Hawthorn forward Jack Gunston is set to reclaim his spot in the Hawks’ AFL grand final side after completing a searching fitness test at training on Monday.
Gunston has been missing since injuring his right ankle in the qualifying final loss to West Coast but took part in a light 20-minute session with his teammates before being put through his paces at greater intensity by fitness coach Andrew Russell.
The 23-year-old stretched out to three-quarter pace in straight run-throughs, but more importantly, displayed an ability to push off sideways, gathering loose balls on the run and snapping for goal, before finishing with one-on-one competitive body work with Russell.
He will also need to show that he can jump and plant both feet before being cleared to play, but with the grand final five days away the club’s leading goal-kicker is in the box seat to return.
Gunston’s availability will mean a tough call has to be made at the selection table.
Ryan Schoenmakers was recalled to fill Gunston’s spot in finals wins over Adelaide and Fremantle and looms as the most likely player to make way.
After missing the club’s premierships in the past two years, it would be a bitter pill for the oft-maligned South Australian to swallow.
“You’d feel for anyone who misses out on a grand final,” Jarryd Roughead said.
“(But) it’s not just him. There’s other blokes that have played a number of games this year and might not be able to make this team … we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
“The thing with us is we’ve always said that squads win premierships.”
With a historic three-peat on offer, Hawthorn’s wealth of finals experience will be a key factor this week.
The Eagles are appearing in their first premiership decider since they last won the flag in 2006, while Alastair Clarkson’s men are into their fifth grand final in the past eight years, which Roughead said would be a big positive for his side.
“No doubt it’s a major factor that we can draw on our knowledge – we’ve been here before and we know what to do this week,” he said.
“We know how to enjoy it and we know how to go about it.”
Hawthorn have the edge in finals experience but the Eagles will go in with confidence as a result of their 32-point qualifying final win over Hawthorn at Domain stadium.
Adam Simpson’s side pressured the Hawks into uncharacteristic errors in that game and Roughead said it was important for his team to make the most of early opportunities to apply their own scoreboard pressure.
Hawthorn have taken the hard road to this year’s grand final having made two trips to Perth and not had a week off, but Roughead said his teammates have been carefully managed and are ready for the challenge.