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Foot injury rules Ablett out of Suns' NAB Challenge opener

Gary Ablett looks set to play just one NAB Challenge game ahead of round one - ${keywords}
Gary Ablett looks set to play just one NAB Challenge game ahead of round one
He has had such a great pre-season there is no point risking him
Suns coach Rodney Eade

GOLD Coast captain Gary Ablett is set to play just one NAB Challenge game after suffering a foot niggle.

The dual Brownlow medallist missed Gold Coast’s intra-club on Saturday morning. Their NAB Challenge campaign begins on Sunday, February 21 against the Brisbane Lions.

The 31-year-old is expected to be fit for the Suns’ second pre-season game, but Suns coach Rodney Eade flagged the resting of about a dozen players for the trip to Perth against West Coast on Thursday, March 3.

RECAP: All the news and action from Friday's intra-clubs

“The fact that we go to Perth in round two (in the home and away season, against Fremantle), I would think that we’ll take a young squad to Perth,” he said.

Eade said  Ablett could have played in Saturday's competitive hitout if necessary.

“He has a mild foot strain which is a little bit grumbly at the moment, so we have off-loaded him today and he just did some work on the bike,” Eade told News Corp.

“But he has had such a great pre-season there is no point risking him. He wouldn’t have played three NAB (Challenge) games anyway.

“He will be off-loaded for a few days and will start running at the end of next week.’’

Widely recognised as one of the game’s all-time great players, Ablett is coming off an injury-marred season in which he only played six games due to injuries to his shoulder and knee.

Talented small forward Brandon Matera didn’t play well enough in the intra-club game for Eade’s liking, with the coach indicating that a few others had jumped ahead of him.

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“Brandon has probably been a little bit down the last three or four weeks at training, and I think he was probably down a little bit today,” Eade said. 

“Certainly (Jarrod) Garlett and (Callum) Ah Chee will get the opportunity, and (Touk) Miller. Those sort of guys will get a game early.”

Matera suffered a head clash with Nick Malceski during the game and had to leave the ground before eventually returning to play out the game.

The 23-year-old was suspended for a game last season after breaching the team’s alcohol policy following Gold Coast’s round five win against the Brisbane Lions.

Eade was pleased with Ah Chee’s performance. The 18-year-old was picked at No. 8 in last year’s NAB AFL Draft.

“(Ah Chee) was good, wasn’t he? He’s still got a fair bit to learn… and some areas to work on, but certainly his talent I don’t think is questioned.

“The pleasing thing was his work rate and his courage at the contest.”

Key forward Sam Day kicked three goals for Gold Coast Red.

The 23-year-old spent time in defence last season but following Charlie Dixon’s exit to Port Adelaide, Day looms as the likely replacement for Dixon up forward.

Peter Wright put forth his case to take the spot with two goals. The 19-year-old was selected at No. 8 in the 2014 NAB AFL Draft.

Vice-captain Tom Lynch and exciting midfielder Jack Martin missed the game after a taxing training session on Monday. They are both expected to play the Suns’ opening NAB Challenge game.

However, half-back Adam Saad rolled his ankle and won’t be back until the second pre-season game against the Eagles at the earliest.

Eade said the game showed that Gold Coast is improving. The Suns finished 16th last year in Eade’s first season as coach.

“Our ball movement was a little bit more fluent. We thought our defensive shape at times was a lot better.

“I think there’s still a bit of work to do but it was pleasing that there was some improvement."

Gold Coast Red led at every change to beat against Gold Coast White, 15.3 (93) to 8.10 (58).