Western Bulldogs star Bailey Smith is set to miss the entire 2024 AFL season after sustaining a serious knee injury at training.
The 23-year-old was hurt midway through Wednesday's training session, with scans later confirming damage to an anterior cruciate ligament.
It comes amid ongoing speculation about Smith's future, with the midfielder linked to a move away from the Bulldogs when his contract runs out at the end of next year.
"We're all extremely disappointed for Bailey and empathise with him greatly," Bulldogs football director Chris Grant said.
"The entire club will rally around him during this difficult time as he begins his rehab journey."
Smith recently linked up with Collingwood star Nick Daicos in the United States and is one of the most marketable figures in the AFL, boasting an Instagram following of more than 340,000.
He has a strong connection to younger fans, having previously spoken about his mental health battles in the AFL spotlight.
Smith took to Instagram after his devastating injury news was confirmed by the club.
"Ahh well, she'll be right," he posted with a blue love heart emoji and a picture of himself at training.
Smith has played 103 games over five seasons with the Bulldogs, missing just six through injury and four because of suspension.
His playing future was already unclear before the injury setback.
Hawthorn and Geelong have been most strongly linked to the midfielder, who endured a tough run of form midway through 2023.
It sparked external criticism and a fierce defence from Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge.
Smith had struggled to break into a star-studded midfield boasting prolific ball-winners Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore, Adam Treloar and Jack Macrae, but still averaged 23.5 disposals and 3.6 clearances across 19 games.
He had made an impressive start to pre-season training last month, winning the Bulldogs' 2km time trial.
Smith's injury is a huge blow to the Dogs and coach Beveridge, who are under pressure to perform after finishing ninth last season and missing the finals.
They have won just three finals matches since the 2016 premiership - all in the lead-up to the 2021 grand final thrashing from Melbourne.
Smith is the second AFL player to go down with a long-term knee injury this pre-season, after Collingwood forward Dan McStay ruptured an ACL at training last month.