GWS has recalled skipper Stephen Coniglio as it fights for a finals spot in the last round of the season.
The Giants have turned to their skipper — who was controversially axed for Round 17 — as one of two changes for their clash with St Kilda on Friday.
Coniglio and young forward Jake Riccardi return, with Harry Himmelberg and Adam Kennedy dropped.
Nick Hind and injured midfielder Zak Jones make way for St Kilda, with Jake Carlisle and Dan Hannebery back.
TIGERS WELCOME BACK STARS AHEAD OF FINALS
Already building off a take-down of premiership fancies Geelong last week, Richmond is eyeing off finals returns from best and fairest Dion Prestia and star forward Tom Lynch in an ominous sign for other contenders.
Premiership player Shane Edwards will return for Saturday’s final round clash with Adelaide after exiting quarantine in Queensland, while David Astbury, Josh Caddy and Nathan Broad are awaiting their chance.
Breakout midfielder Shai Bolton will miss with a corked calf, but he too should be back for the first week of the finals, giving Richmond all but premiership ruckman Ivan Soldo available in the pursuit of back-to-back flags.
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“Dion joined in some training today … he’s probably still looking at the first week of finals. We’ve got some players coming back which is really important for us,” Hardwick said on Thursday.
“Shai (Bolton) had a corked calf, it probably hasn’t responded as we would have liked. We’d rather take the cautious approach.
“We are probably starting to play some pretty good footy at the right end of the season. We probably are a little bit slow to start and we build up into it. It’s something we have learned.
“We’re starting to get some players back. We have to get those players back in to the side and gelling together to pay some really good footy.”
Presita hasn’t played since Round 5 after suffering a syndesmosis injury, while Lynch suffered a minor hamstring injury in the third quarter of the powerful win over the Cats.
“Our guys have been really positive with Tom. His scans came back on the minor side, he’s running now and doing some strength training,” Hardwick said.
“It’s my understanding he’ll be available for the first week of the finals at this stage. What we also know is that he’s really important to us, so we’ll make sure he’s right to go.
“We only get one chance of getting it right, so we won’t rush it.”
Mabior Chol will play against the Crows, but Hardwick said he was still “working through” what to do about the ruck situation with Soldo out for 12 months after suffering an ACL injury.
It’s one of the few problems facing the Tigers, other than working out who might have to go out to allow for so many available premiership players to come back for the finals campaign.
Hardwick also celebrates a milestone this week, the two-time premiership coach drawing level with Richmond and AFL legend Tommy Hafey for the most games as Tiger coach.
It will be Hardwick’s 248th game in charge of the Tigers, the same number as Hafey, who coached the club from 1966-76, winning four premierships throughout his magnificent career at Richmond.
THREE DEMONS SET FOR RETURN
A trio of Melbourne players have ticked their first box in their bid to be declared fit for Saturday’s crunch clash with Essendon.
James Harmes (hamstring), Michael Hibberd (ankle) and Luke Jackson (hamstring) all got through Wednesday afternoon’s full training session at Maroochydore.
They need to get through the final training run to be in the mix to force their way into a Demons side that suffered no fresh injuries in the win over GWS.
Ninth-placed Melbourne needs to beat the Bombers and rely on other results to sneak into the final eight.
Jackson finished Wednesday’s session engaged in strong contested-marking work with Steven May.
The Demons hope veteran Nathan Jones will be available for the first final in a fortnight – if they qualify – as he recovers from a quad injury.
He was part of the rehab group completing their conditioning on a neighbouring oval on Wednesday.
SAINTS COULD ROLL DICE ON HANNERS
St Kilda is tempted to unleash Dan Hannebery for Friday night’s match against GWS, declaring his return a risk worth taking.
Saints coach Brett Ratten said the 29-year-old was “more likely than unlikely” to play against the Giants in what would be his first match since Round 5.
Hannebery pushed his case in Wednesday’s 90-minute session in Maroochydore – his first training run back with the Saints after leaving the AFL quarantine hub on Tuesday.
The Saints were on Wednesday afternoon weighing up the risk of his injury history with the reward of the class and experience he would bring for their must-win clash at the Gabba.
Also influencing the decision is the hamstring injury to Zak Jones, with Hannebery looming as a straight swap in a Saints side needing a win to guarantee its first finals spot since 2011.
“He’s done everything. He’s an experienced campaigner that plays well in big games,” Ratten said.
“He’s been out for a while, but to have the availability of picking him – it’s something that we really strongly will consider.
“But we want to do the right thing by the team and everybody. He’s done everything he needs to.
“We’ll sit down with the medicos and go through it in more detail, but I would say he’s more likely than unlikely.”
Hannebery had hamstring tendon surgery in July and spent the past fortnight training with Shane Edwards and Gary Ablett.
Ratten said the hub life had helped Hannebery’s case for an instant recall, just three days out of quarantine.
“It’s a risk, but it looks like a risk worth taking,” Ratten said.
But the Saints are also aware of Hannebery’s recent injury history, restricting him to 10 matches in his two seasons at St Kilda.
“It does (play a role in selection) a bit and that’s probably the conversation this afternoon,” Ratten said.
“When you’re here and you watch him run around and everything looks good and you think ‘Dan Hannebery getting the ball, he’s vocal, he’s a leader of our team and he influences others’, so you say, ‘That would be nice to have him on-board’. But we do have to consider the other things as well.”
Jake Carlisle and Dylan Roberton are also in the mix to return, while the Saints are hopeful Jones would be available for week one of the finals.
GF HERO RETURNS FOR EAGLES
– Rebecca Williams
West Coast has made four changes for its final-round clash against North Melbourne, welcoming back Dom Sheed and Brendon Ah Chee from injury.
The Eagles, who have been hit hard by injuries late in the season, have also named Luke Foley to make his debut against the Kangaroos at Metricon Stadium on Thursday night.
Sheed returns from a hamstring injury and Ah Chee has recovered from a finger injury.
Ruckman Bailey Williams also comes into the side for fifth-placed West Coast, which has lost star defender Jeremy McGovern to a hamstring injury.
Hamish Brayshaw, Jarrod Brander and Xavier O’Neill have all been omitted from the side.
The Eagles could still steal a top-four spot, if results in other final-round games fall their way.
The Kangaroos have made two changes for their last game of the season, bringing in Sam Durdin and Tom Murphy.
Aiden Bonar is out injured, while forward Mason Wood has been dropped.
UNLUCKY DOG SET TO MAKE WAY FOR WOOD
Western Bulldogs are likely to recall Pat Lipinski and premiership captain Easton Wood for Sunday night’s finals-shaper against Fremantle in Cairns.
The Bulldogs are arguably the AFL’s form team on the cusp of the finals and Wood only needs to train again on Friday to show he has overcome a hamstring strain, while Lipinski is favoured to replace Toby McLean (knee).
But the selection squeeze is on with no obvious candidate for the second omission due to the Dogs’ even spread of contributors.
The Bulldogs have 40 healthy players and it is likely that match committee will ultimately end up considering whether Taylor Duryea, Matthew Suckling or Ed Richards should make way for Wood.
The Bulldogs sacked operations manager Ben Graham this week due to the reduced soft cap although Graham has remained in the hub and is set to see out the season.
Over the past five rounds the Bulldogs are 4-1, with their sole loss coming against Geelong in a game they led by 37 points during the second quarter.
From Rounds 12-17 the Dogs are also ranked No. 1 for points (75.4), No. 1 for points from stoppages (35.8), No. 2 for inside 50 differential (+9.4), No. 2 for contested possession differential (+13.6) and No. 2 for clearance differential (+5.6).
There are green lights everywhere for coach Luke Beveridge’s team and the dominance is stemming from a midfield that is flying.
The charge took off when Beveridge’s pre-game boxing theme – where he showed black and white footage of the 1958 light-heavyweight championship fight – helped inspire his players against Melbourne.
Little man Caleb Daniel is in line for All-Australian selection while Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae and Bailey Smith will also be considered by selectors when they select the squad.
But the Dogs must down the Dockers to sew up a place in an elimination final.
Cairns has also thrown up some funky results with Melbourne dropping games against Sydney and Fremantle in driving rain and strong winds at Cazaly’s Stadium.
Mitch Wallis – who has been reborn as a high-marking forward in one of the coaching moves of the season – will celebrate his 150th match.
CATS WELCOME BACK BIG GUNS
– Rebecca Williams
Geelong coach Chris Scott has confirmed veteran Gary Ablett and captain Joel Selwood will return for the Cats’ final-round clash against Sydney on Sunday.
In a major boost to the team’s preparations for finals, Scott declared Ablett to be in “great shape” after completing his two weeks in the AFL’s quarantine hub.
Ablett has not played since the Cats’ Round 7 clash against Collingwood after staying in Melbourne for family reasons.
Scott said the Cats had always intended to play Ablett first-game up out of the hub, but said seeing the dual Brownlow medallist “up close” had confirmed he was ready to return.
“That’s always been our plan, I should have been a bit more specific all the (way) along,” Scott told AFL 360.
“The risk I think of being really clear on your plan A is if things change, for example he came up here and was sorer than we thought or wasn’t in great shape, it looks as if you haven’t been telling the truth.
“So we wanted to keep our powder dry a bit.
“Certainly we were getting feedback over the last month or two that he was going well, but having seen (him) in the flesh, he will certainly play and I’m very confident he will play well.
“He is such a proud competitor, he does not want to use any physical issue as an excuse.
“He wasn’t in great shape in the finals last year. He’s lacking a bit of match practice this year, but he’s in better shape now than he was 12 months ago so that gives me a lot of hope.”
Selwood has been missing from the Cats’ line-up since Round 12 due to a knee complaint, but Scott said he could have played sooner.
“He will definitely play, too. We have held him back a little bit, a lot actually,” Scott said.
“He could have played in previous weeks, at least in my opinion.
“But he and I, along with others have put a lot of thought into this and again we can’t guarantee that it’s going to be the right decision but it’s been a really well-considered one to hold him back and at the very least going into a finals series giving him the best chance to be in the best health.”
AFL: Hawthorn Premiership heroes Ben Stratton and Paul Puopolo have called time on their illustrious careers after announcing they will step away from the game at the end of the season.
FULL ROUND 18 TEAMS
NORTH MELBOURNE v WEST COAST EAGLES
Thursday September 17, 7.10pm at Metricon Stadium
B: E.Vickers-Willis, R.Tarrant, F.Perez
HB: S.Atley, B.McKay, L.McDonald
C: B.Scott, J.Simpkin, J.Polec
HF: C.Zurhaar, J.Walker, J.Ziebell
F: T.Garner, N.Larkey, S.Higgins
FOLL: T.Goldstein, J.Anderson, T.Dumont
I/C: L.Davies-Uniacke, S.Durdin, T.Murphy, A.Hall
EMG: M.Wood, M.McGuInness, T.Campbell, L.Hosie
IN: S.Durdin, T.Murphy
OUT: M.Wood (omitted), A.Bonar (injured)
B: T.Cole, T.Barrass, B.Sheppard
HB: S.Hurn, W.Schofield, L.Duggan
C: J.Nelson, D.Sheed, J.Waterman
HF: B.Ah Chee, J.Darling, J.Petruccelle
F: O.Allen, J.Kennedy, L.Ryan
FOLL: N.Naitanui, T.Kelly, A.Gaff
I/C: L.Foley, B.Williams, B.Ainsworth, J.Rotham
EMG: J.Brander, X.O’Neill, J.Cameron, H.Edwards
IN: D.Shee, B.Ah Chee, L.Foley, B.Williams
OUT: H.Brayshaw (omitted), X.O’Neill (omitted), J.Brander (omitted), J.McGovern (injured)
ST KILDA v GWS GIANTS
Friday September 18, 7.50pm at Gabba
B: J.Carlisle, D.Howard, C.Wilkie
HB: N.Coffield, J.Battle, B.Long
C: D.Hannebery, S.Ross, B.Hill
HF: J.Billings, T.Membrey, D.Butler
F: M.King, R.Marshall, J.Geary
FOLL: P.Ryder, J.Steele, H.Clark
I/C: D.Kent, J.Sinclair, B.Paton, J.Lonie
EMG: R.Byrnes, S.Savage, J.Marsh, L.Dunstan
IN: J.Carlisle, D.Hannebery
OUT: N.Hind (Omitted), Z.Jones (Injured)
B: C.Idun, L.Keeffe, H.Shaw
HB: L.Whitfield, N.Haynes, Z.Williams
C: J.Kelly, J.Hopper, H.Perryman
HF: J.Cameron, J.Riccardi, M.de Boer
F: T.Greene, J.Finlayson, B.Daniels
FOLL: S.Mumford, S.Coniglio, T.Taranto
I/C: C.Idun, D.Lloyd, J.Buckley, T.Green
EMER: B.Hill, M.Flynn, J.Caldwell, I.Cumming
IN: J.Riccardi, S.Coniglio
OUT: A.Kennedy (Omitted), H.Himmelberg (Omitted)
*Remaining team announcements will be made the day before the scheduled match
Originally published as AFL teams: GWS skipper in from cold for Saints clash