Bad news on the injury front has once again struck the Fremantle Football Club. With promising youngster Anthony Morabito undergoing LARS surgery after going down with a third ACL injury in as many years, the last thing the Dockers needed was another key player hurting themselves before the season even kicked off.
Luck, however, is not smiling upon the men in purple with star ruckman Aaron Sandilands suffering a tear in his hamstring tendon playing in the Dockers’ first NAB Cup hitout, looking at a two-month wait on the sidelines.
The 211cm giant has had a torrid run with injury in the last few seasons with ‘turf toe’ in both his feet preventing any continuity in his football, and continuity is the key. While the 30-year-old, who is set to miss up to eight weeks, should be back only a few rounds in to the season proper, missing a crucial part of the pre-season will hamper his game.
Sandilands is not getting any younger and the injuries are piling up for the All-Australian star. Fremantle has often struggled in the absence of its premier big man, with his shoes being too hard to fill for the likes of Zac Clarke and Kepler Bradley.
The acquisition of homesick Adelaide ruckman Jonathon Griffin for the 2011 season was a boost to the ruck stocks for the Dockers but Griffin has struggled to find playing time when Sandilands is fit. Zac Clarke has been the preferred option of the coaching staff due to his athleticism and potential.
Griffin, still only 27, will now be called upon again to step up in Sandilands’ place and do the majority of the ruck work whilst Clarke develops his game in a forward/ruck role. However, there is still a big question mark over whether Fremantle’s ruck stocks will be able to work as well without Sandilands in years to come.
Clarke has undoubted natural talent and athleticism and a potential which, if realised, could make the Clarke-Sandilands combination something similar to Cox-Naitanui. Clarke will certainly need to lift his work rate and intensity both at training and on game day if he is to blossom into a star of the AFL.
Clarke developing to somewhere near his best combined with a fit Sandilands would be a boost to Fremantle’s chances of a first premiership in the next few years as Sandilands, as well as Matthew Pavlich, come to the end of their glittering careers.
If Clarke’s efforts remain around what he displayed in the first Western Derby of 2012, when All-Australian full back and Eagles captain Darren Glass made the young man look silly, then the Dockers might be better off investing in the likes of Griffin and Bradley as a stop-gap measure whilst draftee Jack Hannath gets accustomed to AFL football.
Kepler Bradley currently provides the side with balance, something which Clarke could do if he lives up to the hype he created in his first season of senior football. As it stands, he doesn’t seem hungry enough and doesn’t appear up for the contest, as Glass exposed in that Derby.
One thing is for certain though; players who do not have the steel required do not last long under Ross Lyon. Hopefully for Clarke and Dockers fans, the 22-year-old big man grows into a top flight ruckman to partner Sandilands and then carry the mantle beyond. With Sandilands’ injury problems continuing to mount, time may be running out.