Fremantle will look at ways to manage ruckman Aaron Sandilands’s workload this season, with coach Ross Lyon admitting last year’s injury crisis still “casts a shadow” over the club.
‘Fit and available’ has been Lyon’s mantra since taking charge of his first pre-season at Fremantle, and injury management and prevention will be a focus with all players this season.
However, the case of Sandilands is particularly important given the crucial matches he has missed in the last two seasons and the fact Fremantle has won just three of 12 games without him in that period.
In 2010, a foot injury sidelined the star big man between rounds 19 and 21, derailing Fremantle’s September campaign, and last year he missed nine games in the club’s failed bid to play finals.
Lyon said Sandilands would still spend a significant amount of time in the ruck this year, but the club would look at ways to manage the three-time All Australian to avoid another late-season injury.
“Obviously he’s a key player and there’s opportunities to rotate them in and out of the team,” Lyon told AFL.com.au this week.
“Is that feasible? I don’t know. I think it’s easy to do that when you’re 18-1 as opposed to 10-9. [We’ll] try and share the workload and get other people going through the ruck, [as well as] time forward and time on the bench.
“He (Sandilands) is just the obvious example, but those methods apply to everyone.”
When fit, Sandilands has carried an enormous workload in the last two seasons, often spending more than 90 per cent of games on the field and receiving only brief support in the ruck.
Lyon pointed to the two most recent premiership ruck models – Geelong’s Brad Ottens and Trent West (2011) and Collingwood’s Darren Jolly and Leigh Brown (2010) – and indicated Sandilands would receive more support this season.
“He’s our No.1 ruckman with Jon Griffin, and we’ve got Kepler Bradley and young Zac Clarke,” the coach said.
“I think it’s a work in progress, trying to work out your group and get your hand to the ball without losing too much run. To play two [ruckmen] they’ve got to be able to pose a forward threat and put some pressure on.
“He (Sandilands) will spend a fair bit of time in the ruck, that’s what we pay him to do.”
Sandilands, who is expected to play half of Sunday’s NAB Cup clash against Richmond at Patersons Stadium, is nearing the end of a strong pre-season in which he has hardly missed a session.
Lyon said he had been impressed with the 29-year-old’s leadership and work ethic since joining the club.
“There’s not too much fluff about him … he puts the work boots on and comes to work every day and works hard,” the coach said. “He’s hit all the parameters and standards (this pre-season).
“There was a lot made of his toe injury and he basically hasn’t missed a session. There was a slight tweak of a hamstring at one point, but other than that, you can see why he’s made it as an AFL player.
“He’s an official part of the leadership group, so clearly he models a lot of the things we’re after.”
As well as Sandilands, Fremantle was without key on-baller David Mundy for crucial matches last year, and the club entered the season without midfielders Michael Barlow and Anthony Morabito.
In the final rounds of the season, there were up to 14 players on Fremantle’s injury list, prompting an extensive review of the club’s injury management systems.
“I know the club’s put a lot of time and energy drilling into the injury concerns of the club and we certainly haven’t put it all down to bad luck,” Lyon said.
“We’re not accepting it’s bad luck, as much as there would be an element of that, and we’re just working to improve our systems and preparations to get on top it.
“It certainly casts a shadow still now that we’re working through.”