Small forward Brent Daniels is in the hunt to make a long-awaited return to the game in round one, more than 18 months after his last appearance for the GIANTS.

The 23-year-old missed all of 2022 and hasn't played a game since round 21, 2021, due to repeated hamstring issues that led to him and young gun Conor Stone heading to visit renowned soft tissue specialists at the University of Wisconsin last September.

Daniels appeared to have navigated through the pre-season smoothly before suffering a low-grade hamstring strain in the middle of February, just when the program started increasing match simulation minutes. 

But after training with the main group at the VALO Community Centre on Wednesday and nearing a return to full fitness, there is growing belief that Daniels will be available to start the new era under Adam Kingsley on March 19.

With just 10 days between now and the season-opener against Adelaide, the GIANTS might opt to hold him back for another week, but it is confident he will be available by round two at the latest if he continues progressing at this pace. 

Many inside the GIANTS rate Daniels very highly and believe he can develop into one of the best small forwards in the AFL if he can overcome the injury plagued run that has stalled his career. 

The GIANTS will start the new campaign without off-season acquisition Toby Bedford after the former Demon damaged his hamstring tendon last month. 

Bedford had been a standout on the track up until that point and looked a certain starter in round one, but is now set to miss the first couple of months of the season. 

While Bedford was confined to running laps at training on Wednesday, veteran defender Phil Davis continued to prepare his body for another season in the AFL after committing for one more season following Kingsley's appointment.

The 32-year-old was restricted to just five appearances during a nightmare 2022 season when the former captain sustained two serious hamstring tendon injuries, one on each leg. 

Davis spent three months on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on his left hamstring tendon, returned in round 15 and then hurt the other tendon in round 17 to force him to consider his future for months before committing to another season. 

The stalwart defender has built up his game time across the past fortnight in the intraclub in Canberra and then in a VFL practice match against Gold Coast in Blacktown. 

With All-Australian key defender Sam Taylor and Connor Idun considered locks in defence and Leek Aleer and Nick Haynes fighting for a spot in the back six, Davis is expected to build fitness and form in the reserves to start the season.

Key defender Jack Buckley passed a big hurdle in his return from a knee reconstruction when he played some minutes in the VFL on Saturday, 609 days on from the injury. 

With Jake Riccardi (four goals), Harry Himmelberg (three goals) and Jesse Hogan (two goals) providing tall targets inside 50 alongside Toby Greene against Gold Coast, No.1 pick Aaron Cadman is set to start the season in the VFL. 

The 18-year-old kicked four goals in the practice match against the Suns' reserves and won't have to wait too long if he continues to make his mark at the lower level.