LAUNCESTON, AUSTRALIA - JULY 14: Eric Hipwood of the Lions (second from right) celebrates a goal with Jake Barrett (left) and Cameron Rayner of the Lions during the 2018 AFL round 17 match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Brisbane Lions at UTAS Stadium on July 14, 2018 in Launceston, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Brisbane key forward Eric Hipwood is on track to make a return to the Chris Fagan's fold less than 12-months after suffering a season-ending knee injury.

According to the Lions football manager, Danny Daly, the 24-year-old's rehabilitation has been progressing smoothly after tearing his ACL just prior to the club's third successive September assault.

Before his 2021 campaign was cut short at Metricon Stadium in Round 17, the Aspley Hornets product had managed 26 majors across his 15 prior appearances, including a haul of four against reigning premiers, Richmond.

While returns from such injuries are usually made at around the one-year mark, Hipwood is said to be ahead of schedule in his quest to play a role in Brisbane's premiership tilt.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 25: Eric Hipwood of the Lions celebrates during the 2019 AFL round 23 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Brisbane Lions at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on August 25, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

"Eric's tracking really nicely, probably a couple of weeks ahead of where he's meant to be," Daly told AFL Media's, Michael Whiting.

With this news in mind, Daly was excited to suggest that a return before the club's bye could well be on the cards.

"We're not putting any round figure on when he should be back, but ultimately it could be Round 10 or 12 all things being equal and everything going well," he continued.

"Hopefully we get him back at some stage mid-season."

Although Fagan will once again be forced to field a starting-22 that is sans the lean, leaping machine, the recruitment of ex-Cat Darcy Fort could aid the 2019 AFLCA Coach of the Year in plugging a gap within his forward arc.

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - MAY 18: Darcy Fort of the Cats celebrates a goal during the round nine AFL match between the Geelong Cats and the Western Bulldogs at GMHBA Stadium on May 18, 2019 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos/Getty Images)

Despite being brought to the Gabba as coverage in the ruck, Daly held the view that the 28-year-old could double as an option ahead of the ball as well as in the centre.

"We have that versatility now," he said of Fort's commitment.

"We saw a couple of years ago Stef [Martin] and Oscar were able to play together and could both play forward.

"I think the ability to have two ruckmen in your side always puts pressure on the opposition around the ball. There's no reason why they can't play together."

Should this plan come to fruition, the Lions could well field a group alongside Fort that consists of Joe Daniher, Daniel McStay, Tom Fullarton and Oscar McInerney, as each have experience at stoppages having combined for 771 hitouts last season.

The news was also positive for fellow ACL sufferer Cam Rayner, as Daly explained the pre-season injury that led to the former number one draft pick missing the entirety of last year had actually yielded some gains.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 13: Cam Rayner handballs during a Brisbane Lions AFL training session at The Gabba on August 13, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

"With his rehab, he's been able to work on his running, which was an aspect of his game we were always looking to improve," he also told Whiting.

"With adversity comes some positivity as well, so he's been able to work on that."

After starting to hit his straps prior to the blow that was also suffered on Metricon's surface, the 21-year-old's comeback is certain to boost Brisbane's chances of claiming their fourth flag since the start of the millennium.

A timeline for Rayner's return has not yet been made public, but given his specific tear took place in March of this year, a start in the opening week of 2022 is not outside the realms of possibility.