Defender Joel Hamling is set to return to the Fremantle line-up for the first time in 372 days this Sunday, when Freo take on St Kilda at Optus Stadium for their first AFL home game of the year.
After missing the entire 2020 season with an ankle injury, Hamling re-injured the same ankle in round one last year against Melbourne and has not played since, after undergoing season-ending ankle surgery last July.
Not including the three and a half quarters he played against Melbourne in 2021, Hamling’s total days on the sideline will have equalled to 945 days, when he returns to Freo’s defence this weekend.
Speaking on SEN WA on Friday morning, Senior Coach Justin Longmuir confirmed that Hamling would return following the loss of Brennan Cox due to the AFL’s health and safety protocols.
“We’re pretty fortunate at the moment, Joel Hamling will come in to replace Cox and we’ve got some good depth through the middle of the ground and a fit list, as well as some guys playing some good footy down at Peel,” Longmuir told SEN WA.
Midfielder David Mundy will also be unavailable for selection this weekend due to the AFL's health and safety protocols, and Longmuir feels it’s an issue the Club will have to work through for the entire season.
“I’m definitely getting a bit nervous when ‘Belly’ (Peter Bell) rings me to be honest, especially when it’s early in the morning after the players have done their RAT’s,” Longmuir said.
“We’ve been pretty diligent with (our Covid management), and we’ve kept it out the best we can, but it just seems like it was just a matter of time before it hit us and obviously, we had a couple of guys enter the protocols yesterday.
“It’s something we’re going to have to navigate all year.”
Despite the challenges that the current restrictions pose for WA Clubs, Longmuir remained upbeat about the situation and was hopeful the playing field would 'even out' shortly.
“We’ve been very fortunate in WA over the last couple of years to be able to live a normal life and these things have a habit of evening out over time,” Longmuir said.
“We’re just behind the rest of the country in terms of reducing some of those restrictions, but I think they’ll happen reasonably quickly, and this will only be a short period of time that we’re on an uneven playing field in some sense.”
“I try not to waste too much of time with stuff I can’t control, and this is definitely one of those things I can’t.”
Fremantle’s final team for round two will be confirmed at 2pm WST on Friday 25 March.