THE LADDER-LEADING Western Bulldogs will welcome back star defender Hayden Crozier for his first game of the season in Saturday's clash against Gold Coast.
Crozier has recovered from surgery on a shoulder injury suffered in a practice match against Melbourne.
And his availability couldn't have come at a better time for the Dogs with All-Australian backman Caleb Daniel suspended for a dangerous tackle on Brisbane's Tom Berry.
"We know what Caleb brings for us with his creativity and he's become such a great small defender as well so he's a big loss," Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge told reporters on Friday.
"But obviously Hayden is a pretty handy replacement."
The Bulldogs have had one of the most effective ruck tandems in the competition over the opening month in Stefan Martin and Tim English, although one of those are likely to be rested this week with the Dogs confirming a debut for 23-year-old ruckman Jordon Sweet.
Sweet, Sweet announcement... ?? pic.twitter.com/s4LC0fEk0g— Western Bulldogs (@westernbulldogs) April 16, 2021
And with the 13th-placed Suns missing their No.1 ruckman Jarrod Witts because of a knee injury, Beveridge admitted that scenario could provide an advantage for his side.
"What we see with Gold Coast is they've always been a very, very combative workman-like team," he said.
"I think they're the No.1 clearance side in the competition even though they haven't necessarily been winning games.
"So if we can get some kind of advantage with where those hits go and understand where they're going ... then maybe (it will be an advantage) but time will tell.
"They've lost a couple of key players in recent times which is affecting the way that they set up ... but what it won't affect is how hard they work and they'll really put us under pressure and we need to be able to absorb that."
The Marvel Stadium fixture is significant for the Bulldogs as it not only presents them with the chance to start a season with five wins for the first time since 1946, but it's also captain Marcus Bontempelli's 150th AFL game.
"What an amazing player he's been for our football club," Beveridge said.
"Occasionally I remind people that his peers in the cohort voted him as the second-best captain in the competition last year in his first year (as skipper) behind 'Pendles' (Collingwood's Scott Pendlebury)."
Meanwhile, Beveridge was agonising over whether to make Patrick Lipinski the medical sub for the third game in a row or select him in the starting 22.
"It's a bloody difficult one," said Beveridge, who conceded it was a good problem to have given how much pressure there was on for spots in the team.