West Coast premiership big man Nathan Vardy appears to have won the race to partner Nic Naitanui in the ruck for round one of the AFL season, but Oscar Allen’s role remains a mystery.
Naitanui got through two-and-a-half quarters in Sunday’s 10-point pre-season win over Fremantle, with the two-time All-Australian tallying 22 hit-outs from five possessions.
It was his one and only match of the pre-season after injuring his hamstring over the summer.
The return to full-length matches this year means West Coast want to give Naitanui more support in the ruck, and Vardy is almost certain to be given first crack.
Allen was the go-to ruck support option last year for Naitanui, but the Eagles are keen to use a recognised ruckman like Vardy or Bailey Williams in the role in 2021.
Vardy didn’t play a single AFL match last year, with his season heavily disrupted by a frightening case of compartment syndrome in his leg that resulted in him being rushed to hospital.
Williams is currently nursing an ankle injury, and Vardy’s ability to get through two pre-season games has put him in the box seat to earn a round-one call-up for the clash with Gold Coast.
Defender Harry Edwards is another option the Eagles will consider, but it’s unlikely they will go with it just yet.
Allen is a lock for round one – but his position on the field remains up in the air.
The 21-year-old has switched between attack and defence during the pre-season, and coach Adam Simpson says the expected availability of forward Josh Kennedy (calf) for round one could see Allen play more down back.
“We’re playing with the idea,” Simpson said.
“Especially when Josh comes back and there’s some height in our front half and we can we mix it up a bit.
“It’s not saying we’re going to do it round one but it’s an option for us, these are the games where you trial a couple of things.
“But he’s a pretty good player wherever he plays.”
Star midfielder Tim Kelly missed both pre-season games with a thumb injury, but Simpson is confident the former Cat will be ready for round one.
Captain Luke Shuey rolled an ankle against the Dockers but isn’t in doubt for the start of the season.
Recruit Zac Langdon was heavily concussed against the Dockers.
Even if the concussion doesn’t rule him out of round one, he is unlikely to be selected given he hasn’t shown enough to warrant it.
West Coast onballer Elliot Yeo will miss at least the early part of the season while he battles a lingering case of osteitis pubis.