GREATER Western Sydney has been hit by an injury crisis that will force it to make at least six changes to its team, while prized recruit Jesse Hogan is also in doubt to play against Geelong on Friday night.
Hogan could miss the crucial clash due to a build-up of soreness after playing a stretch of consecutive matches for the first time this season and with the Giants only having a five-day break this week.
Midfielders Jacob Hopper (concussion) and Tom Green (hamstring), ruckman Shane Mumford (back), defender Phil Davis (concussion), and forwards Sam Reid (ankle) and Daniel Lloyd (ankle) have already been ruled out for the match that could put a dent in the Giants' hopes of claiming a top-eight spot.
"We understand the stakes are high, they don't get much higher," coach Leon Cameron said on Thursday.
"But I don't want our players to shy away from Friday night footy, everyone watches it, we're on centre stage against a really good team. I want them to thrive on that challenge and thrive on that pressure.
"Zach Sproule, Jake Riccardi, these sorts of players have been playing some really good footy. Kieren Briggs gets his opportunity in the ruck as well."
The Giants are likely to recall veteran midfielder Matt de Boer who has been sidelined for much of the season and was recently one of four players forced into isolation after being exposed to a COVID-19 hotspot.
But with few other experienced players fit enough to be pushing for selection, the Giants will have to turn to youth including in their defence that will line up against the Cats' formidable forward group.
"Young Jake Stein will come in, he's played about four or five games in a key position. He'll have his time on [Tom] Hawkins and he'll have his time on [Esava] Ratugolea," Cameron said.
"We'll be a really young backline this week. But in saying that, throughout the year we've seen that when we've gone in relatively young, we've had some really spirited performances."
Stephen Coniglio again isn't available for selection as he continues to experience soreness in the big toe that he had reconstructed after it was injured in round three.
The club captain returned for the Sydney Derby in round 18, after playing a couple of matches at the lower level, but had the troublesome toe stepped on and hasn't been able to play again.
Cameron is hopeful that Coniglio will return before the season ends despite there only being two home and away matches remaining after the Giants' trip to GMHBA Stadium.
"He's doing a lot of running. There is no issue when he's doing a lot of straight line and speed, it's just changing direction," Cameron said.
"[Selection] is such a delicate decision because it's not just for the week ahead or the next week or the week after, it's also for his career. We don't want to make it so his toe is in strife for the pre-season that is coming up.
"Until the season is done and dusted there definitely won't be a line through him, unless we clearly know he's not available to get up. But right now, he's still right in the mix."
In better news for the Giants, gun midfielder Hopper is recovering well from the shocking blow that he copped to the face in an attempted smother against Port Adelaide last week.
Hopper and Davis have both been going through the standard 12-day concussion protocols without any signs for further concern.
"Both of them are progressing in a really, really good, positive manner," Cameron said.
"Hopper not only had a concussion, he also had a broken nose as well. It was pretty graphic but he's a tough player and so is Phil.
"Both of them put their head over the footy all the time, and are probably a little bit too brave sometimes."