Prized St Kilda forward Max King is set to undergo a left shoulder reconstruction after a training incident that will significantly delay his season next year.
The 22-year-old suffered the injury in a marking contest at training at their Moorabbin base on Monday, with subsequent scans confirming the severity.
The Saints don’t expect King to play again until next season is “well under way”.
Injury blow: Max King.Credit:AFL Photos
He will visit a surgeon on Tuesday and is tipped to undergo an operation within days, in a hammer blow to new coach Ross Lyon’s hopes of making an instant impression.
King is the player St Kilda could least afford to lose, with respected sports medico Dr Peter Larkins revealing King faced about a four-month rehabilitation period back to full-contact training, similar to AFL peers such as Patrick Cripps.
But the high-marking nature of King’s role, on top of his 202-centimetre stature and longer limbs, means there may be more caution.
He should be able to resume running within weeks of surgery but tackling and overhead work will be out of the question for several months, Dr Larkins said.
“We always put a rough time frame of about four months,” Dr Larkins told The Age.
“That’s realistic because you’ve got to allow the strength to come back and the stabilising tissue that gets repaired to mature, particularly in a ruckman or person who’s going overhead.
“Coming back sooner than that, you risk [the shoulder] coming out again … it’s a little worse if you’re a ruckman or a high-marking player because you’re always putting your arms above your head, and you’re going to get crashed from behind, so your shoulder gets hit a lot.
“Depending on conditioning and what stage of the year and what the weather’s like, it’s not unreasonable to play within three to four weeks of that time frame, once you’re given the tick from the surgeon.”
It is the second major injury of King’s career after entering the AFL as the No.4 draft pick off an ACL rupture he suffered in 2018 playing for Haileybury College.
He played every game last season – his fourth at AFL level – and kicked a career-high 52 goals to establish himself as arguably the club’s most important, and certainly its most irreplaceable, player.
The Saints’ new executive general manager of football, Geoff Walsh, said King’s setback was “extremely disappointing”.
“He had come back for pre-season in really great condition, which is a credit to his professionalism; a trait we know will stand him in good stead as he works through his rehab over the next few months,” Walsh said.
“The recovery and rehabilitation period for this injury will be a number of months.
“We will provide updates as he progresses through his rehab program – suffice to say his return to play will not be until the season is well under way.”
St Kilda sacked former coach Brett Ratten and installed Lyon as coach in late October in a bid to revive the club’s flagging fortunes, with a serious King injury a blow to those plans.
A scathing post-season football department review found some leadership failings and problems with the coaching program, on top of identifying the need for changes in the list strategy.
King is a generational talent and beacon of hope on a list with an age profile ready to compete, but that lacks star power outside him, Jack Sinclair, Jack Steele, Jade Gresham, Rowan Marshall, and Bradley Hill’s glimpses.
There is excitement about Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, Marcus Windhager and Mitch Owens, while the Saints drafted ultra-confident South Australian phenom Mattaes Phillipou with the No.10 pick in last week’s draft.
St Kilda were not active in the trade period, with the free agency addition of ex-Western Bulldogs swingman Zaine Cordy the exception as they focused on the draft.
Undersized target Tim Membrey (34 goals) and Jack Higgins (30) were the Saints’ top scoring options behind King this year and suddenly have much more responsibility.
Cordy, too, may need to be unleashed predominantly as a forward, unless Lyon chooses to send defenders Dougal Howard and Josh Battle into attack again.
Cooper Sharman and Mason Wood, who spent most of his time this year on a wing, are other options, while ruckman Marshall is also a capable forward.
But the Saints will need one of Tom Campbell or Jack Hayes, who is recovering from his own ACL setback, to be a reliable back-up big man if Marshall is to spend more time inside 50.
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