Matthew Leuenberger will play his first game in 11 months this weekend
MATTHEW Leuenberger has been plagued by injuries in his brief career, but statistics show the Brisbane Lion is tracking at the same rate as the man he's trying to emulate – West Coast's Dean Cox.
Leuenberger missed all but three matches in 2012 with an Achilles injury and has played just 69 games in his six-year career.
He missed the end of 2008 and most of 2009 with successive knee surgeries and was then wiped out last year.
With all his time in rehabilitation, the 204cm West Australian has had plenty of chances to scout opposition ruckmen and pick apart the pieces he wants to emulate.
"Cox is definitely a player I've based my game off or looked at very closely and wanted to take pieces from," Leuenberger said.
"I continue to watch him closely. I really admire the way he plays his position."
And statistics show he's not far off.
Cox is unanimously regarded as the prototype ruckman of the modern era and over his 251 games, has averaged 16 disposals and kicked 147 goals.
He blends the agility of a midfielder with the power of a marking forward.
Leuenberger, now 24, has the first part of that equation covered.
In 2010 and 2011 – when he was uninjured for 44 successive games – Leuenberger averaged 15 disposals and four marks a contest.
At the same age (22 and 23), Cox averaged 11 and 13 disposals respectively, while still having minimal scoreboard impact.
The one big difference as Cox has matured is his ability to kick goals and influence matches in the forward 50.
Leuenberger said he had watched the evolution of the Cox-Nic Naitanui rucking partnership closely, and realised he had to work on that part of his game.
"You look at the best and what they're doing. I pay close attention to them and that's what they're capable of doing," he said.
"I want to take more contested marks and be more of a threat up forward. Late that year (2011) I was starting to get good chemistry with my midfielders and be a threat at the stoppages, and contested marks were starting to come to me."
As his partnership with Naitanui has improved, Cox has become an increased scoring threat, kicking 20 and a career-best 28 goals in the past two seasons.
Leuenberger has just 11 goals in total for his career.
However, with Stefan Martin a likely sidekick early in the season, Leuenberger is expected to get more chances 'resting' in the forward line.
"My last memory of playing was a four-win season (2011) so I never take wins for granted," he said.
"To get out there and play a few games with the boys, I'll be over the moon to do that. I can't wait."
Leuenberger has been named for his first game in 11 months on Saturday night when the Lions travel to Wagga Wagga to play GWS in the NAB Cup.
He has been joined by Jed Adcock (hip) and Pearce Hanley (hamstring) who will also play their first games for 2013, while Daniel Rich, Daniel Merrett, Joel Patfull and Ashley McGrath will be rested.
Matthew Leuenberger is a ruckman in NAB AFL Fantasy. He averaged 56.7 points in 2012. Register your team at our AFL Fantasy Hub
Michael Whiting covers Brisbane Lions news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_mikewhiting