SYDNEY won't be rushed into ensuring Lance Franklin is fit for round one, with the club to take a cautious approach to the veteran superstar's return from a calf injury sustained last week.
Franklin, who missed all of last season due to significant hamstring and groin issues, was being ushered back into pre-season training on the cusp of his 17th AFL campaign but felt tightness in his calf last Friday.
The latest setback is only likely to delay Franklin's return to full duties by barely seven days, with the Swans pulling the 34-year-old from all activities for this week, though it is expected to hamper his preparations for a round one clash with Brisbane on March 20.
"He was doing small group training skills for the last three weeks," Sydney coach John Longmire told AFL.com.au.
"Not with the main group, but off with a group of about six or seven others as they're coming back from various injuries or operations. They were doing a lot of training and a lot of work and looking really good.
"He was probably only a week off stepping back into the full program and he did about half the session last Friday and his calf pulled up a little bit tight. That's probably set him back about a week or so.
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"It's not a major hurdle, but it's not unexpected either. When you've got a player who is 34 years of age and who has played as much footy as Lance has and has missed a bit of footy, you understand that it's not all going to be like that. As long as it's tracking in the right direction, and we feel it's tracking in the right direction."
Franklin, who hasn't featured at AFL level since playing his 300th game in August 2019, is just 56 goals away from becoming only the sixth player in the competition's illustrious history to reach the 1000-goal mark.
With just two seasons remaining on the landmark nine-year deal he signed with Sydney back in 2013, Longmire is still confident the remarkable goalkicker can re-find some of his best form when he does hopefully return to the park later this year.
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"We're really confident with what he can deliver for us," Longmire said.
"His preparation since halfway through last year, when he couldn't play, was absolutely spot on. He worked really hard through that hub experience to work through the program that was set for him.
"He bought in to the whole experience and the younger players loved having him around. That's carried into his off-season and through his Christmas. He's been incredibly diligent, he hasn't gone anywhere and he's just worked with our physio and conditioning team to get himself in the best possible nick. He'll continue to do that.
"We feel like, while he'll miss this week and maybe a fraction of next week, he won't be far away."
But whether a round one return is a realistic ambition for the injured Franklin is another question, with Sydney set to take a cautious approach to his recovery in the hope he can string together a series of consecutive matches once he is back on the park.
"I don't know (about round one)," Longmire said.
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"When players come back, we get asked about round one every year. For me, it's not about that. It's about when he's ready to play, then he'll play. We're not dictated to by when the season starts, we're dictated to when we feel he's right.
"We need to get enough training into him to make him resilient enough to play week in, week out. When that comes, that'll be the time he plays. It's really an unknown at the moment, but we won't be forced into it. We don't think that's the way to go."