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Injury concerns leave door open for big Cat fight

Ryan Abbott (left) and Zac Smith both have injury concerns - AFL,Geelong Cats,Rhys Stanley,Zac Smith,Darcy Fort,Esava Ratugolea,Injuries
Ryan Abbott (left) and Zac Smith both have injury concerns

GEELONG'S round-one ruck battle is set to centre on Rhys Stanley and Darcy Fort as Zac Smith works back from a knee injury.

Smith, who faces a career-defining year in which he falls out of contract, remains sidelined after hurting his MCL in the Cats' practice match against North Melbourne a fortnight ago.

The former Sun had overcome a niggling back complaint and was nearing full fitness before an opponent fell across his leg.

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The original diagnosis was seen as 4-6 weeks, which will have Smith hopeful of a return to match practice in the first month of the season.

Stanley and Fort shared the duties in the Cats' opening JLT Series match last Friday, with the club expected to take one of the two into the season opener alongside Esava Ratugolea.

Ratugolea, who has overcome a broken ankle, is set to play as a forward with the ability to pinch-hit in the ruck.

It is understood Ryan Abbott's hamstring tendinitis and back concerns throughout summer has him slightly back in the pecking order, despite recently returning to full training.

Geelong will round out its pre-season against Essendon at GMHBA Stadium on Thursday night before facing Collingwood in round one on March 22.