Essendon's Michael Hurley has been ruled out for three weeks with a hamstring strain, condemning the injury prone forward to miss vital clashes with Port Adelaide, Geelong and Hawthorn.
The Bombers have slipped out of the top four after getting thrashed by St Kilda to the tune of 71 points at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, leaving them sixth on the ladder with 10 wins.
Hurley - who missed three matches earlier this year due to another hamstring injury - was substituted out of their clash with the Saints, after struggling early before conceding the injury got the better of him when he donned the red vest in the third quarter.
Essendon football manager Paul Hamilton said the club was worse off without their star forward as they entered a crucial period of the season.
"Given Michael's recent good form it's disappointing to lose him at this point of the season," Hamilton said in a statement.
Hurley has kicked 19 goals in 11 matches this season, including recent hauls of six against Fremantle and five against the Western Bulldogs.Coach James Hird suggested Hurley's absence, coupled with Stewart Crameri's unavailability due to suspension, could pave the way for injury-plagued Scott Gumbleton to make his first senior appearance in nearly two years.