THERE is light at the end of tunnel for injury-ravaged Gold Coast, coach Rodney Eade says.
The only problem is it's being blocked by the huge, imposing spectre of AFL ladder leaders Fremantle.
Up to nine players could return for the Suns after their bye next weekend, but that's cold comfort ahead of Saturday's top-versus-bottom clash at Metricon Stadium against a Dockers side still smarting from their first loss of the season.
With only 23 players to pick from this week - and not all of them fit - it will most likely be a case of damage limitation for the Suns.
"I must admit, the bye can't come soon enough," Eade said on Friday.
As if their injury crisis couldn't get any worse, the Suns lost Steven May (groin), Greg Broughton (Achilles) and Keegan Brooksby (calf) this week - offsetting any joy from the return of Nick Malceski from an ongoing knee issue and Charlie Dixon from a club-imposed suspension for breaking a drinking ban.
Eade admitted he would prefer Malceski to spend one more week in the reserves to build up match fitness, but said he has no choice but to play him as the substitute since his only other selection option, Matt Shaw, had been ill for the past two weeks.
"Our defence at the weekend will be captained by a 28-game player," Eade said.
"Kade Kolodjashnij is going to be the most-experienced defender we've got.
"(But) the spirit's been pretty good, really, I suppose, considering where we're at. The players have kept their heads up well."
The Dockers were upset 27-point losers to Richmond last round and coach Ross Lyon swung the axe in response, dropping Zac Clarke and Paul Duffield, with Chris Mayne (illness) and Michael Johnson (hamstring) also out of the side.
Eade anticipates Fremantle - in his view, the AFL's best team - will come out with a point to prove.
"I think it's very hard to maintain that intensity for a long period of time in this competition," he said.
"They've had a down couple of weeks and that's the scary thing for us - them on the rebound.
"It's going to make it more challenging, but our guys can answer the challenge."