NATHAN Vardy couldn't help feeling a tinge of envy last year watching close mate Josh Caddy live out his premiership dream.
At the end of 2016, the Geelong duo left the Cattery for fresh starts, with Caddy joining Richmond and Vardy moving across the country to help West Coast fill a big-man void.
The trades could scarcely have gone better for either player.
Vardy led the ruck in 22 appearances as an Eagle – after only featuring 25 times in the hoops in seven injury-plagued seasons – while Caddy's versatility helped the manic Tigers break their 37-year premiership drought.
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"I caught up with him in Bali afterwards," Vardy told AFL.com.au. "Obviously, you're jealous, but it's good to see your mates win.
"He made a pretty good decision in the end to go to Richmond.
"He probably wasn't expecting a flag straight up when he went there.
"Definitely jealous, but really happy for him as well."
Fast-forward 12 months and Vardy hopes this will be his year.
A twist of fate when Nic Naitanui injured his knee against Collingwood in round 17 opened the door for the 27-year-old.
He has taken his chance partnering Scott Lycett in the ruck, and is now seemingly entrenched in the side with West Coast ideally placed for a premiership tilt.
While he is focused on the job at hand, Vardy's mind occasionally wanders to what might unfold this September.
"You've got to dream, don't you? There's a bit of day-dreaming going on, but the old cliché is we've got to get through the first week first," he said.
"To get top-two was what we were aiming to do and to have two home finals is great for us and the supporters.
"It's exciting times."
The talented 200cm tall has been close before, most memorably in his debut 2011 campaign, but Vardy was struck down by a debilitating groin injury on the eve of finals, and Geelong went on to clinch a third flag in five seasons without him.
He also played in the heartbreaking five-point preliminary final loss to Hawthorn two years later.
Saturday night's clash with the Pies will be Vardy's seventh final – including two last season for West Coast – a remarkable number considering it will only be the 55th game of his stop-start career.
"I've missed a lot of footy through injury, but I seem to always get back towards the end of the year and find myself sneaking in for a final, which is always good," Vardy said.
With star forward Josh Kennedy locked in to return, Vardy could spend more time rotating between the ruck and interchange against the Pies, instead of resting in attack.
He has been picking Naitanui's brain for tips on combating All Australian big man Brodie Grundy, denying there has been any awkwardness since taking his teammate's spot.
Grundy looms as the stumbling block for West Coast, with the star Pie rated elite for disposals (20.8), clearances (5.5), ground ball gets (7.4) and above average for hit-outs to advantage (12.3).
"As a pure ruckman, he's just so strong," Vardy said.
"You look at his body type and he's got those shorter legs and long torso, which probably helps him with his centre of gravity being a bit lower, so he's harder to move.
"But he also moves around the ground so well and plays as that link-up player for Collingwood.
"He seems to get a lot of those handball receives through the middle of the ground and flicks it off to the runners, so his ability to win the footy after the ruck contests is obviously a real threat as well."