Veteran Geelong forward Tom Hawkins has lauded the pre-season of Shannon Neale and can envision the young West Australian joining him and Jeremy Cameron in the forward line during the 2024 season.
The 203cm Neale will be keen to see more AFL action this year after signing a two-year deal to remain at GMHBA Stadium.
The 21-year-old’s played five games since being drafted with pick 33 in the 2020 National Draft.
Three of those games have been in a team featuring Hawkins and Cameron, of which he was the starting sub in one.
“Absolutely, I think it can (work),” Hawkins said. “Hopefully, we do get to see a bit of that in both the Carlton and Essendon games.
“If we can be productive in attack and defence, there’s no reason why we can’t for long periods of the year.
“Shannon’s development over the last six months has been great.
“As a senior player, to see him evolve … he’s physically looking wonderful.”
It’s not only Neale that impressed Hawkins, who is entering his 18th season.
“We have been fit and healthy through pre-season; we’ve had a lot of new faces rolling through both lots of forward lines,” he said.
“You look outside of Shannon, Phoenix Foster’s put together a really impressive two-week block of training where he’s competed really well.
“Oli Wiltshire does some exciting things. Ollie Dempsey and the other Ollie, Henry, are going really well, too.
“Gary Rohan’s yet to fully complete a training week, so there’s one we haven’t really done much work with through the pre-season.”
When Geelong takes to Ikon Park for its practice match against Carlton on Thursday, 22 February, it will be just shy of six months since the final-round loss to the Western Bulldogs that drew the curtain on the Cats’ season.
It was just the second time in Hawkins’ career that he was watching on in September.
However, he’s confident the extended break will hold Geelong in good stead.
“When you face disappointment, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel,” Hawkins said.
“You wipe your hands clean of 2023, move into the pre-preseason training phase and think of the benefits you get.
“I was able to rest my body, if I talk about myself. But it’s probably reflective of the whole group.
“And then we’ve been able to come back, and we’ve had a great, targeted training load in December.
“January’s always physically and mentally challenging, and we’ve just completed that.
“We’ve had really good health, which has been great.
They’re some pretty important parts that we’ve probably missed the last couple of years through guys having surgery and pre-season rolling around quickly, and then the flow-on effect of that is the season rolls around quickly.”