Injuries hit Hawks ahead of Saints clash

·2-min read

Hawthorn have lost three experienced stars to injury as they chase consecutive victories for the first time this AFL season against St Kilda.

Ball magnet Jaeger O'Meara, dangerous forward Chad Wingard and classy veteran Shaun Burgoyne will all miss Saturday's clash at Marvel Stadium.

But the Hawks will regain reigning Peter Crimmins medallist Jack Gunston and have named exciting young forward Emerson Jeka to make his senior debut.

Jeka was taken with pick nine in the 2019 rookie draft and boasts impressive foot skills, booting 19 goals in four VFL matches with Box Hill this year.

The 19-year-old will line up alongside fellow emerging forwards Jacob Koschitzke and Mitch Lewis in attack, with the versatile Tim O'Brien likely to play in defence.

"(Jeka) has played some really good footy and he's had a really good summer, to be fair," Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson said.

"His last three or four games (have been impressive)."

Three-time premiership star Gunston will play his first match of the season after undergoing back surgery in December.

"We've been looking forward to his return for some time," Clarkson said.

"He's a very experienced player and gives our side a lot of polish and a lot of flexibility too.

"We've got a pretty young forward line and they're emerging quite well for us, those young guys.

"But just having some experience and support with Jack's presence there will be enormous assistance to those guys and our team."

Clarkson has been pleased with his side's ability to weather storms in wins over Adelaide and Essendon this season but is looking for more consistency in their performance against St Kilda.

"There's faith that we're never out of a game," he said.

"Nearly every game we've had (this season) we've had to fight back from a period of inconsistency when we've just been unable to compete for long enough.

"We're pleased that we're putting ourselves back in a position to fight out a game but we're disappointed in the first instance that we've allowed consecutive goals for them to get ahead."

St Kilda will welcome back Paddy Ryder for his first game of the year after his return from personal leave.

The veteran will rekindle his ruck partnership with Rowan Marshall in his first appearance since last year's elimination final, when he suffered a serious hamstring injury.

Jimmy Webster and Ryan Byrnes both return, while Ben Long, Jack Lonie and experienced defender Jake Carlisle were all dropped.

St Kilda and Hawthorn will compete for the 22nd annual Blue Ribbon Cup, honouring the courage and sacrifice of all Australian police officers and those who have fallen in the line of duty.