys," Rich told radio station SEN on Friday morning.
"The young boys started back on Wednesday but I've been pretty much training the whole way through the break, a little bit modified here and there, but I'm pretty much ready to go for day one of pre-season and feeling pretty good.
"I'm feeling pretty fresh, almost like it's my first year again having sat out the whole of last year, so I'm pretty excited
Although disappointed not to be available, Rich has enjoyed his opportunity to watch coach Justin Leppitsch up close each week in the coach's box and he's looking forward to playing under him after having his 2014 season cut brutally short.
He's also anticipating the challenge the young Lions face after the retirements of veterans Jonathan Brown and Ash McGrath.
"Unfortunately they can't play forever and it's up to us guys to take up from where they left off," he said.
Helping the team fill the void will be premiership players Dayne Beams and Allen Christensen, who arrived at the Lions during the NAB AFL Trade Period.
Rich said the pair would automatically assume unofficial leadership roles after their prolific involvement at Collingwood and Geelong.
"They’ve both played a lot of finals footy and that experience in our list … there's not many [at the Lions] who have played finals footy," he said.
"For those guys to come in and shed some light on what it's all about from day one will be invaluable.
"We're looking forward to getting stuck into the pre-season and learning bits and pieces off those guys. They're going to fit in pretty well as well.
"There's some pretty good recruits coming in and I'm looking forward to not only getting back into training but hopefully playing with them and all the boys again next year.
"Obviously I've been on the outer in the last year and away from the club the last eight weeks and it's pretty exciting, to be honest."