RICHMOND defender Alex Rance says he can't wait for teammate David Astbury to join him in the Tigers backline after making quicker-than-expected progress in his recovery from a serious knee injury.
Sidelined since round 10 with a repeat of the patella injury that struck him down in 2011, Astbury is well ahead of schedule in his recovery and on track to return to the field later this season.
The 23-year-old, who has been restricted to 37 games in his five seasons, was one of Richmond's best players before the setback and Rance said he would be a valuable inclusion later in the season.
"He's definitely got his mind set and his heart set on playing a few games … he'll probably have a few rounds that he'll be able to have a crack at," Rance told AFL.com.au.
"I'd love to play a few games with him ... he's one of my best mates. I know we've got Sydney and a few others late who have got plenty of tall timber so all the help would be great.
"He was probably one of the only shining lights for the start of the season and he's got an amazing ability to win one-on-one contests.
"He's got a heap of footy left in him and I think we'll probably see him later in the season."
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said Astbury was "well ahead of schedule" and had recently hit a key checkpoint in his rehabilitation.
"He's running on grass, which doesn't seem like a big deal, but for the injury he had it's been significant," Hardwick said.
"We're really hopeful he'll play some footy this year, which is a real positive.
"When he did that injury we thought it was incredibly severe, which it was, but his recovery has been nothing short of outstanding.
"Towards the back end of the year we're hopeful he gets back and plays."
The Tigers have eight games left this season and despite finals being out of the picture, Rance said there was plenty still to gain with the team desperate to regain some respect.
"All we can do is change the minds of a few teams that think we might be a bit of a pushover," he said.
"Hopefully we can just show that our defensive style is good enough.
"I think the last four games have shown that we've played some really good defensive footy and that's what we need to build our game on.
"We know the wins will come if we play a more consistent brand of what we've been playing."