Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge said on Melbourne radio one week out from the Hawks’ opening game of 2013 that he would likely spend the first few weeks of the season in the VFL to get run into his legs.

Having battled a knee injury during the pre-season and playing only 10 matches last season due to injuries, the Hawks have decided to take a slow approach. Instead of rushing him back, the club will look to have Hodge fit and firing towards the end of the season.

If it was finals time, there’s no doubt Hodge would be putting his hand up to play at senior level. The Hawks are one of a number of teams that have to decide whether you risk their stars who aren’t 100% match fit come Round 1.

While four points are on the line, taking players into Round 1 who aren’t match fit is a big risk. There’s little opportunity to slowly work them into matches and give them extra breaks if required. Whilst the substitute position may be a good option, one injury to someone else could throw out any plans.

Many times clubs have taken players into a game who are injured or aren’t match fit. Sometimes it works and the player plays well and other times it back fires resulting in the injury getting worse. If a player who isn’t match fit reinjures themselves or gets a new injury, it could play havoc for the rest of their season and cause a player to miss more matches.

Whilst this can happen at any time of the season, an injury early in the year can shape what happens moving forward. Many players talk about early season injuries and lack of fitness base as issues come finals times.

On the back of the pre-season and teams still trying to find their feet, the start of the season is the best opportunity as any to play senior players in the VFL. Giving them time in the VFL allows for them to pick up the pace of the game and work their way into some form.

Essendon was the first club to take the risk by selecting former best and fairest winner David Zaharakis the Bombers’ Round 1 clash against Adelaide. After playing only three quarters in a VFL practice match over the pre-season because of a quad injury, it was thought that bringing him through the reserves side may be the best option for him.

The Bombers then surprised many by starting him as the substitute, which meant one of two things: either they didn’t think he was match fit or they wanted to work him into the game.

Zaharakis later admitted he went into the game not at 100% match fit and is in the mix to play in the VFL this week to get more game time under his belt. The Bombers were lucky things went their way.

With the club having had a number of soft-tissue injuries in the last 12 months, there would have been concerns over injuries and it could have thrown the club’s plans for Zaharakis had one occurred. Zaharakis himself has had two quad strains in the last 12 months so a cautious approach may have been a better option.

Melbourne, Brisbane and Collingwood are among the other clubs throwing up whether to play top players who have lacked a good full preseason. The Demons look set to follow the Bombers’ lead and play captain Jack Trengove and forward Mitch Clark. Both players have only one VFL practice match under their belts and weren’t in Round 1 calculations a month ago. Clark and new recruit Chris Dawes have spent little time on the track together to work out how they will work in the same forward line.

The Lions look set to go the way of the Hawks and play big man Matthew Leuenberger in the reserves side. He is another player who spent the majority of last season injured and the club is taking the cautious approach.

Magpies star Dale Thomas is another set to run around in the VFL, as is Andrew Krakouer. Essendon was prepared to take a risk but more clubs are taking the cautious approach when it comes to getting the best players on the park.

Whilst a win in Round 1 is good, having stars available at the action time of the season is more important.