AFTER losing spearhead Jarryd Roughead for half a season, Hawthorn has wrapped Jack Gunston in cotton wool and won't play the triple-premiership star until at least the final NAB Challenge match due to a shin injury.
Gunston spent last week in a moon boot in a bid to settle the issue before a blockbuster round one clash against Geelong on Easter Monday.
The Hawks are certain the sharpshooting forward will be fit for the regular season and are confident of rolling him out in the final NAB Challenge match against North Melbourne on March 12.
However, Gunstson has been ruled out of Saturday's clash against Richmond in Beaconsfield.
"It's not serious; it's just a minor shin issue we are trying to settle down before the season starts," football manager Chris Fagan told News Ltd.
"He won't miss round one or anything like that.
"We are just trying to get him right for the season."
The 24-year-old started feeling shin soreness about three or four weeks ago and was put in a protective moonboot last week.
"He will build up his running this week and then build up his skills next week," Fagan said.
"We have got two weeks between NAB Challenge game two and game three, so he should be right for that game (against North).
Gunston bagged 57 goals last season to lead Hawthorn's goalkicking and has snared 220 majors from 103 appearances.
The Hawks sweated on the mobile star's fitness in last year's finals series after he hurt his ankle in the qualifying final loss to West Coast, but Gunston underlined his importance with a four-goal haul in the Grand Final.
With Roughead (knee) ruled out until halfway through the year, Gunston will take on more responsibility as the No.1 marking target in attack.
The Hawks continue to trial James Sicily, Tim O'Brien and Jack Fitzpatrick as possible replacements for Roughead and are aiming to pick their strongest side for the final NAB Challenge game against the Roos.
"For NAB Challenge game three we will try to bring it all together, and we will be pretty hard-nosed in selection for that," Fagan said.