Though they take no pleasure in the unfortunate circumstances in which the opportunity has been handed to them, St Kilda’s makeshift ruck duo are determined to grab it with both hands.
The Saints have been hit by injuries on the eve of the 2021 season, with lead ruckman Rowan Marshall (foot) one of several first-choice players unavailable for the early rounds.
The ruck stocks took a further hit this week when veteran Paddy Ryder was granted indefinite leave from the club for personal reasons.
It leaves Essendon discard Shaun McKernan and late rookie selection Paul Hunter to shoulder the ruck load against GWS in round one.
It has been a whirlwind ride for former Adelaide tall Hunter, who was cut by the Crows at the end of 2019 and impressed for SANFL club South Adelaide last year.
His two-week trial with St Kilda during the preseason resulted in a rookie list spot, followed by confirmation on Monday that he will make a long-awaited AFL debut against the Giants on March 21.
“I’ve been working at it for quite a while, so it’s exciting,” the 28-year-old said.
“It’s not an ideal situation for Paddy. He was hoping to do a bit of a tandem thing, but an opportunity is an opportunity, so I’ll take it.”
Hunter will continue to pick Ryder’s brains while the 257-game ruck star is away from Moorabbin.
“We had a good hit-out (at training), Paddy and I, and I sort of earned his respect pretty early, I reckon,” Hunter said.
“I had a couple of good chats with him and had a look at some vision.
“Ruck is a different position and there’s a lot of little things that make a big difference, so he was really good.
“I’ll stay in touch with him while he’s away. He’s been great.”
McKernan will spend the majority of his time in attack with fellow talls Max King and Tim Membrey, and give Hunter a chop-out in the ruck.
It is a similar role he played at the Bombers, where he felt stale after six seasons.
Arriving at Moorabbin has given the 30-year-old a fresh outlook and revived his love of the game.
“It’s probably just been refreshing,” McKernan said.
“In my six years at Essendon we went through the drugs saga stuff and the team was up and down.
“With the hub last year, you’ve heard a few guys coming out of Essendon talking about how it wasn’t a great experience, and obviously our form wasn’t that great.
“But everyone’s been more welcoming here (at St Kilda), not just players but staff, and made us feel instantly part of the group.
“I’ve had really good connection straight off the bat … and it’s sort of just brought the spark back.”