Toby McLean's fears have been realised with scans confirming the Western Bulldogs midfielder has damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The 24-year-old's right leg twisted in a tackle during Sunday's AFL win over Hawthorn.
McLean has been ruled out for the rest of the season and will likely be sidelined for a significant period next year.
"Scans have today confirmed Toby has sustained an ACL injury," Bulldogs medical services manager Chris Bell said on Monday.
"Toby will return to Melbourne today and have a surgical opinion over the next couple of days to determine the best course of action for him."
The injury has denied 2016 premiership hero McLean the chance to chase another flag this year.
The Bulldogs sit inside the eight entering the last home-and-away round and can secure a finals berth with a win over Fremantle in Cairns on Sunday.
Luke Beveridge's side rose from seventh to win the 2016 premiership, but the coach is not drawing comparisons.
"It's a long time ago and our make-up is very different," Beveridge said.
The Bulldogs have been asked by the AFL where they would prefer to play their finals matches, should they qualify to host one.
The choices are Brisbane, the Gold Coast or Adelaide, but Beveridge isn't detailing his preference before a finals berth is officially locked in.
"I would rather not go there, not a week before we have qualified, I don't think we have got the right," Beveridge said.
"They have asked the question, the AFL, and behind the scenes we will probably give them an answer because you have to.
"But I'd rather not declare it publicly because it's getting ahead of ourselves a bit."
Meanwhile, club favourite Dale Morris was among four staff members who were axed by the Bulldogs on Monday as part of cost-cutting measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a significant reduction in the football soft cap set to be enforced next year, the Bulldogs parted ways with development coach Morris, assistant coaches Joel Corey and Jordan Russell, and football operations manager Ben Graham.
Morris played 253 games across 15 seasons for the Bulldogs before retiring last year.
Bulldogs chief executive Ameet Bains described the decisions as heartbreaking.