LUKE Hodge is closer than ever to captaining Hawthorn for the first time this season, with the Hawks naming him in their squad to take on Sydney in Launceston on Sunday.
Hawthorn has been cautious with Hodge, who has been battling a calf injury, particularly after key forward Jarryd Roughead ruptured an Achilles last season.
The Hawks have continued to take no chances, naming Hodge on the interchange. Hawthorn's football operations manager, Mark Evans, said Hodge had lifted his training intensity this week but still had to prove he was 100 per cent recovered before he took to the field.
Joining Hodge as possible inclusions are Grant Birchall and forward Luke Breust, who missed last week's loss to West Coast with shin and concussion injuries respectively. Adam Goodes will return for Sydney after a one-match ban to play a club record 304th game.
Melbourne will be without its leading goalkicker, Mitch Clark, to take on St Kilda at the MCG tomorrow night, but co-captain Jack Grimes will return after a one-match ban.
Clark sustained a concussion in last week's clash with Western Bulldogs after he flew for a mark and landed on his head. Football manager Josh Mahoney said Clark was desperate to play but was not fully recovered.
''He has been unable to meet some of the requirements set by the medical department and as a consequence will miss this week's game,'' he said.
The Demons face a tough task, with St Kilda selecting defender Jason Gram and forward Arryn Siposs in its 25-man squad. Gram returns for the first time this season after injuring his hamstring before St Kilda's round one game against Port Adelaide.
Geelong has had its stocks boosted with the return of Matthew Scarlett from a three-match ban. Joining him for the clash with Brisbane Lions at the Gabba is youngster Billie Smedts, who has missed the last two rounds with chest soreness.
The Lions have made two changes. James Polkinghorne has been recalled after an ankle complaint and Patrick Karnezis will line up for his first game of the season.