KEY WESTERN Bulldogs Lachie Hunter and Josh Bruce will return from personal leave and long-term injury respectively in the VFL.

Hunter took personal leave from the Bulldogs on April 19 but was back training at the club last week and will play against Carlton at the lower level on Friday night.

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"That's his first foray back into it and I just spoke to him earlier on, he's looking forward to getting out on the ground," coach Luke Beveridge told reporters.

"It's an ongoing thing as far as Lachie's welfare goes but he's put things in place and what he was able to do is train away from the club and he applied himself in regards to the strength program as well.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 15: Lachie Hunter of the Bulldogs runs with the ball during a Western Bulldogs AFL training session at Whitten Oval on June 15, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images via AFL Photos)

"He's pretty fit. Our mandate and our objective for him was to come back into the main group and not be part of a rehab group and so he's come back and he's trained our main sessions.

"After a bit of a layoff, he'll blow a bit but he's prepared."


Bruce will play his first game since the ACL rupture in August last year that caused him to miss the Bulldogs' run to the Grand Final.

"Physically we believe he's ready and there'll be some trepidation on his front but he's really excited about getting out on the field again," Beveridge said.

Josh Bruce at Western Bulldogs training on April 28, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

There is no set timeline for either player to step up to AFL level.

"It'll just be form and a four-quarter consideration," Beveridge said.

"I haven't got any firm outlook on the number of weeks.

"But (it was a) significant injury (for) Brucey, coming back from that could take a little while and it could take a month before he's really found his feet on the football field.

"Hunts, that will just be a suck it and see type thing, how well he plays with the footy he's missed, and whether there's a spot for him in the AFL team, which I'm sure there will be at some point soon."

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Both players' returns give the Bulldogs a timely lift amid Bailey Smith facing a likely AFL sanction for being caught with an illicit substance last year.

The Bulldogs will be without Smith against Greater Western Sydney on Saturday night due to his headbutting suspension but expect Tim O'Brien and Lachie McNeil to prove their fitness after spending the bye in COVID-19 protocols.

Luke Cleary is sidelined this week with the virus.