GOLD Coast midfield sensation Matt Rowell will take a big step in his recovery from shoulder surgery on Saturday when he plays in his first match simulation of the pre-season.
Rowell will play just over a quarter of action at Carrara as he ramps up contact on the shoulder he dislocated in the opening quarter of just his fifth senior game last year against Geelong.
PRACTICE MATCH TIME Who are you tuning up against?
Speaking to AFL.com.au (SEE PODCAST BELOW), Suns coach Stuart Dew said the club had taken a deliberately cautious approach with the No.1 draft pick.
"It's not cotton wool, but we're just mindful that he's had such a big off-season, he was so determined to get it right, he's done all his shoulder rehab so well," Dew said.
"It's been different for him.
"He hasn't missed a lot of footy (previously), but it's been great for him to learn about his body more and not just be the guy that can play football really well.
>> LISTEN TO THE FULL DEW INTERVIEW IN THE PODCAST BELOW
"I think this will help him throughout his career, he's really aware of what his body needs from a recovery point of view and workload point of view."
Gold Coast deliberately modified Rowell's training either side of Christmas as the 19-year-old had virtually completed an entire pre-season in the preceding months.
He played just four full games in 2020, but took the competition by storm, earning the maximum three Brownlow Medal votes in three games.
Whether it was his role as an assistant coach later in the season or the fact he plays with his jumper tucked in, the fascination around the young Victorian came from far and wide.
"He's very humble, he's engaging, he's got time for everyone," Dew said.
"I think he understands there's an interest and fascination, but then I think being on the Gold Coast is a fantastic spot for him, in that it's at the right level.
"Potentially in a two-team town, like I've seen in Adelaide, where it (outside interest) might get to the level where it really does impact his time away from football, where I think here it's at a good level."
Dew said Rowell's return to the midfield would strengthen an area of the ground Gold Coast has developed depth in during the past 12 months.
He said Noah Anderson would spend more time "inside" in 2021, while Izak Rankine would also push higher up the ground to be on-ball more regularly in the coming year.