From steeplechase to the ruck: Cats eye Blicavs for round one
Mark Blicavs plays in the NAB Cup. Photo: Pat Scala
Geelong says injuries and the lack of conditioning for all recognised rucks could force it to play Mark Blicavs - the 198 centimetre convert from athletics who took up football last year after failing to qualify for the steeplechase at the London Olympics - in round one against Hawthorn.
Geelong's sizeable contingent of experienced rucks, the quartet of recruit Hamish McIntosh, Trent West, Dawson Simpson and Nathan Vardy, will not play in Friday afternoon's final practice against Collingwood, when Blicavs, who has only played several games of football since his junior days, will share the ruck duties again with 196 centimetre Josh Walker.
''Both he [Blicavs] and Walker are a chance [to play round one] at the moment,'' said football operations head Neil Balme.
The Cats have not discounted the possibility that one or more of that seasoned quartet - all of whom are recovering from injury - could play on Easter Monday against the Hawks, given the match is still 17 days away.
But they also recognise that the experienced rucks would be entering that game without match practice.
''We don't know whether they are available or not,'' Balme said.
Thus, they face an unenviable choice - either rushing an underdone ruckman, such as West, back into the 22 against the premiership favourites, or playing Blicavs and/or Walker in what has become one of football's greatest occasions between the Cats and Hawks. Walker would be hard pressed to carry the ruck alone, hence the possibility of promoting Blicavs to the big stage. The alternative is to ruck Walker and use another tall key position player as the back-up, which the Cats would be loath to do.
Blicavs, who turns 22 this month, played four games in the VFL late last year and has played in all of the club's NAB Cup games, due to the injuries to McIntosh (knee), West (knee arthroscopy), Simpson (back) and Vardy (hip). Blicavs was recruited under the rule that gives clubs the incentive to recruit athletes from other sports. He and Walker are rookies and would need to be upgraded to the senior list to play.
The Cats will take on Collingwood without Paul Chapman, who has a sore thigh and might be questionable for round one. Suspensions mean Steve Johnson and James Kelly will miss the first game. The Cats have opted to play Kelly and Johnson in the VFL this weekend on the grounds that they want to pick a team for the final practice match, at Simonds Stadium at 4pm, that is close to the line-up they will field for round one.
Hawthorn, meanwhile, has a host of stars returning for its practice match with the Kangaroos in Craigieburn on Saturday. Lance Franklin heads the list, with Brad Sewell, Brent Guerra, Jack Gunston, David Hale, Liam Shiels and Luke Breust also back.