FINALS-BOUND Essendon will be sweating on the fitness of a host of key players ahead of its blockbuster round 23 clash against Collingwood at the MCG on Friday night.
The Bombers booked their place in the post-season with a 32-point victory over the Dockers on Saturday night, but the impressive triumph in Perth may have come at a cost.
Veteran midfielder David Zaharakis hurt his left ankle during the second quarter of the Optus Stadium contest and failed to return to the field for the remainder of the match.
David Zaharakis left Optus Stadium on crutches, which isn't a great sign for next week. Picture: AFL Photos
Essendon is already missing the likes of key forward Joe Daniher, No.1 ruckman Tom Bellchambers and star onballer Devon Smith from its best 22. The loss of Zaharakis could now rob the Bombers of a crucial member of their midfield.
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Veteran coach John Worsfold is hopeful that Zaharakis' injury is not too bad, but the 29-year-old was seen on crutches following the victory over the Dockers and remains in doubt for Friday's match against the Pies.
"We'll have to wait and see exactly what that is but obviously if they don't finish a game it's never a good sign for the next week. But we need to check all that out," Worsfold said.
Influential swingman Cale Hooker (groin) was a late withdrawal for the Dockers clash and will be monitored in the lead-up to Friday night, while Aaron Francis picked up a knock in Perth and will also be assessed.
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Essendon wasn't the only finals side to pick up fresh injuries over the weekend, with league leaders Brisbane and top four hopefuls West Coast also counting the cost from the penultimate round of the regular season.
The Lions will need to find a replacement for Allen Christensen for their final round match against Richmond, after the veteran tore his hamstring during the Lions' thrilling victory over the Cats at the Gabba.
Christensen may be out of action for up to a month, while key defender Darcy Gardiner (shoulder) and Brownlow Medal hopeful Lachie Neale (head knock) will be monitored ahead of Sunday's clash with the Tigers at the MCG.
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The news is just as bleak for West Coast stopper Mark Hutchings, after he hurt his hamstring during the Eagles' six-point loss to the Tigers on Sunday.
Hutchings is unlikely to be risked for the Eagles' round 23 contest at home against the Hawks on Saturday night, although his absence could be offset by the likely inclusion of defender Will Schofield after he was a late withdrawal from the side that lost to the Tigers.
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In other injury news:
- Richmond is hopeful Dylan Grimes has escaped serious damage to his ankle, after the key defender landed awkwardly during the third term of the Tigers' thrilling victory over the Eagles. Grimes returned to the field to play out the final quarter and Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said the affected area had blown up after the game and the 28-year-old will be assessed during the week.
- Melbourne is confident that star ruckman Max Gawn will be fit for the Demons' final round clash against North Melbourne in Hobart. Gawn pulled up with a tight hamstring during the Dees' 53-point loss to the Swans on Friday night, but senior coach Simon Goodwin does not believe the injury is serious. Nathan Jones and Jordan Lewis picked up leg injuries on a dirty night for the Demons, but the experienced pair played out the game and are expected to be fit to tackle the Kangaroos.
- North Melbourne has its own injury issues to monitor, with All Australian hopeful Robbie Tarrant (ankle), tough onballer Jed Anderson (hamstring) and former Giant Paul Ahern all in doubt for the Tasmania contest against the Dees. Tarrant and Anderson were hurt during the Roos' thumping victory over Port Adelaide, while Ahern didn't even make it to the opening siren after pulling up sore in the warm-up.
A sore Robbie Tarrant with Ben Cunnington after the Roos' big win. Picture: AFL Photos
- Underrated Adelaide defender Jake Kelly hurt his shin against the Pies on the weekend and will be monitored ahead of the Crows' final round match against the Dogs, while Riley Knight (hip) was a late withdrawal from the Adelaide Oval clash and will also need to prove his fitness for the Mars Stadium contest.
- Key midfielder Ollie Wines received treatment on his leg during Port Adelaide's loss to North Melbourne on Saturday night and will have to prove his fitness ahead of the Power's round 23 clash at home against Fremantle.
Ollie Wines leaves Marvel Stadium after Port Adelaide's heavy defeat. Picture: AFL Photos
- Young ruckman Tim English was suffering with gastro and was a late withdrawal from the victorious Bulldogs' side that cruised to an effortless victory over the Giants. Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said English should be available to take on the Crows at Mars Stadium in the final round of the season.