ANTHONY McDonald-Tipungwuti is set to take his first steps towards an AFL return by playing in Essendon's VFL side on Saturday.
The livewire small forward has not played at AFL level since round 21 last season when he was omitted from the Bombers' side in a bid to go through a short training block.
He had an interrupted pre-season and also took time away from the club in February through personal reasons and has been working on his conditioning.
In recent weeks the 28-year-old has completed more and more training and will this week play some game time for Essendon's VFL side as he takes a step in his road back to the top level.
Coach Ben Rutten told AFL.com.au in the pre-season that the club was optimistic the fan favourite would get back onto the field.
"He's had a bit of off-field stuff he's been working through but he loves coming to the club, he loves his footy and I know that everyone's asking about him, which is a great sign because everyone does care about him and he is a much-loved player for us, and we're doing everything we can," Rutten said.
"I'd love nothing more than to see Anthony back out there with a big smile on his face in the middle of the MCG. I think that's what all footy fans want to see."
Essendon VFL will play Casey Demons on Saturday at Casey Fields, with the clash to start at 3.05pm AEDT and broadcast live on AFL.com.au.
The Bombers have missed the goalkicker's presence at ground level and his sharp skills inside 50 in the early stages of this season, with McDonald-Tipungwuti last year booting an equal career-high 34 goals before missing the end of the club's campaign.