Geelong has acted swiftly during this year’s trade period, securing four prime-age players at the expense of draft picks to have a crack at a Premiership in the next two to three years.
Former Gold Coast ruckman Zac Smith will be crucial to the Cats’ chances of securing a fourth flag in nine years.
Since the retirement of three-time premiership ruckman Brad Ottens at the end of 2011, Geelong has struggled to find a ruckman capable of replicating what Ottens did in his six years at the club. Big men have come and gone over the years without really taking the position by the scruff of the neck.
Mark Blake never really made it as an AFL footballer despite picking up a premiership medal in 2009. Blake played 99 games for Geelong and was more of a cult hero than a true football star. The same could be said for Trent West who was delisted by the club at the end of 2013, moving on to the Brisbane Lions.
Again, West sort of fell into a premiership, acting as a second-ruckman to Ottens. He never set the world on fire and once Ottens left, West failed to cement the number one ruck spot, which proves he was mostly carried by Ottens.
Hamish McIntosh came from North Melbourne with a decent reputation and to his credit performed solidly in the blue and white hoops when he was on the park. However, injuries derailed his career and he only ended up playing 19 games for Geelong before retiring this year.
Dawson Simpson has been traded to the GWS Giants pleasing many Geelong supporters who saw the 206cm man as someone who desperately struggles to get to the next contest. Quite astonishing that he only played 28 games in five years for the Cats, and was not traded off sooner.
Geelong has had many injuries in this position, none more damaging than that of rising gun Nathan Vardy, succumbing to hip problems and most recently an ACL injury which he returned from late this season. The 24-year-old will see 2016 as the perfect time in his career to forge a formidable ruck partnership with new recruit Zac Smith, providing he stays injury free.
The Cats have some young ruckman coming through with Padraig Lucey involved with the VFL team. The 22-year-old went deep in the 2014 Fox 8 Recruit series which saw him gain a rookie contract with Geelong. So far though, he is a work in progress and his highlights to date include a four goal haul for Geelong’s VFL side earlier this year.
In Zac Smith, Geelong have a ruckman that can move well and get to the next contest while also being able to win a fair share of hitouts. The 25-year old still has a lot to prove at AFL level and being at a club that is renowned for having an excellent culture, he should thrive in this type of environment.
He will most likely carry most of the ruck load with Vardy being a more versatile player across the ground, enabling him to play up forward and support Tom Hawkins. Being able to learn from Brad Ottens, who is the ruck coach at Geelong will definitely aid his development.
Alex’s 2016 Geelong Cats best 22:
FF: Daniel Menzel, Tom Hawkins, Corey Gregson
It should be a year of success for Geelong, who will be looking to bounce back into the top four following the addition of four mature aged recruits during the trade and free agency period.