Key forward Josh Bruce says he is eyeing a return to AFL within the month.
Bruce has been sidelined with an ACL injury since round 21 last year, but will be one step closer to playing at the top level after clearing his final testing last week.
“I did some final testing (on Friday) at Victoria University and got cleared to train full-contact with the group from next week, which also means I’m clear to play,” Bruce told ABC Radio on Friday night.
“My timeline will probably be that VFL game after the bye - so I’ll hopefully have a run around there if I’m feeling up to it.
“If I’m not feeling up to it in terms of my training and stuff, I’ll push it back a week but it’s up to me and up to the coaches now, which is exciting.
“Rehab is a funny thing – it’s kind of like Stockholm syndrome. You kind of get used to it, and (Friday) was my last big rehab session so once I got through it, I knew I was going to tick off the strength stuff so I did have a bit of a well-up in the eye.
“It’s certainly been a long and hard road back, and I’m not quite there yet but definitely on the way.”
In Bruce’s absence, Aaron Naughton has taken on more responsibility up forward, with the Bulldogs using a number of players to help support the 22-year-old.
Bruce said while he hopes to slot straight back in and impact as he did before the injury, he understands it will take some time to gel again.
“It’s not as though I’m going to come straight back in and be able to play elite AFL footy - I’ve done all the work in rehab, but rehab is a different story to playing at the top level in one of the best teams in the comp,” he said.
“Whether it takes me two or three weeks in the VFL to find the form and then another week in the AFL – I’m not really sure how it’s going to look.
“All I know is that I have full confidence in my knee, full confidence in my fitness and the rest will just be a wait and see.”
Both the AFL and VFL Bulldogs will enjoy a bye this weekend.