ESSENDON forward Joe Daniher has seen a substantial increase in his training load over the past fortnight and the club is hopeful he will be available to play some part in the upcoming JLT Community Series.
It appears unlikely the spearhead would be ready to play in the Bombers' first pre-season assignment against Carlton at Ikon Park next Thursday evening.
JLT FULL FIXTURE Whereyour team's playing its warm-up games
But a meeting with Geelong at GMHBA Stadium on March 7 is well within the realms of possibility, as Daniher looks to prove his fitness for round one.
Teammate Tom Bellchambers said Daniher was tracking nicely in his recovery from a bout of osteitis pubis that wrecked his 2018 season.
"I reckon he'd be hoping (for) some point in the JLT. I haven't spoken to him in depth, but he'd be hoping for that," Bellchambers said on Tuesday.
"He's always out here wanting to train, wanting to do more. So it's a conservative approach with Joe, being a long-term injury but off the last couple of weeks I reckon he'd be hoping to play some JLT.
"He's ramped up his training and he's coping really well. They'll ramp it up a bit more I guess leading into the season and hopefully he continues to cope with it."
Daniher has been joining in parts of match simulation at training over the past three weeks and looked lively in a modified version of match practice at Tullamarine on Tuesday.
The forward presented hard for the footy and had a couple of instances where he pushed off the mark and swung onto his customary left boot in style in match simulation.
Essendon will continue to take a conservative approach with its management of the 2017 best and fairest winner but the work he has put in lately would be cause for optimism.
How Essendon structures up in the forward line remains a point of intrigue, with the Bombers exploring the possibility of playing one of Zac Clarke or Sam Draper alongside Bellchambers in the ruck.
The former Docker has done everything asked of him after being added to the club's list via the AFL's pre-season supplemental selection period rules, while Draper has improved immensely since arriving at the club at the end of 2016.
The addition of the 6-6-6 starting positions rule would also have an impact on the game, according to Bellchambers.
"I'm not too sure how it (the structure of the side) looks yet but we'll probably tinker with that over the next month or so," he said.
"The makeup of the forward line will depend on whether we play two rucks or not. We need Joey up and going, he's training really well but we'll wait and see.
"I've always thought the ruckman's pretty pivotal. But you're right it's definitely the dominant ruckman that's going to have a big influence on the game."
Bellchambers himself is hopeful of playing one JLT game in his preparation for 2019. The ruckman had shoulder surgery late last season but after a period in rehab is back training with the main group.
The fact that Bellchambers played 20 matches (the most number of games in a single season in his career) in 2018 gives him a great deal of surety that his body can hold up this season.
"I've been pretty happy with the summer. Last pre-season I had knee surgery in late January, so compared to last year I've got a lot of work in and I'm excited for the season," Bellchambers said.
"The belief was always there but it was probably about my body being able to do it. It's a confidence-builder knowing that I can get through 20 games."