NORTH Melbourne is preparing to be without Ben Cunnington for multiple weeks, with the Kangaroos desperate to ensure the star midfielder is fully fit before he returns from a troublesome back injury.
Cunnington, who was twice a late withdrawal in rounds three and four due to the back issue, lasted barely a half in his return last Saturday evening before being taken from the field with just seven disposals to his name.
The dual best-and-fairest winner was subsequently kept out of the team that will face Essendon at Metricon Stadium on Saturday night, with the club suggesting he could also miss next week's encounter with reigning premiers Richmond as well.
"Given it's a nerve issue, the likelihood of making the injury worse was really, really low," North Melbourne footy boss Brady Rawlings told reporters on Friday.
"We've used this week to get his strength measures back up and his range of movement and mobility. We still need a bit more time to assess that, in terms of when he's going to be back to play because we still need to get him back training.
"We really want to make sure he's got a full week of training preparation into him before he's available for selection again, given it's been a couple of weeks since he played last and then he obviously didn't play too much on the weekend.
"We just need a full week from him and that might not be next week."
In more promising news for North Melbourne, the club expects captain Jack Ziebell to recover from a hamstring injury in time to face Richmond next week, with Dom Tyson (calf), Will Walker (quad) and Ed Vickers-Willis (turf toe) also expected to be only one week away.
Promising young duo Luke Davies-Uniacke (groin) and Nick Larkey (foot) will play in a scratch match this weekend in an effort to prove their fitness ahead of a clash with the Tigers in one week's time.