St Kilda defender Hunter Clark is set to miss the coming weeks of action after suffering a facial fracture and concussion at training last week.
Clark was taken from the field last Wednesday after a collision with a teammate during a match simulation session, sparking further concerns for the luckless Saints backman.
The 24-year-old missed a large portion of the 2021 season after sustaining multiple fractures to his jaw following a collision with Adelaide's David Mackay, with concussion curtailing his campaign later that year.
The club confirmed on Monday that Clark will need to repair a fracture to his orbital bone and will enter the AFL's concussion protocols after copping an elbow to the head at training last week.
Clark's latest knock won't require surgery but does place the former top ten draft selection on the sidelines for multiple weeks in the lead-up to Round 1.
“We're disappointed for Hunter, but are hopeful of a swift recovery,” Saints football boss David Misson said.
“As is always the case with any concussion-related setback, we will take a cautious approach with Hunter and will continue to monitor his progress.
“Hunter has had some terrible luck with numerous setbacks over the past few seasons, however we are backing him in to bounce back in time for Round 1.
“Hunter has put together a strong body of work over the past few weeks and has impressed through the midfield this pre-season, so we hope this is just a small bump in the road heading into 2024.”
Clark played a career-high 19 games in the red, white and black last year, holding down a role in Ross Lyon's defensive third to average 18.21 disposals and 3.58 tackles per game.
The medium-sized backman is set for greater selection security down back to start the coming season after fellow defender Ben Paton was ruled out for up to three months with a pectoral tendon rupture.
Outside of Paton, the Saints are looking likely to enter the 2024 season at full strength, with key forward Max King expected to be available for the club's season opener against Geelong despite a limited pre-season due to shoulder issues.
The Saints will face the Cats at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday, March 16 to start their 2024 season, with lead-up practice matches against Essendon and North Melbourne to come first.