Whitecross back after long AFL absence

Hawthorn have returned long-lost fan favourite Brendan Whitecross to their AFL side for their biggest game of the season on Thursday night against Sydney.

Whitecross has missed three grand finals during his time with the Hawks due to major knee injuries but gets a chance to play himself into the senior side for their 2016 finals campaign.

He is one of three changes for the club’s table-topping clash with the Swans at the SCG.

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has also brought in Angus Litherland and Jonathan O’Rourke for dropped pair Billy Hartung and Daniel Howe and injured midfielder Liam Shiels (hamstring).

The Swans will miss Isaac Heeney for another week, who had been listed as managed for last week’s win at Geelong but has not been recalled.

Instead, former Hawk Ben McGlynn comes in for youngster James Rose.

That Whitecross remains on Hawthorn’s star-studded list is quite a feat, given the cut-throat nature of list management.

He will play his first AFL game since round six last year, and just his fifth match since injuring his already reconstructed right knee in the 2013 preliminary final win against Geelong.

Whitecross was on the verge of playing in Hawthorn’s 2012 decider before suffering an ACL rupture in that year’s qualifying final win over Collingwood.

Following his 2013 heartbreak, the Queenslander spent all of 2014 on the sidelines.

He failed in his efforts to crack into the senior side last year after round six but form rather than fitness had delayed his return to AFL level.

After 25 VFL matches, he gets his chance, with Hawthorn’s football boss Chris Fagan saying his improved form at reserves level can’t be ignored.

“It’s exciting for Brendan to finally get his opportunity this season, he’s been in good form at Box Hill and deserves his chance,” he told the club’s website.

“We feel like Jono (O’Rourke) is a like-for-like replacement for Shiels and, hopefully, Angus can come in and provide us some good run off the backline.”

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