Fremantle’s Michael Barlow is on track for an ”early-season” return after suffering a horrific broken leg in July last year.

The gun midfielder, a star recruit and performer who was promoted off the Dockers’ rookie list, was one of the favourites to take out last year’s Brownlow Medal at the halfway mark – such was his fairytale start to AFL football – before the sickening incident against Port Adelaide at Subiaco.

Punters have shown their opinion of the talented 23-year-old and his ability to return to the top, and he is equal sixth favourite at $17 with to take home this year’s Brownlow. 

Barlow and the club said this week that they were not putting a timeline on his comeback. He is unlikely to play in any practice matches, but is keen on an early-season return.

He began running early in the pre-season, with his leg holding up well so far.

The former Werribee VFL player began life as a Docker blitzing opposition midfielders with his ball-magnet qualities and instinct as a potent goalkicker.

He had 33 disposals on debut – the most possessions gained by a player on debut since statistics began in 1992.

He was a Ross Glendinning Medallist and voted the AFLPA’s best first-year player.

There was confidence among the Barlow camp that he could return to his prolific best, despite the horror stories from past players, including former Richmond forward Nathan Brown who struggled to recapture the form he showed before surgery on his broken leg.

Barlow has received several text messages from players who have suffered serious leg injuries, warning him not to rush his comeback.

Drafted as a rookie then swiftly promoted to the senior list last season, he is now providing advice to another young rookie, Nick Lower, whom he lives with.

Barlow’s experience has also been pivotal to new Carlton rookie and former Box Hill player Ed Curnow, who fractured a leg a week after Barlow’s season-ending injury.

Curnow is on track to follow in Barlow’s footsteps and make an immediate impact in the AFL.

”It was pretty strange with the timing of it … it was really sad to see him [Barlow] go down, and then it happened to me,” Curnow said. ”He has given me a call a few times to keep me posted on how he’s going.”

Barlow returned home to Shepparton over Christmas and has shown support during his time off to the club that got him drafted, the Werribee Tigers, where he took out the club best and fairest and finished runner-up in the Liston Trophy en route to the AFL.

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