WANGARATTA Rovers livewire Ryan Stone will almost certainly miss the entire season after a workplace accident.
Stone, the Hawks’ leading goalkicker over the past two seasons, seriously damaged a finger before Christmas.
He underwent surgery and looks unlikely to play at all this year.
It comes as an added blow for the Hawks after speedster Ash Pollard decided to give football away.
Pollard, who claimed the title of fastest footballer in the North East at last year’s Albury-Wodonga Gift, will instead focus on his running at Bendigo.
“It’s always been a passion of his,” Rovers coach Paul Maher said.
The Hawks have endured plenty of player turnover since Maher replaced Mick Caruso at the end of last season.
Karl Norman (Glenrowan), Toby Ryan (Balwyn), Kyle Raven (Tarrawingee), Sam Caruso and Lachie Raven (Pascoe Vale) have all left W.J. Findlay Oval.
Dan McCullough will also miss a large chunk of the season as he travels overseas and is no certainty to return.
He has booted 65 goals in the past two years.
Maher admitted the Hawks would field a significantly different line-up this season than the one which lost to Lavington in last year’s first semi-final.
“We will, but that naturally happens sometimes,” Maher said.
“Given the nature of where Wangaratta is located, and the age of the people we have at the footy club, it can be pretty hard work to keep young guys year in, year out.
“There’s always a bit of a turnover but that’s fine.
“They know the door is always open for them here and that Wang Rovers is their home.”
It certainly hasn’t been all bad news for the Hawks this summer, adding former AFL players Daniel Archer, Jarrad Boumann and James Mulligan to their ranks.
Lachlan Dornauff and Fraser Elliot have also joined the club.
“We’ll certainly have a much taller spine, which will free up guys like Sean O’Keeffe, Hayden Lowe and Ben Kneebone,” Maher said.
“They won’t have to hold down key positions any more.
“Tyson Hartwig has had to shoulder heavy burdens and a few more talls will help us put him to greater use.”