St Kilda skipper Nick Riewoldt is in good shape, says Scott Watters
ST KILDA captain Nick Riewoldt's strong pre-season has left him in as good shape as he was last year when he was able to successfully manage his troublesome knee.
The 30-year-old had a consistent 2012 and benefitted from orthokine therapy on his left knee, before an injury to the tendon behind his right knee in round 20 kept him from playing the final three rounds.
While he won't play in Sunday's NAB Cup opener against Adelaide and Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium – and likely won't until the third or fourth week of the pre-season competition – coach Scott Watters is optimistic Riewoldt's program has him in terrific shape for the 2013 season.
"He's flying. He's going very well, keeps knocking on the door every morning asking to play, and I just have to say no at the moment," Watters said on Saturday, as the club prepared to fly to Adelaide.
"[The knee] is something he's had to manage for three or four years now and medically, we were able to really get on top of it last year.
"I think we saw some really good footy from Nick last year because of that so it's been a very similar process which started with his pre-season, which is a modified pre-season.
"He does a bulk of his work immediately post-season and then has a bit of a break.
"He's showing all the signs of being in as good a condition as he was last year."
The Saints will also be without Lenny Hayes, Sam Fisher, Sean Dempster and Adam Schneider on Sunday but all are expected to gain NAB Cup time over the next few weeks.
With the exception of young forward Daniel Markworth, who had a knee reconstruction in December, Watters is expecting a full list to pick from when the Saints kick off their premiership campaign on March 30 against Gold Coast.
With such notable absentees on Sunday, recruits Tom Lee, Dylan Roberton and Trent Dennis-Lane will be among those to get solid game time, while draftees Nathan Wright, Brodie Murdoch and Josh Saunders are in the squad.
Watters said rookies Tom Curren and Jackson Ferguson would also be exposed to the NAB Cup stage while former Gold Coast big man Tom Hickey will partner Ben McEvoy in a genuine ruck duo Watters is pleased to finally have.
Watters said the addition of Roberton to the backline and Dennis-Lane and Lee to attack – with Lee having added some hardened physicality after spending the past two seasons with WAFL club Claremont – would add something new to the team.
"We're really fortunate to have Dylan. He had to come back home for family reasons so I think that's a real positive for us with the way he's gone about his pre-season," he said.
"He adds a little bit of flexibility down back, and Trent Dennis-Lane is the other player who comes with some experience but hasn't had a lot of opportunities.
"We'll certainly see him play big minutes on Sunday and we hope he can add to what's looking like a pretty potent mix of forwards so we need him to play his part."
Watters said the young players "won't be hidden" on Sunday and would hopefully leave the coaching staff optimistic of where they were at against quality opposition.
Despite a forecast of 37 degrees and sunny, Watters said the players were relishing the opportunity to finally line up against other teams.
"It will be hot but the players have been training in those sorts of conditions for most of the week so it won't be a massive surprise," he said.
"I always enjoy going to Adelaide. I love the ground personally and our players are just looking forward to playing.
"You train for a long time to get a point where you need to play against opposition and we're looking forward to it."
Nick Riewoldt is a forward in NAB AFL Fantasy. He averaged 85.68 points in 2012. Register your team at our AFL Fantasy Hub.
Jennifer Phelan is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow her on Twitter @AFL_JenPhelan.