TOM Liberatore faces the prospect of further surgery on the troublesome knee that will see him miss the Western Bulldogs’ virtual AFL elimination final against Essendon.
Liberatore, who missed most of the 2018 season with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, dodged a bullet in round 13 when initial fears he had suffered another ACL injury in the same knee proved unfounded.
But the 27-year-old still required surgery to correct cartilage damage that sidelined him for four games.
Three matches into his AFL return, coach Luke Beveridge revealed persistent soreness would keep him out of Saturday night’s encounter at Marvel Stadium and could require another operation at the end of the season.
“He’s just a little bit sore in the knee … obviously he’s had some surgery over the years and we’ve got to keep playing the long game, to a degree, with Tom,” Beveridge said.
“Every week is important but we just felt like giving him a week off will freshen him up a little bit … he got through most of training but we didn’t want to risk him.
“I’ve got no doubt our medical staff will get together and have a yack about (the possibility of more surgery) and what they can do just to make sure they fortify Tom and give him the best chance to have a longer career.
“We’ve re-contracted him for another couple of years and I’ve got no doubt he’s going to be able to endure and play some really tremendous footy for us but right now he’s just a little bit sore.”
The Bulldogs will also be without influential defender Caleb Daniel against Essendon after he suffered a hamstring injury that will likely sideline him for the rest of the home-and-away season.
Taylor Duryea and Will Hayes are in for the 10th-placed Dogs (9-10) who must defeat the seventh-placed Bombers (11-8) to stay in touch with the top eight.
“As long as we’re on our mettle that will take care of whether or not it is an elimination final or just another round,” the coach said.
“But obviously it’s a pretty critical game for us … we’d love to think that we’ve got a longer season than just round 23.
“We’ve worked hard enough to be in the conversation.”
The depleted Bombers made six changes for the clash, regaining skipper Dyson Heppell from a foot injury and Shaun McKernan from illness, but losing Adam Saad (hamstring), Darcy Parish (concussion), Aaron Francis (whiplash) and Matt Guelfi (knee) to injury.
© AAP 2019