St Kilda star Max King will undergo a shoulder reconstruction after an accident at training and faces a delayed kickoff to his 2023 AFL season.
In a horror start to Ross Lyon's second stint as coach of the Saints, marquee forward King hurt his left shoulder in a marking contest on Monday and was sent for scans.
The 22-year-old tall, who had been back in training over the previous fortnight, is expected have surgery on the injured shoulder in the coming days.
A clearer timeline for his rehabilitation will be known after the operation, with St Kilda football boss Geoff Walsh expecting King to be sidelined for 16 to 20 weeks.
"This is an extremely disappointing setback for Max," Walsh said in a club statement.
"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.
"The recovery and rehabilitation period for this injury will be a number of months, which we will provide updates on as he progresses through his rehab program.
"Suffice to say his return to play will not be until the season is well underway."
St Kilda will open their 2023 campaign with Lyon back at the helm in a grudge match against Fremantle - the club that sacked him three years ago - at Marvel Stadium on March 19.
They will be without King against the Dockers' tall defence, with the likes of Tim Membrey and off-season recruit Zaine Cordy to present as marking targets in the premier spearhead's absence.
King is crucial to the Saints' chances of climbing back into the top eight after two years without finals action.
A horror finish to 2022 led to a football department review which resulted in Brett Ratten being sacked as coach.
Ratten's axing in October came just three months after he was given a contract extension.
Lyon, who coached St Kilda to grand finals in 2009 and 2010 during his first spell at the club, was appointed as Ratten's successor 10 days later.
The 56-year-old is charged with ending the competition's longest premiership drought, which dates back to the Saints' only VFL flag in 1966.
King is no stranger to surgery and long stints on the sidelines, having torn an anterior cruciate ligament during his draft year.
That did not deter St Kilda, who selected the young star with the No.4 draft pick in 2018.
Rehabilitation and further injury setbacks meant King did not play a senior game in his first year at the Saints, but he has gone on to kick 112 goals in 60 appearances.
King has led St Kilda's goal-kicking in each of the past two seasons, including booting 52 majors during an outstanding 2022 campaign.