WESTERN BULLDOGS teenager Sam Darcy is set to miss the first half of 2022 due to an ongoing navicular bone stress fracture in his foot.
The No.2 pick at the 2021 NAB AFL Draft hasn’t trained with the main group since arriving at the Whitten Oval at the end of November with the injury he suffered late last season.
AFL.com.au can reveal the 18-year-old won't return to full training until May at the earliest with the stress fracture taking longer to heal than first thought.
The Bulldogs view the 205cm key position prospect as a 12-to-15-year prospect and will take an ultra-conservative approach with his rehabilitation.
It is understood Darcy has continued to experience pain in his foot after trying to run again after the Christmas break, forcing high performance boss Mat Inness and head of sports medicine Chris Bell to reduce his workload and focus on more rest, as they look to find a solution for the lingering problem.
Darcy will need to build up his aerobic fitness once his foot recovers, which could mean he doesn’t play any football until deeper into the season.
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When the Dogs matched Greater Western Sydney's bid for Darcy to add the son of club great Luke Darcy to a growing list of father-son recruits on the list, they club hoped he would be back to full fitness by this stage of the pre-season but given his light frame and the positions he plays, they weren't expecting to throw him to the wolves early in 2022.
With Stefan Martin and Tim English in the ruck, and Aaron Naughton in attack, the club is well stocked for tall options right now, despite the absence of key forward Josh Bruce, who will miss most of this season after tearing his ACL late last season.
Luke Beveridge is expected to expose 2020's No.1 pick, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, to more senior football this season, starting as early as the Bulldogs' season-opener if the young spearhead can find some form against in pre-season games against the Bombers and the Lions.
Ugle-Hagan struggled to adapt to the professional demands of the game in his debut season and battled to secure a regular senior game, managing five appearances as the Western Bulldogs progressed to the final game of the season, but has banked a full summer on the track after spending plenty of time with captain Marcus Bontempelli over the past six months.
Star midfielder Bailey Smith and key defender Alex Keath will both miss Wednesday's practice match against Essendon at The Hangar.
Smith is dealing with groin soreness while Keath hurt his back recently, but both are expected to be fit in time to face Brisbane in the AAMI Community Series on March 4.
There were initial fears Keath would miss round one, but the 30-year-old has made significant improvements in recent days and should get some game time ahead of the opening game of 2022.
New recruit Tim O'Brien is facing a race against the clock to be fit in time for the Grand Final rematch against Melbourne on March 16 after suffering a hamstring strain.
While Toby McLean and Bruce are still a long way off returning from knee reconstructions, Cody Weightman has transitioned back into full training over the past fortnight after undergoing foot surgery in October and will face the Bombers.
The livewire small forward carried the foot injury across all of 2021 but has finally had the problem resolved, returning for last Wednesday's intra-club at the Whitten Oval.