Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson hasn’t committed to a specific role for Luke Hodge against Gold Coast in Launceston on Sunday in the skipper’s long-awaited AFL return from a knee injury.
Hodge will play his first game since the end of April when he tore the meniscus in his knee in GWS’s upset 75-point thrashing of the premiers.
Clarkson believes Hodge, who is reportedly close to re-signing with the Hawks following fellow veteran Sam Mitchell’s mid-week contract extension, will be ready to go at Aurora Stadium against the third-from-bottom Suns.
“We wouldn’t have picked him unless we knew he was going to play,” Clarkson said at Melbourne Airport on Saturday.
“He has been a long time out… hopefully he’ll play well and then have an extended break and be ready for Port Adelaide after the bye.”
Clarkson wasn’t specific on Hodge’s role, whether it’s in defence in his normal intercept and rebound position or as part of the onball group to replace Cyril Rioli, who has returned to the Northern Territory this weekend for a family funeral.
“He has done a strong enough block of training for him to play as we see fit,” said Clarkson.
“So we will be guided by the conditions, the opposition and his fatigue.”
With Mitchell committed for another season, Clarkson is hopefully Hodge, Shaun Burgoyne and Josh Gibson will also continue in 2017.
“It would be our preference if they all did (play on),” he said.
“They’re all champions and those other three have been consistent again.”
Clarkson was also asked how he planned to combat Suns captain Gary Ablett.
“He’s starting to get back and play some good footy for them, so at different stages of the game we’ll have to play some close attention to him,” Clarkson said.
“Whether that’s a close run-with role or team defence, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Despite the Hawks sitting in third place with a 10-3 win-loss record, Clarkson is still wary of a Gold Coast unit that is starting to get back key players.
“They’ve turned the corner in terms of their injuries,” said Clarkson.
“Looking through their side, they have some really talented players and, if they bring their best and we’re a little bit off ours, it will be a really tough game.”