HAWTHORN pair Mitch Lewis and Changkuoth Jiath returned to the main group on Thursday after injuries ended their 2023 campaigns, but wingman Harry Morrison was sent to hospital after copping a nasty facial injury during a testing session ahead of the Christmas break.
Lewis has gradually built up his program across the first block of pre-season after missing the final two games of the home and away season due to a mid-foot sprain but has upped the ante across the past fortnight in a boost ahead of the new year.
After missing the first six games of the 2023 season following an ACL sprain, Lewis kicked 36 goals from 15 appearances, continuing his emergence as Hawthorn's long-term focal point inside 50, after slotting 37 goals in a breakout 2022 campaign.
Jiath was let loose for the first time in months on Thursday morning, completing most of a session that involved match simulation drills with an umpire for the first time this summer.
The 24-year-old managed only eight appearances this year due to calf and Achilles issues but is now almost back to full fitness after a diligent rehabilitation program across the past few months, flaunting his signature game-breaking bursts during the session.
Jiath will travel to Qatar during the break to spend five days at the start of January completing a block at world renowned sports medicine practice Aspetar in a bid to put his injury headaches behind him.
Hawthorn opted to wait until Jiath was back to full fitness to send him to the Middle East with veteran club physio Andrew Lambart so the Victorian could undergo a biomechanics assessment around an injury prevention program.
Morrison was forced off the track covered in blood midway through the session following a collision in a contact drill where he suffered damage to his teeth and lips. Hawthorn doctor Liam West accompanied him to hospital.
Off-season recruit Mabior Chol is closing in on a return from the PCL injury he suffered in the VFL Grand Final in September, with the key forward on track to reintegrate with the main group early in the new year.
Three-time premiership forwards Jack Gunston and Luke Breust continued their pre-season programs away from the main group, but both are expected back in main training at the start of January, while Karl Amon will also return after managing a knee issue early in the pre-season.
Eastern Ranges midfielder Josh Smillie has joined Hawthorn this week as part of the AFL Academy program and looked comfortable, spending part of the session working with Hawthorn's midfield group, including James Worpel, Jai Newcombe and Will Day.
With Hawthorn list boss Mark McKenzie and player acquisition manager Mark Finnigan watching on from above inside the club, the 194cm, 92kg prospect impressed on Thursday and looms as a top-five contender in the 2024 AFL Draft.
Former top-10 picks Josh Ward and Cam Mackenzie continue to make inroads this pre-season after spending a large chunk of the off-season training at Hawthorn's headquarters in Mulgrave.
Ward and McKenzie, who were selected at pick No.7 in consecutive drafts, are part of a young core driving the standards this pre-season, along with Connor Macdonald, Finn Maginness and Josh Weddle, who has set the pace in the running across November and December.
Off-season acquisition Massimo D'Ambrosio has also built into his first pre-season at Hawthorn strongly after overcoming off-season knee surgery and some minor issues to build his load up ahead of Christmas.
It wasn't only the players and medical staff in the thick of the action on Thursday as senior coach Sam Mitchell and backline coach Kade Simpson accumulated plenty of touches during the drills, much to the amusement of the rusted-on Hawthorn supporters watching on in the middle of December.