Highly-rated Fremantle draftee Lachie Neale is confident his suspect ankle will hold up for the rest of the season and allow him to press for a recall before the year is out.
The 19-year-old has not played for the Dockers since tweaking his left ankle against Collingwood at the MCG in June.
It was the same ankle he injured in a pre-season match against Port Adelaide in his home State of South Australia, ending his dream at the time of making a debut in round one.
Neale thrust himself back into calculations with 35 possessions and a goal playing for Swan Districts two rounds ago, but his good work was somewhat undone at Medibank Stadium last Saturday.
The Glenelg product needed to ice his ankle between quarters and managed a modest 16 disposals, making a recall for Saturday's crucial western derby unlikely.
Neale was not yet sure whether he'd need a post-season operation after revealing he had damaged ligaments on both the inside and outside of the ankle in the past. A minor tear to the ligament that connects the fibula to the tibia bone is an added complication.
"It does pull up a bit stiff, but during the game it doesn't really bother me. Hopefully I can get back in and play some good footy at AFL," he said.
"But in terms of the ankle, it'll hold up fine and hopefully I can play out the year and hopefully I don't have to go in for surgery."
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon has regularly backed Neale - the club's No.58 draft pick last year - in his debut season. Lively 177cm Neale was initially the substitute in round four against St Kilda.
Neale held his spot and had 13 disposals in his first derby five weeks later. He did not miss a game in a run of 10 successive matches.
But the successful return of Swans teammate Michael Walters has only made the challenge of winning a promotion more difficult.
An inside midfielder at SANFL under-18 level, Neale said learning the defensive side of the game had been the greatest challenge.
"Playing under-18s it's all about getting the pill and getting as many possies as you can," Neale said.
"The defensive side, which Ross has really drilled into us young blokes coming in, has been a real eye-opener. I would have never worked as hard as I do now defensively as I do attacking."