MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 18: Alex Rance of the Tigers looks upfield during a Richmond Tigers AFL training session at Punt Road Oval on January 18, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

It has been 15 weeks since star Richmond defender Alex Rance had surgery to repair his ruptured ACL.

And with the All-Australian stepping up his running and nearing full speed, Coach Damian Hardwick hints that Rance could possibly return to play in 2019.

“He’s going incredibly well. It’s scary how much of a freak of an athlete he is,” Hardwick told ABC.

“He’s that far ahead of schedule, it’s not funny. He’s probably going to challenge us (for a return) at some stage.

“The danger for us that he’s such an important player but also, when I do see him moving, I think: ‘Oooh, [it’d] be good to put that piece back on the puzzle, wouldn’t it?’.

Rance was operated on by the same surgeon as Collingwood’s Tyson Goldsack. Goldsack defied all odds and returned to play in the VFL just over 20 weeks post-surgery and went on to play in Collingwood’s 2018 grand final after rupturing his ACL in pre-season.

“I had exactly the same graft as Tyson Goldsack and he was back in 22 weeks and the same with [Olympian] Alisa Camplin, who was back in 16 weeks and won bronze at the Olympics so they are two good case studies for me to follow,” Rance told SBS.

Hardwick has stated that a conversation is in the works with Rance over a potential return in 2019, and whilst the club does not want to put him at any risk, Hardwick refuses to shut the door on Rance for this season.

A win over St Kilda on Sunday afternoon boosted the Tigers back into the top eight, keeping their September hopes alive. As Richmond move into the back half of the season good news continues to come with the return of premiership stars Toby Nankervis and Jack Riewoldt edging closer to return.