DREW Petrie and Nathan Vardy are an unlikely ruck duo.
One is a 322-game 'rookie' whose decorated career – mainly as a key forward – seemed over last year when he bid an emotional farewell to North Melbourne.
The other endured injury-ravaged season after season at Geelong, seemingly destined never to fulfill his undisputed talent.
But in a twist of football fate, the big men's paths led them to West Coast this season as insurance policies to cover for injured ruckmen Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett.
Now the twist is that Lycett is fit again and having to bang the door down just to get back into the team, such has been the success of Vardy and Petrie's ever-improving partnership.
"It's probably not the combination we expected to be doing the rucking duties, but it's how the cards have fallen," Petrie told AFL.com.au.
After managing just 25 games in seven seasons at the Cattery, Vardy has remarkably played every match in his first year at the Eagles – and was a match-winner against the Bulldogs last Saturday.
"Vards has done really well," Petrie said glowingly.
"I spoke to Vards early on when we both arrived here and he said he hadn't managed to play a game of football within the first six weeks of any season of his career.
"For him to play every game is awesome, and his belief and confidence would be pretty high at the moment on the back of a good game on the weekend.
"He was under a bit of duress with the sore shoulder, but he managed to pull-down some difficult marks and kicked that winning goal for us too."
Petrie's contribution in blue and gold has also been telling of late.
After breaking his hand in the opening minutes against his former side in round one, the 34-year-old might have questioned his decision to uproot his young family and move cross-country to Perth for – almost certainly – just one season.
After all, Eagles coach Adam Simpson, his former North Melbourne teammate, had offered no guarantees of regular senior football and instead warned he might finish his career running around in the WAFL.
But since his comeback game in round 10, Petrie has built his case to stay in the best 22 and is relishing the freedom of his forward-ruck role.
His positioning behind the play in the seven-point win over the Dogs was invaluable as the Eagles hung on, and the previous week he wound back the clock by kicking four goals in a nailbiting loss to Melbourne.
"My first four games I was probably just a contributor – just played my role – which was OK to do initially, but … I wanted to have a bit more involvement in the game and a bit more influence," Petrie said.
"I've tried to do that over the last couple of weeks, so that's just going from playing your role and being a six or seven out of 10, I wanted to make sure that was a baseline.
"And I still believe I can contribute more than being just a baseline player, and the last couple of weeks has shown that a little bit."
Petrie has booted eight goals in the past five games – helping to cover for injured spearhead Josh Kennedy – competed strongly in the ruck and offered an aerial presence around the ground, showing no ill-effects of his surgically-repaired hand.
"That's the part of the game I value the most is marking and my hand has zero soreness, there's no aching," he said.
"I don't need any painkilling injections or tablets mid-week to get me through.
"There's just a little bit of swelling in there and I can feel a couple of the screwheads poking through the skin a little bit."
At the end of his career, Petrie is likely to remove the plates and five screws used to repair each of the two broken bones.
Whether he hangs up the boots at season's end is yet to be determined, and he could remain in the west after settling into Perth with his family.
But with the Eagles locked in a battle for the top eight, the veteran's sole focus is on securing a finals berth and gearing up for, possibly, one last push towards an elusive flag.
"The ultimate is for us to win a premiership this year and that's what I'd love to do," he said.
"I'd much prefer to have won a couple more games that we've lost since I've been back and even earlier in the season, I'd much prefer the side to be in a better position than what we are.
"The move (to Perth) doesn't take away those footy stresses that come up within a season.
"In saying that, I have enjoyed it and I came across with slightly less expectations on myself and knowing there was a lot of uncertainty about how many senior games I might play this year.
"I feel as though the decision to come across here and play has been the right one.
"The club's been great, they've really embraced me and my family."