The career progression of Tim English will be put to the test on Sunday when the Western Bulldogs ruckman comes up against West Coast star Nic Naitanui for just the second time in his AFL career.
English is in his fifth season but doubts still hover over whether he will become the great ruckman the Bulldogs crave.
The Bulldogs recruited former Melbourne and Brisbane ruckman Stefan Martin over the summer to give vital ruck support to English this year.
The pair combined for just 19 hit-outs in last week’s win over Collingwood, but they scored a goal each and eventually wore down Magpies ruckman Brodie Grundy.
The pair will face an even bigger test against Naitanui, who is considered the game’s best tap specialist.
The one and only time English came up against Naitanui was in round 2, 2018 when Naitanui (33 hit-outs) and Scott Lycett (21 hitouts) combined to overwhelm English, who managed just six hit-outs.
English was just 20 years old at the time and he enters the rematch with Naitanui as a far stronger player with 48 games now under his belt.
The addition of Martin means the weight of burden on English has been significantly eased.
The ruck battle will prove crucial to Sunday’s result at Marvel Stadium given West Coast are still without their two best midfielders – Luke Shuey (hamstring) and Elliot Yeo (osteitis pubis).
In contrast, the Bulldogs will unleash a star-studded midfield featuring the likes of Adam Treloar, Josh Dunkley, Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Bailey Smith, Lachie Hunter and Tom Liberatore.
West Coast coach Adam Simpson rates the Bulldogs as a top-four side and he knows his team will be up for a huge fight.
“Unfortunately we’re missing a couple of our top-class mids, but we think we’ve got the depth to challenge,” Simpson said.
“It’s always going to be a mammoth task against the Doggies.”