Sandi shoots for stars – but what about the Cats?
Fremantle ruck star Aaron Sandilands was the self-appointed captain-coach and first ruckman in the Dockers Starlight Foundation/Purple Haze team of the decade announced yesterday at Fremantle Oval.
The only question now is whether the giant, widely regarded as Fremantle’s most influential player, will be with the Dockers when they take the field for the 10th annual Purple Haze match against Geelong on Saturday week.
Sandilands, who has missed Fremantle’s past three NAB Cup games with a calf injury, has cast a long shadow over the Cats in recent clashes, but fellow Purple Haze ambassador Matt de Boer took the conservative approach when asked if the ruckman was likely to play in Fremantle’s season opener.
“We would love to have him out there,” he said. “Obviously he is a huge presence and Geelong would have to plan for him. We will have to wait and see, but fingers crossed.”
Sandilands is one of five injured players the Dockers are anxious about. David Mundy (ankle) and Michael Barlow (leg soreness) are still in doubt. Luke McPharlin (concussion) and Michael Johnson (ankle) were added to the casualty list in Friday night’s match against Hawthorn.
Their positions will become clearer today. McPharlin is expected to be available and coach Ross Lyon was initially confident that Johnson would be fit.
De Boer said the Cats, reigning premiers and the competition yardstick for most of the past five seasons, would be the ultimate first-up test for Fremantle and their new game plan under Lyon.
“It is going to be a huge test for us,” he said. “To get them early would be good, but we are under no illusions. Geelong, Collingwood and Hawthorn are the benchmark and we need to test ourselves against the best.
“It has been a slow process but all of the boys have bought in and are making sure they are across it. The NAB Cup has been good to trial it under game speed and game pressure, and hopefully it will stand up in round one.
“Hopefully we have got a lot more improvement as well. We haven’t tapped what we can do yet. It will be good to see how far we can take it and in the earlier rounds we will be sussing a few things out. Once we start to ramp it up a bit, we can hopefully get it down pat and then really ramp forward.
“We looked at a few areas from last year and recognised there were a few weaknesses where we were getting scored heavily against, so there have been a few things put in place.”
De Boer nominated Jayden Pitt and Tendai Mzungu as the teammates that had impressed him most in the pre-season.
“Jayden Pitt has been really good and Tendai Mzungu has taken it to a new level. Players like that I am really excited for and hopefully they can just keep that form going,” he said.
De Boer said it was a privilege to be involved in the Purple Haze fundraiser, first held in 2003.
“I played last year against Geelong, which was very fortunate, and hopefully in two weeks I get the nod from the coaches as well,” he said.
“The look on the faces of the kids is just amazing. We step in and just because I am wearing this jumper they light up. It is something small for me and it is great for them, and I just love being a part of it.”