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Hawthorn Hodge hopes fade

By Kim Hagdorn
12 February 2013 04:23PM EST

CHANCES of Hawthorn ace Luke Hodge starting the AFL premiership season look more remote after a less than convincing training performance on Monday.

The fearless Hawks captain and 2008 premiership star did little more than light handball drills and no running as most of his teammates completed a spirited and heavy two-and-a-half hour training at Waverley Park.

Hodge, 28, continues in an agonisingly slow recovery program from knee surgery after last year’s losing grand final outing against Sydney.

The 205-game superstar play-maker and Hawks on-field inspiration appears to be on a calculated schedule to recover and return possibly even well into the 2013 premiership campaign rather than any rushed recovery for early outings.

Hodge appears sure to miss the entire NAB Cup summer competition as well as early home-and-away engagements as the Hawks contend with quite possibly the most arduous season opening of all genuine premiership candidates.

While the star-studded and multi-talented outfit confront all other seven finalists in their first seven home-and-away premiership season appointments, the Hawks have a highly appealing NAB schedule that could run through into a summer series grand final.

Hawthorn open up with a trip to Metricon Stadium on Saturday February 23 for triangular series clashes with fledgling unit Gold Coast and Brisbane.

The Hawks then confront a re-developing Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium for their second leg and then an Aurora Stadium commitment against Richmond on Saturday afternoon in Launceston on March 9 when a pre-season grand final spot could be on the line.

Even with a seemingly imminent absence from the influential Hodge, the Hawks are marshalling an intimidating depth of defensive power with the recruitment of heavy artillery from Brian Lake to join big Josh Gibson and eventually Grant Birchall, Shaun Burgoyne and Brent Guerra.

Birchall and Burgoyne appear to be approaching full training as they recover from knee woes, along with another handy running defender Michael Osborne.

Guerra, 30, missed the entire finals series last September with a nasty hamstring problem.

As the Hawks refine their potentially imposing defensive division, dangerous forwards Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli, Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston were all put through torturous sprinting on the lead and then set-shot goal-kicking under duress to round out Monday's training.

Despite being by a significant margin the heaviest scoring outfit with 2679 points scored in home-and-away qualifiers last season to win 17 of 22 games, the all-too-familiar misfiring at worst possible times proved especially costly to the gifted Hawks.

A wayward 11.15 (81) to Sydney’s more accurate 14.7 (91) proved a substantial turnaround in premiership fortunes on the intimidating grand final stage.

Franklin bagged a wayward 3.4 and Roughead only three behinds as the Hawks kicked themselves out of flag contention.

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