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Stars sidelined, Deledio to debut as Crows sweat on Betts

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UPDATED | Geelong and Hawthorn face key AFL clashes without stars Patrick Dangerfield and Luke Hodge respectively following a tumultuous 24 hours – but GWS will be bolstered by the long-awaited debut of former Tiger veteran Brett Deledio.

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The Cats are looking to tighten their grip on second spot against resurgent Sydney on Friday night, while the 12th-placed Hawks must beat Richmond at the MCG on Sunday to keep their faint finals chances alive.

Dangerfield’s hopes of a second Brownlow Medal were dashed when he accepted a one-game ban for rough conduct on Carlton’s Matthew Kreuzer, while Hodge last night fought a one-match suspension for striking Sydney’s Tom Papley at the tribunal and lost.

Speaking after Geelong confirmed their decision, Dangerfield said his only desire was a premiership flag.

“The most important thing is being there on the final day and being triumphant,” Dangerfield said.

“We’ve got a lot to achieve this year, so we have to be pragmatic about it.”

The Cats would have risked a two-match ban for Dangerfield by taking the case to the tribunal, at a crucial stage of their season.

With a month left until the finals, Geelong have a massive home game at Simonds Stadium against the Swans (sixth).

Next week they host Richmond, currently fourth.

Cats football manager Steve Hocking said they weighed up a tribunal challenge until 10am on Tuesday morning – an hour before the deadline, while coach Chris Scott today questioned the fine line of eligibility for the Brownlow Medal.

Scott said Dangerfield’s ban should lead to more discussion about what is a legal tackle and, without mentioning new Brownlow favourite Dustin Martin by name, also compared him to the Cats star.

Martin is walking a Brownlow tightrope, having been fined twice this season. Another fine would mean a one-match ban, also ruling the Tigers star out of the Brownlow.

Dangerfield was suspended for a tackle that concussed Carlton ruckman Matthew Kreuzer.

“You can get fined a couple of times and still be eligible, but you can tackle a player with the best intent in the world and be ineligible,’ Scott said.

“I can see how people would look at that and say ‘I’m not sure it sits all that well’.”

Scott also is not convinced that suspension should rule a player out of winning the Brownlow.

He notes that if someone can miss games through suspension and still win the medal, the player probably deserves it.

Scott said if the Cats had gone to the tribunal, they would have argued that Dangerfield’s tackle was reasonable in the circumstances.

But they also knew the odds would have been against them.

“It’s not as though you go in with a level playing field – you need to prove that they made an incorrect decision,” he said.

“The rules are worded in such a way to make that almost impossible.”

Scott added that Dangerfield was adamant his personal situation should not affect their decision on a tribunal challenge.

“He feels there are bigger fish to fry than his individual accolades,” Scott said.

“When you look at the bigger picture hopefully over the course of a couple of months, you can see the positives in him having a week out.”

He also will continue to demand that his players tackle hard.

“If the alternative is be a very poor tackling team and be poor in the contest, then I think we’re going to have to risk that occasionally, players might inadvertently cross the boundaries,” he said.

The Hawks, meanwhile, launched their own impassioned ‘steel arms’ defence at the tribunal hearing at AFL headquarters but it wasn’t enough to clear Hodge.

“We’ve got a saying – ‘steel arms’ – so if someone goes through you try to hold them or get a hand in to slow them down,” Hodge said in his evidence after club legal counsel argued he had just been trying to block Papley.

“If I think I’ve done the wrong thing (over my career) I’ve copped the whack – in this incident I didn’t punch or strike him so that’s why I’ve challenged.”

The 33-year-old, who will retire at the end of the season, will miss the clash against the Tigers, which is also good mate Jarryd Roughead’s 250th game.

The 302-game veteran didn’t risk missing any extra matches if he was unsuccessful at the tribunal, but was slapped with a $2500 fine in addition to the ban.

Also on Tuesday, Sydney star Lance Franklin accepted his $1500 fine for making contact with Hodge’s face.

And Collingwood onballer Taylor Adams also took a $1000 fine for rough conduct.

But while Dangerfield and Hodge will return to the field after a week on the sidelines, time is running out for several key veterans to return from injuries as the season draws to a close.

With four rounds remaining, Hawthorn have conceded Norm Smith medallist Cyril Rioli is unlikely to play again this year.

Rioli has only recently returned to training after suffering a high-grade posterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee in May.

“He’s just started to do a little bit of ball work, some more change of direction and some faster running,” Hawks fitness boss Andrew Russell said.

“He won’t be ready in the next few weeks but he’s an outside chance to play again this year.”

The Hawks are more optimistic about Josh Gibson (groin) and Grant Birchall (knee), with Russell hopeful they could return in coming weeks.

Gibson is considered unlikely to play on next year and could potentially play a farewell game alongside Luke Hodge in round 23.

Goalsneak Paul Puopolo (groin) is a chance to return to face Richmond on Sunday, while Jaeger O’Meara (knee) appears increasingly likely to make another AFL appearance before season’s end.

With no hope of making the finals, Collingwood have effectively ruled out skipper Scott Pendlebury and Travis Varcoe for the rest of the season.

Magpies skipper Pendlebury last week underwent a second operation on his broken finger, while Varcoe had surgery after dislocating his elbow.

“While their surgery went well, Scott and Travis are both (expected to miss) multiple weeks and we won’t know whether they will return before the end of the year or not for a few weeks yet,” Collingwood football boss Geoff Walsh said.

“Right now, it’s looking like time might run out for both those boys.”

Greater Western Sydney recruit Deledio will buck the trend, making his long-anticipated AFL return this weekend.

Deledio will play his first game in Giants’ colours when they host Melbourne in Canberra on Saturday afternoon.

The dual All-Australian, who played 243 games for Richmond before requesting an off-season trade, has since struggled with recurring calf issues.

But the Giants have confirmed the 30-year-old will line up against the Dees after a solid fortnight in the NEAFL.

As Sunday’s Showdown looms large in SA, Port Adelaide have only one player unavailable for selection through injury – but unfortunately for the Power, it is one of their most important.

Port have confirmed livewire forward and emerging midfield star Chad Wingard will be unavailable for the crosstown clash, listing him as a 1-3 week proposition to return from an ankle injury sustained against Melbourne.

“Chad’s rehab is coming along nicely at this stage,” head physio Tim McGrath told the club’s website.

“We’ll look to build him into running as soon as he is able.”

Adelaide has its fingers crossed dynamic forward Eddie Betts will join midfielder Brad Crouch and defender Jake Lever in returning for the Sunday twilight blockbuster.

Betts missed the draw with Collingwood after having his appendix removed.

Crows General Manager of High Performance Matt Hass said Betts would see his surgeon this week “and we’ll be guided by him on his return to play”.

“Eddie will be pushing to do everything he can to play Port Adelaide,” he said.

Crouch, who fractured his cheekbone against Geelong, “will also see the surgeon this week, needing clearance to play”.

“He’ll train with the main group and be a ‘test’ for this weekend,” said Hass.

Lever has made “good progress” after missing two games with a minor hamstring injury.

“Jake’s done really well. He’s ticked every box that he’s needed to,” Hass said.

“He’ll train with the main group on Thursday and, should he get through that, he’ll be available this weekend.”

The Crows are taking a “no risk” approach with fellow defender Kyle Hartigan, who suffered hamstring tightness in the first quarter of his comeback SANFL clash after a long injury layoff.

Hass said “early indications are that it’s quite minor [but] he won’t play this weekend and he’ll be an assessment for the following weeks”.

-AAP

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