ESSENDON spearhead Joe Daniher has taken a big stride in his bid to be fit for round one after joining in match simulation training.
The Bombers' star goalkicker has had an off-season marred by the ongoing struggles with the osteitis pubis issue that saw him miss most of last year.
However, in a main session for the club at its Tullamarine headquarters on Wednesday, Daniher did about 20 minutes of match practice playing as a deep forward.
Matched up by All Australian defender Michael Hurley, Daniher moved freely, ran strongly at the ball, jumped at marks and also took part in a ruck contest.
PLAY AFL FANTASY Make your team now
Although the hitout wasn't a full-scale intra-club match, the short stint was a positive sign for the 24-year-old after spending the majority of the summer on the sidelines and training away from the main group.
Essendon opens its home and away season against Greater Western Sydney and will be keen to have the 2017 best and fairest winner in attack when it travels to the Sydney Showground Stadium for the contest on March 24.
He also did some goalkicking practice during the session under Melbourne's scorching sun, showing a refined approach at goal.
FULL FIXTURE Every round, every game
After his initial match conditioning, Daniher moved to Essendon's other oval, joining the players in its rehab group for further running and skills work.
In further good news for the Bombers, gun midfielder Zach Merrett was out of a moon boot and walking laps less than two weeks after his ankle scare.
Captain Dyson Heppell was also walking laps and didn't participate in training at all on the track.
Exciting forward Orazio Fantasia, wearing a glove after injuring his finger pre-Christmas, didn't take part in the match simulation but completed the rest of the drills.
Marty Gleeson, Matt Dea, Cale Hooker, Josh Begley, Mark Baguley, Conor McKenna and Luke Lavender were others on modified programs.