Hodge poised to return for Hawks
Luke Hodge. Photo: Justin McManus
HAWTHORN skipper Luke Hodge has lifted his training intensity, raising the Hawks' hopes he will play his first game of the season on Sunday against Sydney in Launceston.
Hodge, who has battled a calf injury, has been close to rejoining the side for the past few weeks but has pulled up short in fitness tests. He faces another fitness test later this week, as does premiership midfielder Grant Birchall, who injured his shin in round three.
Hawthorn football operations manager Mark Evans said yesterday both players had shown strong signs of recovery, with Hodge improving significantly on last week.
''It looks promising, but they have got to prove they are right to go by the end of the week,'' he said. ''Luke has been an interesting one because he has probably been at 80-85 per cent for a while and we have always thought that he has been pretty close.
''But it's up to him to prove that last 10 or 15 per cent of fitness. He's pretty keen, but he's still got to [get] through that process.''
Birchall was a late withdrawal from the Hawthorn side that lost to West Coast last Saturday, after he sustained a knock just below his knee against Adelaide in round three.
''He copped the point of someone's knee right into the upper side of his shin, so not at the knee joint but just below there, where it is quite bony,'' Evans said.
''It's not too bad, but it just hadn't enabled him to get to full speed last week, he just missed out. Once he's pain-free to run normally he's right to go.''
Sydney has ruled out ruckman Shane Mumford for Sunday.
Mumford has been struggling with back problems, which the club attributed this week to an infection resulting from a cortisone injection. He has started on a course of antibiotics.
Swans coach John Longmire was initially optimistic Mumford could return against the Hawks, but yesterday confirmed he would not play this weekend.
''He hasn't had enough training under his belt,'' Longmire said.
''He won't be playing, but we hope that Nick [Smith] and LRT [Lewis Roberts-Thomson] will certainly be named in the squad.''
Mumford was a last-minute scratching from the side which lost to Fremantle in round two when he woke up with a sore back.
He returned in round three, only to miss the Swans' win over North Melbourne last week due to more back complaints at training.
Minding Hawks star Cyril Rioli would be a testing re-introduction after a two-week lay-off with illness, but that might well be the medicine awaiting Smith.
The Sydney defender, who has missed the Swans' past two matches due to a severe inner-ear infection that left him with vertigo, trained well on Wednesday and is considered a good chance to return on the weekend.
Co-captain Adams Goodes, returning from a one-match suspension, will pass Michael O'Loughlin's tally of 303 games for Sydney.