EMERGING Bulldogs forward Aaron Naughton has escaped an anterior cruciate ligament setback, but his pre-season could still be delayed after landing awkwardly on Saturday.
The Dogs' season ended in an elimination final defeat to Greater Western Sydney, after which coach Luke Beveridge said early indications were Naughton had avoided a serious knee injury.
Scans on Sunday confirmed that suspicion, although the 19-year-old did sustain some damage to the lateral ligament in his left knee.
Naughton required assistance to leave the field and couldn't put any weight on the leg at the time, heightening fears he had suffered a dreaded ACL rupture.
A club statement said Naughton would consult with a specialist in the coming days to determine his best course of management and to develop a rehabilitation plan.
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"The initial assessment of the injury isn't that it's extreme, but they've got to scan it to work out whether or not he might need surgery. It doesn't seem to be ACL, it seems to be lateral," Beveridge said post-match.
"But I'd rather not comment in any detail – let our practitioners work it out. He'll have a scan and we'll publicise what that is as soon as we can."
It might well prove to be one of the few positives from a 58-point defeat that Beveridge described as "a nightmare", "a bit of a disaster", "an eye-opening experience" and "numbing".
He was disappointed in the lack of balance in the Dogs' performance on an afternoon in which they were swamped in inside 50s (76-37), disposals (395-319), contested possessions (167-125) and clearances (47-35).
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Beveridge was at a loss to explain why they had been so comprehensively outworked, believing they had put their big round 22 victory over a depleted GWS at the same venue behind them.
"There's no doubt they probably played with an energy we didn't have, unfortunately," he said.
"We couldn't win it on the inside, when we got our hands on it we coughed it up, and even in transition we couldn't find each other on overlap – just nothing went right.
"As far as our ball use goes, we just couldn't get into space, we didn't run like we usually do – all the things that (were) evident in our victories just weren't there."
Dogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli was heavily tagged by Matt de Boer and was physically targeted at every opportunity by the Giants and was held to just 13 possessions – his lowest tally in 47 games – but Beveridge said he'd expected his best player to receive such treatment.
"That's how you win finals. It's a credit to them," he said.
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Overall, Beveridge said his young team had displayed persistence this season after being 15th after 14 rounds.
"I've been grateful and proud of the way that (the youngsters) have fought their way through the back half of the year maybe before their time and contributing to some fantastic victories," he said.
"We'd prefer not to use that angle that we've got some time and some gaps to make up maturity wise because we feel we can still win the day there. We've beaten some pretty experienced sides.
"But you did see the heavier bodies (of the Giants) impact a bit more than ours."
The 2016 premiership coach said he was keen to become a "more formidable team" and start the season in a better fashion than it did this year.
He hoped to improve the club's key position and back-up ruck stocks in the off-season.