GEELONG veteran Tom Hawkins is facing the prospect of a delayed start to next season, with the forward set to have surgery on a lingering foot injury.
The five-time All-Australian carried the issue late in the season, although it didn't prevent him from playing a key role in the Cats' premiership win over Sydney last month.
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The Cats have consulted several specialists in recent weeks, before deciding that surgery is the best course of action for Hawkins' future.
At this stage, Geelong expects Hawkins to be available in the early stages of next season, but it will have a clearer timeline on his return following surgery later this week and in the initial part of his rehabilitation program.
Geelong GM of Football Simon Lloyd said the club made the decision to send Hawkins in for surgery after careful consideration.
"Our medical team and Tom have gone through an extensive process which has included consultation with specialists to determine the best approach and have come to the decision for Tom to undergo surgery this week," Lloyd said.
"Tom is incredibly meticulous in his training and preparation, and we know he'll have the same application to his recovery.
"We will take the time and diligence required to have him return to playing in early 2023."
Hawkins produced another brilliant season in 2022, kicking 67 goals in 25 games to finish third in the Coleman Medal and fourth in the 'Carji' Greeves Medal, as well as being named All-Australian captain for the first time.
On Monday, the 34-year-old signed a one-year extension for a 17th season at Geelong.