Brisbane Lions coach Justin Leppitsch admits he has no idea when key defender Daniel Merrett will return from a hamstring nerve injury.
Merrett has been sidelined since suffering what was originally diagnosed as a two to three-week hamstring tear before Brisbane’s round two clash with North Melbourne.
Five weeks on, Leppitsch conceded there was no return date in sight for the 30-year-old, whose rehabilitation efforts have been hampered by nerve bleeding.
“We can find a rare injury at this football club,” he said on Thursday.
“The hamstring itself is starting to heal okay but it’s actually the nerve around it that’s agitated and aggravated a little bit in the rehab process.
“It’s one of those ones that’s taking time unfortunately until that blood can go away.
“Every week I hear it’s another week or two, then it’s another week or two.
“It’s stuck around, it’s not as obvious as most other injuries, this one.”
The silver lining is the emergence of new leaders in the Lions’ youthful defence, who have held down the fort in Merrett’s continuing absence.
Harris Andrews, still only 18, has earned rave reviews in recent weeks while Leppitsch singled out Justin Clarke, who has more often than not been assigned the opposition’s best key forward, for special praise.
But as proud as he is of their efforts, Leppitsch said it was only a matter of time until they collapsed under the weight of responsibility.
“I’m concerned when you’ve got four or five young kids in one line, how long they can hold up for,” he said.
“Having Daniel back would definitely alleviate a lot of those issues because they can work around him, but I think Justin Clarke’s playing like a 100-game player at the moment, taking in all that pressure and doing such a good job.
“It’s a bit unfair on the young fella, he’s been thrown to the wolves to not only be the main man but direct the younger boys around and he’s done a terrific job.
“Hopefully he can continue that.”
The Lions have won their last two matches against Carlton and Port Adelaide to lift themselves off the bottom of the AFL ladder.
They face Essendon on Sunday at Etihad Stadium and Leppitsch admits ensuring his young charges keep a level head after back-to-back wins is his biggest challenge this week.
“Three weeks ago I had to keep telling them nothing was as bad as it seems and this week it’s about nothing’s as good as it seems,” he said.
“That’s just the reality of life.
“They still have to ride the waves and emotions of the season, we’ve just got to make sure our output is consistent.”