Finding a key forward to go with Tom Hawkins has been a struggle for Geelong. James Podsiadly was a very solid fix for a few years, but he is at Adelaide now, so a partner for Hawkins is needed more than ever.
Developing key forwards is no easy task, such as Hawkins, who took several years to break out. Mitch Brown has played 10 games in five years. Josh Walker looks solid but perhaps not quite good enough.
The one man who has the talent to become a high quality partner for Hawkins is the injury-prone Nathan Vardy. He turns 23 this year, but he has only managed to play 21 games. After returning from a hip injury last year, Vardy strung together 10 games, with highlights including a four-goal haul against the Suns and a 19-hitout, 16-possession game against the Saints.
On paper, his averages are short of astounding, but it is the athletic signs and intelligence that excites Cat fans. Against Collingwood last week, Vardy’s attack at the ball was promising. His leap was bounding, his leading was consistent and to the right spots and he started to clunk marks as the game went on.
He only kicked one goal and missed a gimme, but the signs were there. You can make all the excuses you want, whether it was that he was playing against an undermanned Collingwood defence, it is only the NAB Challenge, or that he did not dominate. But his versatility was on show.
He fits perfectly in the ideal Geelong side. Tom Hawkins plays as the main target, while Vardy can play in the goal square or roam further up towards the arc while rotating with Dawson Simpson, who plays 70% of the time in the ruck with Vardy playing the other 30%.
Vardy’s leaping ability and accuracy on goal makes him so dangerous, and at 198 cm he will be a nightmare to match up on. This year should not be about results, but rather just stringing together more than 15 games.
However, if he could kick at least 20 goals this year and keep his average of 11 hitouts a game, he will be more valuable than Brown, Walker or even Mark Blicavs. Shane Kersten could and should break into the side as well, although he will be just fine as the third key forward.
Cats fans should not have huge expectations of him, but what a football story it would be if he succeeds.