The Brisbane Lions expect Cam Rayner to be like a "recruit" for them next year as the dynamic AFL forward returns from an ACL injury.
The 2017 No.1 draft pick's 2021 season was wiped out before it even begun after injuring his knee in a practice match in March.
Rayner set alight a qualifying final last year and many thought the 21-year-old was on the cusp of becoming a legitimate star.
Lions football boss Danny Daly said Rayner was on schedule to play in round one next season and could be in for more midfield minutes.
"He's basically another recruit for us," Daly told Trade Radio.
"Cam has had the whole season to get his knee right and basically put in a pre-season.
"He's been able to really work on the running side of his game which is something that he lacked a little bit.
"We've all seen snippets of what he can do but I'm pretty sure he can go to another level."
Forward Eric Hipwood also succumbed to a dreaded ACL injury, ruling him out of the Lions' finals series.
Daly said the 24-year-old was ahead of schedule with his recovery and the Lions were hopeful of Hipwood returning mid-year.
After going down in the round-17 loss to St Kilda, Hipwood was badly missed by Chris Fagan's men.
The Lions endured a form slump for almost a month following his injury, before losing a heartbreaking semi-final against the Western Bulldogs.
Daly also shut down any speculation star midfielder Lachie Neale could reignite a trade move.
Neale was linked with a trade to Fremantle last month to be closer to his wife's family, but later committed his future to the Lions.
"Lachie is loving every day working out and getting himself cherry-ripe to go again next year," Daly said.
"He was one that didn't have the greatest year with injuries.
"He can't wait for next year to get back into it and play the footy we know he can."
Australian Associated Press