2013 pre-season training: Matthew Pavlich
My plan is to definitely play at least one NAB Cup game
FREMANTLE captain Matthew Pavlich says he is aiming to play at least one NAB Cup match in preparation for the 2013 season, despite being at least three weeks away from joining full training as he recovers from back surgery.
Pavlich, who also required hip and Achilles tendon surgery at the end of last season, underwent an operation on his back in late November and has only recently started running with the club's rehab group.
The veteran, who has been active in the gym and remains in top physical shape, said Fremantle's fitness and medical staff were taking a "staggered and cautious approach" with his program.
"They've probably got the tight hold of me at this stage, just being extra cautious with the three operations," Pavlich said on Thursday.
"I'm pleased to be out on the track running with the rehab guys and I'll probably be in that group for another three to four weeks before I really get into some solid football drills and some more match simulation stuff.
"Depending on how that progresses, we'll look to play some NAB Cup stuff.
"My plan is to definitely play at least one NAB Cup game. That's certainly been the plan all along and the physios and docs believe I'm a little bit ahead of schedule."
Pavlich returned to the forward line more permanently in 2012 and kicked 69 goals in an outstanding season, also rising on the September stage to kick six goals against Geelong in Fremantle's elimination final at the MCG.
The 31-year-old, who has played 279 games, said there were no plans to change his on-field role in 2013.
However, the six-time All Australian said there had been ongoing discussions at the club about an eventual captaincy succession plan.
Contracted until the end of the 2014 season, Pavlich said it was possible he could step down from the captaincy before he retires.
"I certainly don't want to stand in the way of anyone, I don't want to suffocate the oxygen out of any other internal candidates," he said.
"If there is someone, or some players that are ready and willing to step up, that would be great and fine with me.
"Equally if there wasn't, then I would be happy to continue on."
Pavlich, who succeeded Peter Bell as Fremantle captain for the 2007 season, said he believed the club had a number of young players capable of eventually leading the club.
"We've been working extremely hard to develop not only the leaders in the leadership group, but some of the emerging leaders that are coming through," he said.
"Matt de Boer and Hayden Ballantyne are two that spring to mind who are in the leadership group at the moment.
"Guys like Chris Mayne, Ryan Crowley, Stephen Hill, Nat Fyfe, Tendai Mzungu, Garrick Ibbotson, Nick Suban – there's a lot of guys that have played probably between 70 and 120 games now that we really believe are the future of this club.
"We put a lot of resources and energy into those guys and continue to develop them not only as footballers but as men."
Nathan Schmook covers Fremantle news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_Nathan