COLLINGWOOD midfielder Scott Pendlebury has emerged as outright favourite for the Brownlow Medal after a knee injury that could mean Gold Coast captain Gary Ablett is sidelined for up to three weeks.
Ablett yesterday vowed to return from bone bruising and minor damage to his knee capsule quicker than expected but bookmakers still installed Pendlebury as the man most likely to claim football's highest individual honour.
Ablett will miss the twilight clash against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium on Saturday and possibly subsequent games against Fremantle and Greater Western Sydney.
''It's obviously not serious. The doc said two to three weeks at this stage but I am pretty confident I can get back earlier. I know it's a big call but fingers crossed,'' Ablett said yesterday.
''Obviously I was in a bit of pain and I hobbled off the ground. I was a little bit worried obviously for the first 24 hours. It's good to come out today with the results I have got.''
Ablett said he was likely to be in a knee brace this week and would spend a lot of time in ice baths.
Suns half-back Jarrod Harbrow will be out for up to three months with a serious elbow injury, but David Swallow (hip) will be assessed this week and could yet play against his older brother, North Melbourne captain Andrew Swallow.
Meanwhile, Carlton says Chris Yarran, Jeremy Laidler and Ed Curnow remain in the selection frame despite all nursing injuries from Saturday's surprise loss to Essendon.
Laidler has had scans on a sore left kneecap that, according to the Blues' football manager, Andrew McKay, ''slipped out and slipped back in again'' on Saturday.
Laidler was seeing his surgeon last night. He had dislocated the same knee over summer but returned to action quicker than expected.
Yarran has a strained ligament in his toe and isn't expected to train properly until later this week.
Curnow left the MCG on crutches because of a rolled ankle but his diligence in recovery means he could yet make the trip to Perth to face Fremantle on Friday night.
Andrew Carrazzo last night had surgery on his fractured shoulder that will keep him sidelined for up to eight weeks.
McKay said Dennis Armfield, who has recovered from a sore knee, David Ellard, Bret Thornton, Jordan Russell and Andrew Collins would all be considered for selection. The Blues leave for Perth tomorrow.
McKay said the Blues had decided not to approach the AFL about Sam Lonergan's controversial ''drive tackle'' on Carrazzo.
At Geelong, general manager football Neil Balme says the Cats are happy with the progress Nathan Vardy has made since more hip surgery over a week ago, but insist there is no timeframe on a return for the young big man.
There have been suggestions from those close to Vardy that he could yet make a return in about round 15, but Balme said no date had been discussed.
''We have never put a timeframe on it and we are not going to start now,'' he said yesterday.
''We were happy with the report on the surgery, it went as well as it could have been expected. We are hopeful it will be sooner rather than later.''
The Cats will welcome back veteran full-back Matthew Scarlett from a three-week suspension against the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba on Saturday.
Yesterday, Essendon coach James Hird said key forward Michael Hurley could miss up to two matches with a minor hamstring strain.
Hurley will miss tomorrow's clash against Collingwood and possibly the round-six clash against Brisbane.
Sydney ruckman Shane Mumford will be assessed this week ahead of Sunday's clash against Hawthorn in Launceston after withdrawing from what proved to be a win over North Melbourne with a back injury.
The Swans said Mumford had an infection from a cortisone injection a fortnight earlier. Lewis Roberts-Thomson (cheekbone) will also be assessed.
Gary Rohan has had surgery and will miss the rest of the season after breaking his leg.
Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge (calf) will need to prove his fitness if he is to play his first game of the season.