ST KILDA veteran Paddy Ryder won't take part in any pre-season practice match action and is no guarantee to return in time to face Collingwood on the opening weekend of the 2022 season.
The 33-year-old only managed 12 games in 2021 – none after round 19 – due to a lingering issue with his Achilles, which caused him trouble during his time at Port Adelaide.
AFL.com.au understands Ryder's progress has been slower than first anticipated but the Saints won't take any risks with the ruckman, given his age, the nature of his injury and his importance to Brett Ratten's side.
The timing of the $2.3 million resurfacing of RSEA Park hasn’t helped Ryder's bid from the injury due to the club training on seven or eight different surfaces over the pre-season, all of varying quality. This isn’t an issue for almost every player, but it has been for Ryder.
St Kilda provided Ryder with an extended block in Adelaide at the end of last season, where the All-Australian trained with SANFL side North Adelaide for three weeks before Christmas, while completing a program run by the Saints' high performance department.
Ryder completed a comprehensive five-week block at the start of the new year under the guidance of new St Kilda fitness boss Nick Walsh, but hasn’t featured in match simulation or in St Kilda's intra-club earlier this month.
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The former Essendon and Port Adelaide ruckman will be touch and go for round one but the club is looking at the bigger picture, aiming to squeeze out more than the 14 games he played in his first season at the Saints in 2020 in what is expected to be Ryder's 16th and final season in the AFL.
St Kilda will regain gun ruckman Rowan Marshall for Saturday night's AAMI Community Series game against Essendon after he was managed for the practice match against Carlton last Thursday morning.
The Saints want to play Marshall and Ryder in the same team but might have to start the year with just the 26-year-old in the starting 22.
St Kilda signed delisted free agent Tom Campbell late last year to provide ruck depth and are expected to sign Woodville-West Torrens key forward-ruckman Jack Hayes before the pre-season supplemental selection period deadline on March 9.
Key defender Dougal Howard also had his workload managed for the clash against the Blues, but it is understood that had been the plan from the start of the pre-season, with the Saints wanting him to play the intra-club and the AAMI Community Series game ahead of round one, with a week off in between given the amount of minutes he plays each week.
Former skipper Jarryn Geary is running out of time to press his case for a round one return after a broken leg and a shoulder reconstruction limited the small defender to just three appearances in 2021.
The 33-year-old is expected to return to full contact training early next month after getting the all clear from the surgeon, with his return dependant on his shoulder copes with knocks and bumps.
After enduring a horror injury run across the past few years, it would now appear likely that Geary will start the season at Sandringham and fight his way back into St Kilda's back six.
Injury-plagued midfielder Dan Hannebery remains a day-to-day proposition for St Kilda's medical department as he looks to finally overcome the soft tissue issues that have limited him to just 15 games in three seasons at RSEA Park.
The club is hopeful the three-time All-Australian will play some minutes at VFL level in the coming fortnight and be available for selection in time for round one.
Young defender Nick Coffield is in the early stages of recovering from the knee reconstruction that ended his campaign before it even started, after going under the knife with internationally renowned orthopaedic surgeon Julian Feller a fortnight ago.
The Saints are planning on banking a decent hit-out seven days out from round one, which should provide some players with extra match practice ahead of the opening Friday night of the 2022 season.