THE WESTERN Bulldogs have been forced to swallow another bitter pill before their premiership defence has really begun with rookie Roarke Smith suspected to have torn his anterior cruciate ligament for the second time in his fledgling career.
Speaking after the eight-point loss to the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium, Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said the group was devastated for Smith, who had made a successful return from the knee reconstruction he had late in 2015.
While the club was awaiting scans to confirm the injury, Beveridge said the Bulldogs' doctors feared the worst for the 20-year-old.
"We will support him and get him going again. It's a bitter pill to swallow tonight," Beveridge said.
"We think Roarke has a really bright future. It's just a shame he has had so much bad luck so early in his career."
The injury to Smith adds another layer of uncertainty to the Bulldogs' round one preparations against Collingwood at the MCG in 22 days.
Beveridge revealed young ruckman Tim English was in the mix to play in the ruck after an encouraging first-up run because of injuries to more senior players.
The coach said experienced big man Tom Campbell was unlikely to play in round one after rolling his ankle in an intraclub match last week, an injury that tested the club's ruck depth further after Jordan Roughead's hamstring injury in the opening round of the JLT Community Series.
"We have been forced into a situation where we need to work out what our ruck division looks like when it comes to that round one game against Collingwood," Beveridge.
"There were some really good signs tonight from Tim [English]."
Beveridge said it meant English, who competed hard against Stefan Martin, could support Tom Boyd in the ruck despite his youth.
The Bulldogs decided not to risk Marcus Bontempelli on Thursday night, revealing he has experienced ankle soreness since the club's January camp in Queensland.
Beveridge remained hopeful the star midfielder would line up against Gold Coast next Thursday night ahead of round one and said the club also took a conservative route with Matthew Boyd and Travis Cloke to ensure they were clear of niggles.