ST KILDA veteran Dan Hannebery has several hurdles to jump to put himself in consideration for round one after missing the past four weeks of training with a calf setback.
Hannebery was one of several absentees in the Saints' intraclub on Thursday, which was rocked by a broken left leg to crucial defender Ben Paton.
The 22-year-old was brought down in a crunching tackle by club staffer Jarryd Roughead with the ex-Hawk filling in for extra numbers as the Saints deal with a mini-injury crisis.
Paton was in agony holding his leg as club medicos rushed to his aid to stretcher him from the field. The session was paused for more than 20 minutes before Paton was taken to hospital.
Scans confirmed he fractured both his fibula and tibia and will now miss the entire 2021 campaign.
"He's a great kid, he'll bounce back… it was pretty flattening for the group," coach Brett Ratten told AFL.com.au on Thursday afternoon.
"With the respect and the love they've got for 'Pato' you could see the mood change. Even when we went back out, the first five minutes was pretty flat.
"He's in good hands with our doctors. It's just disappointing that he's done a lot of work and he won't get the reward this year."
Hannebery, who turns 30 next week, has been kept out of main training since late January after a calf complaint flared, adding to his history of soft-tissue setbacks.
And while the ex-Swan has managed only 13 of a possible 41 matches at the Saints, Ratten was buoyed by Hannebery's ability to perform in last year's elimination final off limited preparation.
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"He's actually going pretty well… he's turned a corner and his running is going well," Ratten said.
"He should be, cross the fingers with everything going right, right for round one. There's still a bit of water to go under the bridge and he's tracking well.
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"I'm pretty confident and especially what happened from the hub with his preparation and how diligent he is.
"We've got a few measurements we can (use to) see where he's at. He'll have to tick off some of these along the way, but I think he will and if he does, he'll be a chance to play."
Ruckman Paddy Ryder was being managed for Thursday's session with a view to playing in practice matches against North Melbourne (February 25) and Carlton (March 4) ahead of the round one date with Greater Western Sydney (March 21).
Ryder's importance has increased significantly since confirmation ruck partner Rowan Marshall would miss the start to the season with a hotspot in his foot.
Other ruck/forward option Shaun McKernan will be fit for the season-opener despite being reduced to running laps on Thursday while recovering from a rolled ankle last week.
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Max King, Jade Gresham and Dougal Howard also sat out, managing their loads with the view to featuring against the Roos.
Ratten expects James Frawley to play against the Roos or Blues but the premiership Hawk watched on while recovering from a recent hamstring complaint.
Zak Jones completed light running as he rehabilitates a hamstring strain that will leave him touch-and-go for round one, Dean Kent continues to deal with bone bruising in his knee and Jimmy Webster remains on lighter duties.
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Mature-age draftee Tom Highmore looms as a readymade defensive option after playing for the 'A' team during the hitout.
The soon-to-be 23-year-old from South Adelaide, who has been described as a Callum Wilkie clone, has impressed this summer with his toughness and intercept marking ability.
Pre-season signing Mason Wood played in the same line-up and presented strongly in attack alongside Jack Higgins and Jack Sinclair, who were among the best afield.
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Seb Ross started in defence and rotated through the midfield for the 'A' side and is expected to be used in a half-back rotation this year that includes Sinclair, Jones, Hunter Clark and Bradley Hill.
Despite the absence of Howard and Frawley, Jake Carlisle played for the 'B' side alongside fringe Saints including Jack Bytel, Luke Dunstan and Dan McKenzie.
Ex-Crow Paul Hunter, who is vying for one of two vacant list spots, rucked for the 'A' side against developing rookie Sam Alabakis.