Hawthorn midfielder Sam Mitchell will make his long-awaited return on Friday after missing the past two months with a hamstring tendon injury, giving the reigning premiers a much-needed lift during what has been an injury-prone few months.
Mitchell was named in the squad that will take on North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium after he trained strongly. His inclusion wasn't a certainty though, with coach Alastair Clarkson saying on Thursday morning the decision to bring Mitchell back via the AFL or VFL was ''touch and go".
It will be Mitchell's first match since round seven. Hawks fans are still reeling from the expected two month loss of star small forward Cyril Rioli, who suffered a serious hamstring injury in round 15. Josh Gibson is expected to remain on the bench for at least another two weeks after already missing seven games this season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Clarkson played down how much of a factor injuries will play in the club's chances for the rest of the season.He said the club struggled with more injury woes last year, which created a fair amount of stress and instability.
“Because we won the flag last year, everyone thinks it was all rosy and we must have had a stellar year (with injuries),'' he said. “‘We had four knee reconstructions last year. We haven’t had as many injuries this year as we did last year.”
Clarkson himself will be returning to the job after missing the past five weeks with the potentially debilitating medical condition Guillain-Barre syndrome.
He said the Hawks injury list, which currently sits at seven players, would make the club stronger.
“That’s a strength of a footy club - being able to cope with adversity and finding a way to still perform on the field and get results. We’ve been able to do that a fair bit over the last 18 months.’’
Hawthorn are coming off five straight wins to meet a patchy North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium on Friday night. The ladder leaders have had the upper hand in their past four games, not losing a match to the Kangaroos since round five in 2010.
Despite their unexpected four-point loss to the Brisbane Lions last weekend, the Kangaroos have a record of beating top sides, including Fremantle, Port Adelaide and Sydney this season.
The Roos have snuck into the top eight, with eight wins under their belt this season. Vice-captain Drew Petrie has acknowledged the team’s failings this year, saying their loss to the Lions was due to “lazy” players.
We did our match review on Monday ... the vision showed a lot of players not chasing their opponents, just walking behind the play. It’s just lazy, and hoping we can turn the ball over and get out the back. We played hopeful footy,” he told the AFL Exchange podcast.