Hill over the moon
Star Fremantle midfielder Stephen Hill will be released from modified training during the NAB Cup and is in no doubt for round one of the season proper, according to midfield coach Barry Mitchell.
Hill, whose training load has been eased since returning from the Christmas break, has been part of an expanding group of Fremantle players not taking part in full training.
However, Mitchell said the 20-year-old would play late in the pre-season and the club had no personnel concerns ahead of its NAB Cup opener against West Coast and Hawthorn at Patersons Stadium on Sunday.
“We’ll have more than enough players to fill 29 spots,” Mitchell said from Fremantle Oval on Wednesday.
“(Hill) is going along well. We’re very confident he’ll be there round one [and] he’ll play parts of the NAB Cup or Challenge.
“He’s just been looked after a little bit. He has covered so much ground in his first two years. He’s obviously a very important player to us, but [we’re] very confident he’ll have a similar year to the first two that he’s had.”
As well as Hill, who has experienced shin soreness, Fremantle are being cautious with Hayden Ballantyne (foot), Matt de Boer (hamstring) and Michael Walters (knee).
The club has been hit by long-term injuries this pre-season to Anthony Morabito (knee) and Roger Hayden (foot), while Michael Barlow continues his rehabilitation from a broken leg.
Mitchell, who reiterated the club’s conservative approach with Barlow, said Fremantle would look for young midfield replacements through the NAB Cup and Challenge.
“We recruited a couple of midfielders in the younger ones – Viv Mitchie and Jayden Pitt – [and] Nick Lower on the rookie list,” Mitchell said.
“We’ve still got some flexibility with other players as well. (Garrick) Ibbotson can play more in the midfield, we get Rhys Palmer back for a full year [and] Nick Suban.
“We’re still developing our midfield, but there’s a number of players that need to go through there.”
Mitchell said second-year runners Jesse Crichton and Justin Bollenhagen had also enjoyed productive pre-seasons and would push for midfield selection this season.
Fremantle will announce its squad for Sunday’s round-robin fixture on Thursday, with star ruckman Aaron Sandilands and captain Matthew Pavlich both to play a role.
Mitchell said the club was pleased its two matches were back-to-back and the players would go into their first competitive hit-out for the year fit.
“The guys have trained well, so we’re happy with how we’re going in terms of fitness,” he said.
“For us it’s good that we play one after the other – it’s one less thing that we have to worry about – but it’s going to be interesting to see how it does work out.
“I think teams will adapt to it pretty well – I don’t think it’s a massive difference.”