Gold Coast’s crop of up and coming stars have been challenged to lift in the absence of captain Gary Ablett by Suns coach Guy McKenna.

Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna believes the season-ending injury to captain Gary Ablett must be viewed as an opportunity by the Suns’ youngsters.

The Suns will take on the Western Bulldogs in Cairns on Saturday without their talismanic skipper, who underwent a shoulder reconstruction in Melbourne on Thursday.

It’s just the sixth match the Suns have played without Ablett and comes as the club tries to hang onto its top eight position and an inaugural finals berth.

While established midfield stars such as Dion Prestia, David Swallow and Jaeger O’Meara seem the obvious players to fill Ablett’s sizeable void, McKenna believes others such as first-year sensation Jack Martin and Jesse Lonergan are actually the ones who need to step up.

“You’re not going to see a huge amount of a step up in Dion Prestia, David Swallow, those blokes whose output has been superb already for most of this season,” he said.

“You might get a small movement but it’s the movement from underneath those boys that’s going to be important.

“Jack Martin, Jesse Lonergan, Alex Sexton, some of these guys that would probably be another year to two years from going inside.

“A door shuts on Gary’s season but the door certainly flies open for some of these other boys to jump in and grab an opportunity. Our side’s been relatively settled we’ve just started to creak and groan a little bit. Opportunities are going to arrive.”

McKenna said surgery had shown more damage to Ablett’s shoulder than discovered in scans, confirming the decision to put the dual Brownlow Medallist under the knife was the best option.

He added the club was contemplating whether to use Ablett’s enforced break to operate on a thumb injury.

While Ablett is out, the Suns will also have to face the Bulldogs without Trent McKenzie, who suffered a hamstring injury in last weekend’s thrilling win over Collingwood.

The Suns’ finished that game without a fit player on the interchange bench for most of the final quarter, although Charlie Dixon (calf) and Sean Lemmens (concussion) have both been cleared to play on Saturday.

Matt Shaw has been brought in for McKenzie while Tom Murphy is the other new face in the Suns’ line-up.

McKenna said the team had been carefully managed throughout the week following their exertions against the Magpies and he was confident they won’t suffer in the far north Queensland conditions.

“We enjoy coming up here. The weather is similar to Gold Coast as well. It’s almost like a home game,” McKenna said.

The Bulldogs have made just one change for their trip north with Sam Darley coming in for Shaun Higgins.