The Brownlow medal hopes of Nat Fyfe have received a blow with the star Fremantle midfielder ruled out of the final two rounds of the AFL regular season because of a leg injury.
Fyfe will miss games against Melbourne and Port Adelaide after being grounded by inflammation in his left fibula – a condition known as periostitis.
The injury isn’t related to the heavy cork he received from Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell seven weeks ago, which occurred in Fyfe’s other leg.
Fremantle expect Fyfe will be fit to return for week one of the finals, but the injury will leave him short of match practice.
Fyfe recently missed two weeks because of a groin injury, meaning he will enter the finals having played just two of the previous six matches.
His layoff will also open the door for someone else to nab the Brownlow medal.
Fyfe was the hottest of favourites to win the prestigious award after producing a series of blistering displays in the opening 14 rounds of the season.
But he has struggled to recapture that dominant form since copping a nasty cork from Mitchell’s knee in round 15.
His lower output, plus the two weeks out with a groin injury, means Fyfe is unlikely to poll more than three votes from round 15 onwards.
Even so, his blistering early form might be enough to keep him ahead of the likes of Todd Goldstein, Matt Priddis and Patrick Dangerfield.
Fyfe’s injury comes at a bad time for the Dockers, who are struggling to regain their mojo in the lead-in to the finals.
Consecutive losses to West Coast and North Melbourne have left Fremantle looking vulnerable, with the Eagles a chance to overhaul them in the race for the minor premiership.
Skipper Matthew Pavlich might also miss Sunday’s clash with Melbourne at Domain Stadium as he battles a sore achilles tendon.
But in some better news, goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne is ahead of schedule in his recovery from pectoral surgery, paving the way for a return in week one of the finals.
The Dockers have struggled for attacking potency in recent months, and the return of Ballantyne would be a massive boost to both morale and on-field firepower.
“He brings the forward pressure we have been lacking over the last couple of weeks and that experience up forward,” Dockers defender Michael Johnson said of Ballantyne.
“I think that will help (Chris) Mayne and Michael Walters out.”
Fyfe’s injury-enforced absence means he is no longer at risk of being ruled ineligible for the Brownlow through suspension.
Earlier this week, the 23-year-old was thanking his lucky stars after being cleared of any wrongdoing by the Match Review Panel over his front-on collision with North Melbourne’s Ben Jacobs.
WHAT IS PERIOSTITIS?:
* Periostitis is inflammation of the periosteum (outside layer) of the bone
* It can cause tenderness and swelling around the bone
* The most common causes are injury from a direct trauma to a bone, or overuse
* Athletes and runners are at risk of developing periosteum inflammation in their lower legs, a condition called shin splints
* Rest and applying ice to the area are the most common forms of treatment