Cameron Rayner has a glint in his eye, and an extra yard of pace, after missing all of the last AFL season with a knee injury.
Brisbane's former No.1 draft pick is optimistic he and Eric Hipwood, who could be back ahead of schedule as early as round five, can offer what's needed next year as the Lions stay on the scent of a premiership.
Back-to-back finals losses left Brisbane with a 1-5 record across the past three post-seasons, a one-point loss to the Western Bulldogs coming after a hard-fought loss to Melbourne, who then ran rampant to a memorable flag.
Rayner watched every second of the 2021 campaign from the sidelines after rupturing his ACL in a pre-season game, while Hipwood suffered the same fate in round 17.
Rayner was set to be used as a game-changer in the midfield while Hipwood's absence discombobulated a forward line that had been developing nicely after the arrival of Joe Daniher.
Hipwood was running laps at the Lions' first session back on Monday, with Rayner in the thick of it and benefiting from an extended cardio program that has elevated one of the perceived weaknesses of his game.
Noah Answerth (groin) is also back in the mix after missing last season and Nakia Cockatoo was looking noticeably trim after impressing late last season.
"Me and Eric are super close; I was heartbroken when I saw him go down ... but he's running really well, would be a good boost to get him back early," Rayner said.
"I know Eric's got the same fire in his belly; it builds character and makes you want to get back and play some good footy and you're not taking for granted the chance to get out and run and train with the boys.
"It (last season's top-four finish) shows the depth of our team, it'll be a lot of work to get back into this team and that is what the preseason is for.
"Through the off-season I've based myself around blokes I'm trying to catch up to and (I've made some ground) on a couple, the boys were getting pretty competitive."
Draftee James Tunstill was also on deck in Brisbane on Monday, while a host of senior figures headed by Lachie Neale, Jarrod Berry and Daniher were back a week earlier than required of players in their fifth season or beyond.
Melbourne-based draftees Darcy Wilmot and Kai Lohmann plan to join the squad after Christmas.
"It shows the effort we want to go to make sure we're a successful club," Rayner, before his fourth season, said of the senior players' early returns.
"It's setting the tone for the younger boys; I'm sure for Jimmy Tunstill it would have been a real eye opener.
"We've said we want good energy, consistency and to come out with a purpose every session."
Australian Associated Press
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