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Ablett set to add to Cats' small forward logjam

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GEELONG will endeavour to lock down its preferred forward structure early in the new year as it flags the potential of Gary Ablett spending more time in attack in 2019.

As big man Esava Ratugolea took strides in his recovery from ankle surgery on Wednesday, Cats assistant Corey Enright was relishing the prospect of having him back to full fitness.  

But while Ratugolea and Tom Hawkins appear destined for key posts, a number of small forwards are set to fight for roles alongside recruits Luke Dahlhaus and Gary Rohan. 

"We haven't got a set, defined forward structure as yet," Enright said.  

"Obviously we did play well last year with Hawkins and Ratugolea as our main targets and (Daniel) Menzel as our third option there.

"We're looking to see what happens and leaving those doors open for these guys to take their spots and seeing which combinations work best." 

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As the delisted Menzel prepares for his new life at Sydney after playing 13 games in 2018, a logjam of small forwards at the Cattery will see some miss out.  

Of the nine smalls used in 2018, seven remain into next year – Brandan Parfitt, James Parsons, Lachie Fogarty, Quinton Narkle, Jamaine Jones, Nakia Cockatoo and Sam Simpson – plus several additions looking for a piece of the action.  

"It was probably the knock on us last year, we had a lot of inexperience and younger kids who are still learning the game," Enright said.

"When you're still learning the game and playing as a forward, sometimes it can be hard."

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Pressure forward Gryan Miers built a strong case in the VFL in 2018 and will be looking for a debut with draftee Jake Tarca, while Enright called on Parfitt, Fogarty and Narkle – among others – to force their way into the midfield and push Ablett into the front half.

According to Champion Data, Ablett spent 29 per cent of matches as a forward this year, more than any other recent season and started in attack in the Cats' elimination final loss to Melbourne.

Entering his 18th AFL season where he will turn 35, he could be asked to spend even more time as a permanent forward.  

"Possibly," Enright said of Ablett's forward chances. "We've probably thrown the door open to a few of these younger guys to take their chances in the midfield.

"We've obviously got a senior and experienced midfield group, but we've thrown the door open to a few of these guys to really challenge our well-established senior players in there.  

"The door's always ajar, and if they can knock them out, there's room for them (Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood) up in the forward half.  

"We just want Gary, if he plays in the front half, to be a part of that group, help us kick goals but also keep the ball up there." 

Ratugolea's presence during Wednesday's two-hour session provided a lift to teammates as he threw his weight around with the main group for the first time this summer.

Sent for clean-up surgery post-season following his broken ankle in round 10, the 20-year-old even gave Dahlhaus a 'don't argue' in match simulation.  

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"This time of the year we give the guys a bit more licence to take the game on a little bit more at training, especially those bigger guys, Enright said.  

"Esava's probably had a bit of time in the gym and built up some frustration and it's nice to see him use that. I think he's picking his targets, it was Lukey Dahlhaus, he's picking his targets wisely."

"He looks like he hasn't lost anything, probably gained a few tricks along the way. He's tracking along really well and jumping at the ball."

Cockatoo and midfielder Jordan Cunico were restricted to light duties, still recovering from having their tonsils removed, while Rohan enjoyed a lighter day.

Ruckman Zac Smith was forced to watch on from the sidelines, while defender Jed Bews was introduced to skills training for the first time since post-season shoulder surgery.

Where Ablett spends his time

                                

Mid %  

 Fwd %

2013                      

 83%

 15%

2014                      

 88%

 11%

2015                      

 75%

 25%

2016                      

 85%

 15%

2017                      

 85%

 15%

2018                      

 69%

 29%

*Missing 1-2% indicates time playing of half-back