ALASTAIR Clarkson has brushed off any doubts about Luke Hodge's earlier than expected return to football, saying the Hawks skipper has made a "fantastic recovery" less than three weeks after fracturing his arm against Geelong.
Hodge was expected to miss at least a month and, speaking after last Sunday's win over the Western Bulldogs, Clarkson thought the skipper was unlikely to be fit to face St Kilda at Launceston on Saturday.
The 31-year-old was surprisingly named in the Hawks' team on Thursday, although intrigue about whether he would actually play intensified on Friday morning when he was nowhere to be seen as his teammates checked in at Melbourne Airport.
However, Hodge made it in the nick of time – arriving at the last minute with Grant Birchall – and boarded the plane to Tasmania after convincing club doctors and Clarkson he was ready for an early comeback.
"I'm a bit old school thinking that bones take six weeks to recover, but sophisticated surgeries nowadays allow players to come back a little bit earlier because they insert plates and strengthen the bone," Clarkson said.
"He's had a fantastic recovery. It was really just recovering from the wound more so than the fracture now.
"He's been able to demonstrate to the doctors that he's made a really, really strong recovery, so we're looking forward to having him back in the side."
Never fear, Hodgey's here "a bit late". Arrived with Grant Birchall. pic.twitter.com/o59xI8HnSS— Travis King (@TravisKing) April 15, 2016
Hodge's return has offset the loss of reigning club champion Josh Gibson, who has been left out of the Saints clash with hamstring tightness ahead of a blockbuster meeting with Adelaide next Friday night.
"We're coming off a short break and another short break into a Friday night game next week, so it's really a little bit precautionary," Clarkson said.
"He was in a similar situation last week and we just don't want to get into that cycle where he's consistently playing sore.
"Hopefully this (rest) over the weekend will allow him to fully recover and get himself right for Friday night, but we'll just need to see how he pulls up early next week."
After struggling for impact up forward with just one goal and 22 disposals in three games, Ryan Schoenmakers has also been given a break to deal with groin soreness, which has plagued him over the past month.
"He just hasn't been able to play at his full tilt for the last couple of weeks and that's affected his form as well," Clarkson said.
"He's been doing some really important roles for us in the front end, albeit he hasn't been kicking a lot of goals or getting a lot of possession, but just forcing a contest and bringing our smaller players into the game.
"So we're going to miss him a little bit but Timmy O'Brien gets a chance, he's been playing some good footy at Box Hill and we're looking forward to seeing what he can bring to our side tomorrow."
Impressive young utility Daniel Howe is also into the Hawks' side, with former No.2 draft pick Jono O'Rourke making way.
Clarkson said the 21-year-old onballer needed to find more of the ball in the VFL after averaging 16 touches in the Hawks' three opening matches.
"He just hasn't had enough of the footy, probably, at senior level. He's been going OK for us, but we've got some young players like Dan Howe who was really unfortunate not to be in the side in the first instance," Clarkson said.
The Hawks are red-hot favourites to improve their win-loss record to 3-1 against the Saints at their Launceston fortress, where they have won 15 consecutive matches.