HAWTHORN has confronted the possibility that captain Luke Hodge could sit out the opening matches of next season in a bid to have him primed later in the year for another premiership tilt.
Football manager Mark Evans revealed the Hawks understand their inspirational leader could bypass what shapes as a bruising start to the 2013 home-and-away campaign to ensure he was fully recovered from stabilisation surgery on his left knee.
''It's one of those ones, we might have learnt a little from last year, with a player like Luke you are far better off bringing them back when they are ready to come back, rather than sort of rushing to get to round one,'' Evans said. ''If he's capable of playing round one he will, but it could be three or four weeks into the season.
''It will be hard to predict when he will be right to play, but it will certainly be possible that he could miss the start of the season.''
The Hawks have a rugged start, facing fellow 2012 finalists in the opening seven rounds. Their opening month features long-time nemesis Geelong, a trip to Perth to face West Coast, another blockbuster against Collingwood, and Fremantle at Aurora Stadium.
Hodge, 28, damaged his posterior cruciate ligament in round six against St Kilda, and did not return to the senior side until round 18. He booted five goals on return against Essendon but the knee required week-to-week maintenance.
Hodge, off contract next year, is expected to resume running before Christmas but the Hawks will not have a clearer picture about his immediate future until January.
''I would have thought he will be doing running activities pre-Christmas,'' Evans said.
''It's then making sure the progression is from just doing a gentle jog through to full sprinting, through to off-line [running] and turning and all those sorts of things, competitive work. I think we'll take a cautious approach across the summer.''
Evans said it had been important for the long-term health of the 205-game veteran to have surgery.
''It self-repairs when you rupture a PCL but it was probably a bit too loose,'' he said. ''The fear from that was over time the laxity in the knee means he would scrape the cartilage off the surface of his joint. The surgeon decided it would be best to stabilise the knee by replacing his PCL and putting in an augmented ligament. I think it was one of his other tendons. That will slow him down across the summer.''
Jordan Lewis (shoulder), Jarryd Roughead (ankle) and Shaun Burgoyne (ankle) have also had surgery. Burgoyne was hurt during the grand final but the surgery is not expected to overly hamper his pre-season campaign.
Key recruit Brian Lake has been doing up to four sessions a week in the gym. The Hawks do not resume training as a full squad with their senior stars until November 26.