JONATHON Patton hopes to play his first senior game in the next few weeks, having fully overcome the knee injury that has stalled his start at Greater Western Sydney.
But the No. 1 draft pick is already anticipating his first proper pre-season, having missed all of the Giants' summer program after undergoing surgery in Sweden.
The Giants have a bye following this week's match against Geelong, and then play their second home game at Skoda Stadium in round 12, a potential debut date for the 19-year-old key forward.
''They haven't told me when I'll play, but they've said hopefully it will be in the next few weeks,'' said Patton, who will play in his fourth NEAFL game this weekend.
''They're not going to push it. It depends on how I train and run, and what the GPS results say, so we're going to take it week by week and see how it goes.
''So far it's been good. I had my top two results on the GPS a few weeks ago, for distance, speed, sprints and that sort of thing, so that's a good sign.''
Patton travelled to Stockholm in January for surgery on the injured patella tendon that had started causing him pain midway through his final under-18 season last year.
Of the Giants' 11 first-round draft picks, just he and Nick Haynes (No. 7) are yet to play a match, but Patton said he did not have huge personal expectations on what he could achieve this season.
''I just want to get some games under my belt. Obviously I'm not going to have a great first year or anything like that, but I want to play some games against some experienced players and see what it's like, just get to know the speed of it and get a taste of AFL footy,'' he said.
''Hopefully I can make some sort of impact, but mostly I just want to know what it's like. I'm already thinking that next year, if I have a good pre-season and get more prepared, I can go in with bigger expectations.''
Before flying out, the 197-centimetre forward was struggling with his extended stint in rehabilitation, but by the return trip, as he sat icing his elevated leg throughout the long flight, he felt optimistic about what lay ahead.
''I wouldn't say it was depressing, but when you first get to an AFL club you think you're going to be meeting all sorts of new people and getting straight into training, and I didn't know what was going on with my knee,'' Patton said.
''I had to learn to work really hard in rehab, which I hadn't really done before and when you realise that your whole pre-season is gone, it's not a great feeling and it wasn't a very good time.
''But the boys here really helped me deal with it, and flying home I was excited. I knew it was fixed and that I had a timeline, which I hadn't had for a while because we weren't too sure about the knee.
''I knew when I could start running, training and playing and since then it's been really good. My fitness is getting better each week and the knee's been really good.
''When I first started training I didn't feel confident jumping or turning on it at all, but now my speed's coming back and my agility too. In my first game back I cramped but it was everywhere else on my leg except the knee, which felt like a good sign.''