TOP PRIORITY: Lack of match fitness worries the Panthers

LAVINGTON coach James Saker admits the delayed return of several injured stars is starting to become a concern for the club.

The Panthers were expected to regain key names for Saturday’s crunch clash with Wangaratta Rovers, but the likes of Myles Aalbers and Adam Prior are still battling injury and face more time on the sidelines.

Aalbers (ankle) hasn’t played since round 4 on May 3 and is yet to train freely, while star forward Prior has ligament damage in his knee.

With just seven rounds left after last weekend’s bye, Saker conceded the lack of match fitness in the lead-up to finals was becoming a worry.

“It is a little bit,” he said.

“We are happy with how things 

are going but we’ve always been wary we need to get our top-end 

guys back.

“We’ve had the opportunity to blood a few players and develop our depth, if you like, which we are happy with, but we’ve always understood we need those top guys to push the top teams in finals.”

In a plus, Saker rated star veterans Kade Stevens and Adam Butler, who are both battling niggles, as “strong” chances of returning for the Panthers this week.

Zach Hopper is still managing knee problems, but Matt Pendergast and Sam Harris both returned from extended absences against Myrtleford before the bye and pulled up well.

Former St Kilda star Justin Koschitzke is unavailable this week, with young gun Will Lenehan away on representative commitments.

“It will be a really big test,” Saker said.

“We’re still unsure about a few of the guys, they haven’t progressed the way we would have liked.

“There are still a few days to go, though, so it will be wait and see.”

In contrast, the Hawks look set to be buoyed by the inclusion of former AFL player James Mulligan.

He hasn’t played since suffering a medial strain against North Albury in round 1.

The Rovers pushed Albury for a half before the bye and would virtually assure themselves a finals spot with an upset win on Saturday.