FREMANTLE captain Matthew Pavlich could join full training as early as next week after recovering from back surgery with a view to playing in one of the club's final two NAB Cup matches.
Pavlich, who had hip and Achilles tendon surgery at the end of last season, underwent a back operation in late November and has been on a carefully managed program since.
The star goalkicker will not be available for Saturday night's clashes against West Coast and Geelong at Patersons Stadium, but he will complete a football session with other Fremantle players who aren't selected for the shortened matches.
The 31-year-old, who started running with the club's rehab group in January, said that session should prepare him for a week of full training after a carefully mapped out summer.
"I've almost had enough of one-on-one footy training sessions," Pavlich said on Tuesday.
"I did a pretty solid session yesterday morning with Ryan (Crowley) and the fitness staff and a couple of assistant coaches.
"Hopefully I'll be doing the same later this week and I'm likely to train in a football session with the guys that miss out on Saturday.
"So that'll line us up for most of the week ... with a view to playing the second last or last NAB Cup game."
Pavlich described Saturday night's matches as "the light at the end of the tunnel" for a Fremantle group that trained for two hours in 40-degree heat on Tuesday.
He said the pre-season competition would be a crucial four-week block for the group as it builds continuity in the line-up and tests Ross Lyon's game plan after a second summer under the coach.
"When we've got competition against teams who have been training extremely hard also, it's going to be great to get a sense of how we match up ... this year," Pavlich said.
"[The players] get belief in their own game and they have confidence that, come the real season, not only the game plan stands up but their own improvements over the summer physically stand up.
"There's actually some tangible benefits towards the end of this week in terms of getting out there and playing and seeing all their hard work pay off."
With Pavlich sidelined for Saturday night's shortened matches, tall draftees Jack Hannath, Tanner Smith, Alex Howson and Matt Taberner could be considered to fill a role in the forward line.
Pavlich also suggested Fremantle would rely on its small forwards to give the team a dangerous edge.
"There might be a young guy who has been drafted recently pop up and play that [key forward] position," the veteran said.
"I think our small forwards have been training the house down really.
"Hayden (Ballantyne), 'Son-son' (Michael Walters) and Josh Mellington have all been training quite well, so I assume they may get an opportunity come this Saturday night.
"And clearly they were the incumbents from last year."
Nathan Schmook is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_Nathan