KURT Heatherley will play his first game of 2013 next week as Hawthorn's New Zealander finally returns from hip surgeries.

Heatherley, who will be added this year as a Hawks international rookie having been developed through the NZ scholarship program, has been out of action since February after having bone shaved off both hips.

The rehabilitation has been slow but Heatherley targeted a return in late July and will fulfill that aim by playing for the Sandringham Dragons in the TAC Cup next weekend.

"The surgery had to be done at some stage and the medical guys thought it was best to have it done this year so he gets a clear run into next year," Hawks list manager Graham Wright told AFL.com.au.

"He's champing at the bit to get out there. He's been in his own pre-season since early May so he's done a lot of work and he thinks he's ready to go, and so do our guys."

Heatherley probably would have played this weekend, but it is a bye round in the TAC Cup competition.  

The 192cm prospect is being groomed by the Hawks as a key defender, with his agility and athleticism having impressed recruiters when he was first spotted playing basketball in 2009.

Heatherley has enjoyed picking the brain of fellow Hawks defender Brian Lake while on the sidelines, and Mark McKenzie, the club's recruiter and special projects manager, has overseen his development.

"Mark's been really impressed with the way he's applied himself, especially since he's returned from Europe with the AIS-AFL Academy," Wright said.

"There was a real focus on developing his skills – kicking, handballing and all those types of things. And the last six weeks he's done a lot of running to get himself up to speed. He's got through to the stage where he's ready to play."

Callum Twomey is a reporter for the AFL website. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_CalTwomey.