HAWTHORN is set to be boosted by the return of All-Australian forward Jack Gunston and young spearhead Mitch Lewis for Friday night’s clash against the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium.
The pair missed the trip to Western Australia to face Fremantle ahead of the mid-season bye but are on track to face the Dogs after returning to training following some time away from the club.
Gunston suffered a second ankle injury in the space of a month when he went down against Collingwood in round 12, but the triple-premiership player avoided structural damage and is expected to be fit for this weekend after training at Waverley Park on Monday.
Lewis was ruled out of the trip to Optus Stadium after pulling up with swelling in his knee after kicking four goals in the four-point loss to the Magpies in round 12.
With a four-hour flight to Perth and the bye the following weekend, Hawthorn chose to keep Lewis at home rather than taking a risk with the young key forward.
The 23-year-old has emerged as a star of the future in the first half of the season, kicking 27 goals from nine games to be ranked equal third for average goals per game – 3.0 goals – alongside GWS superstar Toby Greene and Coleman Medallist Jeremy Cameron.
“He will be available,” Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell told reporters at a press conference at Waverley Park on Monday.
“He had swelling in the knee. Risky when you’re a 100kg guy flying across the country to play. Having the two weeks off will be good for him and good to refresh and come back in for the last nine rounds.”
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Off-season signing Max Lynch and prized pick Josh Ward are yet to pass concussion protocols but remain a chance to return at some level this weekend.
Lynch has spent the past month on the sidelines after suffering a concussion against Brisbane in round 10.
The 23-year-old has experienced an interrupted start to life at the Hawks after moving from Collingwood in search of greater opportunity last October, playing six of the first 14 rounds due to concussion and health and safety protocols, around some more minor disruptions.
After playing seven of the first eight games after being selected with pick No.7 in last November’s NAB AFL Draft, Ward hasn’t played since suffering a concussion in the VFL on May 15.
Hawks captain Ben McEvoy trained away from the main group without a neck brace and will meet with his surgeon this afternoon to determine the next steps in his return from a neck injury.
Hawthorn may consider recalling James Worpel for the first time since round nine this Friday night after some impressive form in the VFL.
The 2019 Peter Crimmins Medallist collected 26 touches, 12 clearances, eight tackles and two goals in Box Hill’s last game against Port Melbourne, after finishing with 31 disposals and five tackles against North Melbourne’s VFL side the week earlier.
“I think the thing with ‘Worps’ is confidence. He is a more than capable AFL player. He is not just an AFL-standard player, he is a really good AFL-standard player,” Mitchell said.
“We haven’t seen that as much as we would have liked across the start of the year, but he’s gone back to Box Hill and played three games there and performed really well in those games. He’ll certainly be a talking point in match committee.”
With key defender Sam Frost expected to miss at least a month after injuring cartilage in his knee against Fremantle, the Hawks might consider mid-season rookie draft selection James Blanck for Friday night’s game against Luke Beveridge’s side.
Blanck was recruited from Box Hill and could be the next player to make the step up from the alignment, joining current teammates Jai Newcombe, Lachie Bramble and Ned Reeves in recent years.
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The 21-year-old travelled to Perth as an emergency against Fremantle and is understood to have been the next man up for the trip in the event someone went down in the warm-up.
“We haven’t had selection yet, but certainly Blancky has played some good footy at Box Hill across the course of the year. We took him away to Perth with us just to be part of the group. He is fitting in really well. It’s not out of the question,” he said.
Hawthorn emerges from the bye at 4-9 under new coach Mitchell after narrow losses against Fremantle and Collingwood.
After Friday night’s test against the Western Bulldogs, the Hawks face four sides level on points or below them – Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide, West Coast and North Melbourne – in the next month.