Star Geelong forward Tom Hawkins has claimed he is a live chance to face Collingwood in Round 1 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, stating that he "progressing really well" after off-season foot surgery.
But while Hawkins has his eyes set on the blockbuster Friday night opener, the veteran will still be required to meet several more markers in his rehabilitation period across the next six weeks.
The spearhead enjoyed another stellar season in 2022, adding an 11th goalkicking gong to his fifth All-Australian blazer and third premiership medallion.
Following a campaign that saw him surpass the 50-goal marker for the eighth time in his career, Hawkins went under the knife in October to mend a foot injury that had hampered him across the back half of the season.
Although not on the track during Geelong's community camp in Warrnambool on Tuesday, Hawkins was happy to state he had been busy elsewhere over summer.
“I'm progressing really well, I've been hard at it behind the scenes,” he told media.
"We were always given the indication that it would be a bit slow so I'm taking the right steps forward and continuing to increase my load. I ran today in Geelong and then made my way down here.”
Though keen to face off against Collingwood on the season's second night, the 34-year-old also expressed that he would be willing to play the long game ahead of 17th year in hoops.
“In my mind I'm aiming to play Round 1, but whether or not that happens, I'm not sure,” he divulged.
“I think the most important thing that we want to make sure of is that we're doing the right things for my longevity so I'm not going to rush back and play when I'm not ready.
“It's really hard to put a timeline on it. As my load increases I'll have more of an indication as to whether that's a possibility.”
At best, Geelong will start their premiership defence with both Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron within forward 50. At worst, the Cats will be forced to tackle Collingwood without either, with Cameron explaining earlier in the week that he would be content to miss the clash to attend the birth of his first child.
Hawkins, a father of three, had his own advice for his partner in crime by way of a cheeky backhander.
"We (he and wife Emma) had our second child on the Wednesday before a Friday night Round 1 (game), and I still played," he offered with a grin.
"But circumstances are different in different families."
At present, Hawkins has laced the boots in 71 consecutive contests, a streak that began after the forward missed Geelong's preliminary final loss to Richmond in 2019 due to suspension.
The Cats will meet Hawthorn (GMHBA Stadium) and Brisbane (Brighton Homes Arena) in pre-season clashes between February 23 and March 2 before doing battle with Collingwood under lights a fortnight later at the MCG.