The reinforcements have arrived for the Lions with key trio Darcy Gardiner, Oscar McInerney and Jarrod Berry returning for Saturday’s clash with the Bulldogs.

Defensive rock, Gardiner will make his first appearance since the Lions’ qualifying final victory over eventual premiers Richmond last season.

He will bolster a backline that has lost Jack Payne to a foot injury. The powerful defender had scans in Ballarat on Thursday that revealed a stress fracture that could keep him out for four weeks.

Senior coach Chris Fagan said the return of Gardiner, one of the team’s leaders, was a boost for the side.

“He’s been an established part of our side side for five or so years now,” he said.

“He’s ready to go and we look forward to having his experience back in the team.”

McInerney, who missed last week’s one point win over Collingwood with an ankle injury completed the captain’s run on Friday and has been named to make his return to the side to lock horns with former teammate and mentor Stef Martin.

And Berry has overcome a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Lions’ past two matches in time to make his second senior appearance at Mars Stadium, the ground where he played his under-age football for the Greater Western Victoria Rebels.

Connor Ballenden and Callum Ah Chee have been omitted.

Fagan also addressed questions about Lachie Neale saying the star midfielder had trained well and was getting on top of a back complaint

“His injury is getting better all the time,” he said.

“He was good enough to play last week, got out there and performed for us and he’ll do the same tomorrow.

“He’s a lot better this week than he was last week.”