Hayden Ballantyne says a young Fremantle midfield is capable of matching it with Geelong’s premiership heavyweights in next month’s season opener.

Dockers coach Ross Lyon has challenged Ballantyne and young guns Nat Fyfe and Stephen Hill to step up this season and allow captain Matthew Pavlich to return to the forward line.

The trio appear destined to have their midfield credentials tested early as David Mundy and Michael Barlow appear unlikely to be fully fit for the round-one clash at Patersons Stadium.

Ballantyne’s declaration came as it was confirmed Luke McPharlin (ankle), Kepler Bradley (calf), Jonathon Griffin (knee) and Alex Silvagni (calf muscle) would be available for Sunday’s home NAB Cup match against Richmond.

Veteran Antoni Grover is expected to miss the match.

Bradley competed strongly during match simulation exercises yesterday and will get his chance to press his case as a permanent partner for Pavlich up forward.

Neither Mundy nor Barlow were sighted at training.

Mundy, Fremantle’s 2010 best and fairest, is racing the clock to return from ankle surgery in time to start the home-and-away season, while Barlow has had an otherwise successful pre-season sidetracked by soreness in his previously injured leg.

Ballantyne, who announced the club’s new No.1 junior fan Madison Jeffery yesterday, is attempting to transform himself from small forward into a genuine midfielder this season.

The pocket rocket pointed out that Geelong’s on-ball division would be without retired captain Cameron Ling.

He said the Dockers could take it up to the likes of Jimmy Bartel, Joel Selwood and James Kelly.

“They’ve lost a lot of good players,” Ballantyne said.

“They’ve lost Lingy, who’s one of their big bodies.

“Mundy and Barlow will be hard to replace if they don’t play, but they’re on track to play round one. We want them to play round one and hopefully they do.

“If it comes around that they don’t, then I’m sure we can replace them with someone else.”

 

 

The Dockers will get an accurate gauge of their midfield’s capability without Mundy and Barlow against Richmond.

The Tigers are expected to field an equally young on-ball brigade led by Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin.

Ballantyne welcomed the ultimatum issued by Lyon.

He said teenagers Josh Mellington and Lachie Neale were capable of filling his own shoes in the forward line.

“It’s always good to have a bit of a challenge,” Ballantyne said.

“At least you’ve got something to strive for then.”

Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale predicted Fremantle would bounce back this year after a disappointing 2011. “With a strong and healthy list, they’ll be a very big challenge,” Gale said.

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