ERIC Hipwood is ahead of schedule in his recovery from knee surgery and could be back in Brisbane's team by the middle of next season, says Lions football manager Danny Daly.
Hipwood ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in round 17 against St Kilda and was expected to miss 12 months.
However, the 24-year-old tall forward has made good progress and is on track to return sooner.
"Eric's tracking really nicely, probably a couple of weeks ahead of where he's meant to be," Daly said.
"We're not putting any round figure on when he should be back, but ultimately it could be round 10 or 12 all things being equal and everything going well.
"Hopefully we get him back at some stage mid-season."
THAT'S A WRAP Who's in, who's out after the Trade Period
Daly said the club told Hipwood to take a week off to mentally recharge following his early stint in rehabilitation.
Brisbane bolstered its forward line and ruck depth during the Continental Tyres AFL Trade Period with the acquisition of Darcy Fort from Geelong.
Daly said Fort could not only support Oscar McInerney in the ruck, but possibly play alongside Joe Daniher and Dan McStay in the forward line in Hipwood's absence.
"We have that versatility now," he said.
"We saw a couple of years ago Stef (Martin) and Oscar were able to play together and could both play forward.
"I think the ability to have two ruckmen in your side always puts pressure on the opposition around the ball. There's no reason why they can't play together."
INDICATIVE DRAFT ORDER Your club's picks as they stand
Daly also confirmed Cam Rayner would be "cherry ripe" for round one as his recovery from a ruptured ACL continued to storm along.
"With his rehab he's been able to work on his running, which was an aspect of his game we were always looking to improve," he said.
"With adversity comes some positivity as well, so he's been able to work on that."