THE WESTERN Bulldogs are fearing a suspected ACL knee injury for spearhead Josh Bruce after the goalkicker went down in the dying seconds of Sunday's loss to Essendon.
Bruce had booted three goals against the Bombers, taking him to equal second in the Coleman Medal tally, before going to ground in the final moments of the loss after an awkward tackle attempt.
Coach Luke Beveridge was reluctant to jump to any conclusions post-game but said the Bulldogs medicos were believing Bruce may have suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear that would rule him out for the rest of the season and deep into 2022.
"It's not looking good but our guys will confirm what the outcome is after a scan tomorrow," Beveridge said post-game.
"[An ACL injury] seems to be the fear.
"We don't know the extent of it. You get ones that surprise you so we still hold out a bit of a hope."
While the Bulldogs remain hopeful that Bruce can dodge a serious injury, it is likely to shape a rethink of their forward plans with the former Saint and Giant leading their attack with 48 goals this season.
Aaron Naughton is a matchwinner while Jamarra Ugle-Hagan kicked two goals against the Bombers to take his tally to eight majors from five games since debuting in round 17, but Beveridge admitted if Bruce is out it would force a reshuffle.
BULLDOGS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
"When you consider that 'Marra' has played five games now, is he ready to rip apart the last two games and a finals series? I don't think any young key forward, maybe other than Dermott [Brereton] in his first game when he kicked five (in a semi-final) has done that," he said.
"We have 'Naughts' down there and what you're alluding to is who are the next ones? We'll have to dig deep and we might have to do it a bit of a different way as we have in the past and that affects your decisions and probably your ball use going inside 50 a little bit more.
"The challenge of this caper from a coaching point of view is finding a way when the template changes."
While the loss leaves the top-of-the-ladder Bulldogs with some fresh challenges, Essendon will now have its finals destiny in its own hands with games to come against Gold Coast and Collingwood.
Coach Ben Rutten, in his first season in the helm, said his side wasn't focused on a top-eight berth after the win against the Bulldogs.
"It's not something I need to talk about [with the players]. We know that the finals are looming at this stage of the season and every team that still has the capacity to make the finals are doing that," he said post-game.
"Our game up until this point has had some inconsistencies and tonight was a step forward for us and another nice little bit of growth for us. We've got a really driven group of young men."
Rutten said Dyson Heppell could be in the mix for a return to face the Suns next week after missing the Dogs clash with a thumb injury.