BRISBANE coach Chris Fagan has quashed any speculation Eric Hipwood will return from injury for round one of the AFL season but admits the forward is eyeing a sooner-than-expected comeback.
Hipwood ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in round 17 against St Kilda last July and was expected to miss 12 months.
The 24-year-old is, however, running strongly at Lions pre-season training just six months after surgery, although he remains away from contact drills or anything too physical at this stage.
Hipwood's physical appearance has some speculating he could be a surprise candidate to feature in the Lions' season-opener against Port Adelaide on March 19.
Fagan though was quick to rule out that scenario.
"He'd like to do more probably if you'd let him," Fagan said after training on Monday.
"He thinks he's going to be back for the start of the season. He won't be but he might not be too far in.
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"May, end of May, is probably a reasonable time frame for him to get back if he doesn't have any hiccups.
"It's been pretty straightforward to this stage with no setbacks."
The Lions' other major casualty from 2021, Hipwood's fellow forward Cam Rayner, is now into full training after his ACL injury suffered in pre-season last year.
Fagan said having proven the strength in his reconstructed knee, the 22-year-old is on track for a round one return.
"Cam, you wouldn't know he had a knee injury," the Lions coach said.
"He's doing everything now. He was a little bit modified before Christmas.
"We just didn't want him to do any competitive work or too much change of direction but now he's doing it.
"You always look at those guys or watch them in training and when they change direction you sort of close your eyes and then have a bit of a look to see if they're OK when they come out but he looks fine."
Fagan said his squad had experienced a minor COVID-19 outbreak over the Christmas break, with about a third of the team having tested positive, but the majority of his players are fully recovered.
"It didn't really affect the group training. I think we had one missing today and he's due back tomorrow," he said.
"Relatively our guys that have had it, got it at the right time."