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Zorko hamstrung, Gawn gone, Nic Nat a chance to return

Both Brisbane and Melbourne will enter their top-of-the-table AFL clash without their captain after Lions’ skipper Dayne Zorko was ruled out with a hamstring injury.

Zorko travelled with the side on Wednesday but coach Chris Fagan said he wouldn’t feature in the Thursday blockbuster, that will be the Lions’ first game at the MCG since March 2020.

“He won’t play; he was close but best to give him a rest, give him the opportunity of a bye (last week) plus another week,” said Fagan, who hasn’t settled on his replacement.

Versatile midfielder Zorko has been hampered by various lower leg injuries in recent seasons but Fagan is positive as they eye a deep finals run this September.

“Yesterday at training, the running he was doing, I thought he was moving as well as I’ve seen him move,” the coach said.

Dayne Zorko and his Lions team mates look dejected after losing

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

“I was pretty buoyed by that.

“It may not hurt him to have just this little break, then launch for the last eight games of the (regular) season.

“That’s what I’m hoping for and on the evidence I saw yesterday that could well be the case.”

It comes after Melbourne captain and ruckman Max Gawn hurt his ankle last week during a third straight loss that allowed Brisbane to jump ahead of them into top spot.

Harris Andrews will captain Brisbane as they look to end a run of nine straight losses at the venue.

Nic Nat in frame to return

West Coast defender Jeremy McGovern is no certainty to play again this year following his painful rib injury, but ruckman Nic Naitanui could return as early as this week.

McGovern spent three nights in hospital before being released on Tuesday after breaking his ribs in Saturday’s 18-point loss to Geelong.

The four-time All-Australian underwent surgery on Monday to have a plate inserted and no time frame has been set on his return.

West Coast (1-12) have nine games remaining this season.

But given the side sits at the bottom of the ladder with nothing but pride to play for, there’s no urgency to rush McGovern back.

“It’s significant damage, but he’s in good health now. Now it’s about recovery,” Eagles coach Adam Simpson said on Tuesday.

“It will be a few weeks if he does come back. We won’t know. We will probably know by the end of the week.”

Naitanui hasn’t played since injuring a medial ligament in his knee during the club’s round-four win over Collingwood.

Although it’s more likely Naitanui will return next week, Simpson has left the door ajar for this week.

“He’s not far off. This week or next week,” Simpson said.

“We’ll see how training looks and then make a decision about whether he plays WAFL or goes straight back into the side. 

“We’ll see how he pulls up after today.”

A host of West Coast players have been brought back through the WAFL this season and Simpson will strongly consider a similar path for Naitanui.

“Unfortunately this year we’ve had injuries that have been several weeks and there’s a tipping point before you can come straight back in,” Simpson said.  “Especially mid-season, when everyone is game ready and match hardened. To come straight back in is a challenge. 

Nic Naitanui of the Eagles takes the ball

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“I reckon eight players this year have come back off significant injuries and Nic will be another one. 

“We are dealing with that case by case but understanding there’s a certain level where you do need some touch at WAFL level.”

West Coast could be boosted by the return of Tim Kelly, Liam Ryan and Samo Petrevski-Seton for Friday night’s clash with Essendon at Optus Stadium.

All three players missed last week’s loss to Geelong through illness and Simpson will assess them at training this week before making a call on their availability.

Simpson says Josh Kennedy will be managed at some stage in the back half of the season, but the 34-year-old forward will play against Essendon on Friday if he pulls up well from training.

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