North Melbourne star Jenna Bruton faces a six-month recovery time but could be available for the start of the next AFLW season after suffering a partial achilles rupture in the grand final.
Bruton was forced from the ground in the opening minutes of Sunday's 17-point defeat by the Brisbane Lions after injuring her right achilles when she jumped to attempt to smother the ball.
Scans confirmed the 28-year-old avoided a full rupture of the tendon - which involves a nine-to-12 month recovery time - but she still faces a lengthy road back to full fitness.
"Jenna has put in so much work after an injury held her back earlier in the season," North Melbourne's head of women's football Nathan Hrovat said in a statement.
"To have her go down early in the grand final was really difficult, not only for Jenna but every North Melbourne person.
"She is a very important player for our team, and one that was hard to replace on Sunday.
"We know she will tackle her rehab with a gritty determination and be back in 2024 better than ever."
Gun midfielder Bruton has played 65 AFLW games, including 10 this season.
Apart from the grand final, she averaged 21.7 disposals and seven tackles per game, and the Kangaroos sorely missed her presence around the ball against Brisbane.
Confirmation of Bruton's setback comes as North Melbourne celebrate locking away fellow star Ash Riddell on a new four-year contract.
The deal ties Riddell to the club until the end of 2027.
"We are thrilled to retain the services of a player like Ash for four more years," Hrovat said.
"Ash had another outstanding season in 2023 and continues to drive high standards with her work rate and dedication.
"She has become an important leader in our program and we look forward to watching her take her game even further over the coming years."
Riddell follows elite midfielder Jasmine Garner in recommitting to North Melbourne on a long-term deal.
Garner, named the best player of 2023 by the AFL coaches' and players' associations, last month signed with the Kangaroos until the end of 2027.
Australian Associated Press