GEELONG has landed much-needed ruck support after fending off rivals to secure the signature of an in-demand basketball prodigy.
Paul Tsapatolis, 18, will sign for the Cats on a two-year deal as a Category B rookie just 12 months after winning gold for Australia on the world stage.
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The 202cm ruck prospect had previously met with Sydney and North Melbourne, held conversations with Melbourne and toured Adelaide's facilities.
However, it was Essendon who came with an eleventh-hour rush and attempted to swoop on Tsapatolis after learning of his potential in September.
But the Bombers were told they had entered the race too late, just two years after also making last-minute inquiries on now-Melbourne ruckman Austin Bradtke.
Geelong has poured more than 12 months of work into Tsapatolis through a series of training sessions as he rediscovers his football skills last used as a 13-year-old when playing for the Yarraville Seddon Eagles in 2015.
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Tsapatolis is eligible to join the Cats as a Category B rookie – which allows his contract to be paid outside the salary cap – after not being registered to play football for at least three years.
Clubs were this week informed they would be allowed to carry up to two Category B players on their list in 2021 (down from three in 2020).
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The Cats will again commit to Irishman Stefan Okunbor as a Category B rookie for a third season after delisting tall Blake Schlensog off the same list last month.
Tsapatolis, who has Greek heritage, has captained Vic Metro's underage basketball sides in recent years and represented Australia at FIBA Oceania (2019) and Asia (2018) tournaments.
Winning gold at both events, the centre was also named as an All-Star five at the Oceania championships.
He played at the 2018 tournament alongside Melbourne ruckman Luke Jackson and Collingwood midfielder Jay Rantall who were selected in last year's NAB AFL Draft after committing to football.
Tsapatolis' arrival at Geelong will provide depth behind Rhys Stanley and Darcy Fort, who both battled injuries at various stages throughout 2020.
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When either player was injured, first-year defender Sam De Koning was forced to play out of position and carry the ruck mantle in the Cats' scratch matches inside the Queensland hub.
Mark Blicavs, who rucked alongside Stanley in the Toyota AFL Grand Final, is expected to play more minutes in defence next season following the retirement of Harry Taylor.
And developing tall Esava Ratugolea will continue his growth as a forward/ruck following the signing of Coleman medallist Jeremy Cameron.
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Stanley penned a one-year extension for 2021 earlier this year, while Fort is closing in on an extension to remain at the club.
The Cats confirmed on Friday that Tom Hawkins had re-signed until the end of 2022, a year in which he will turn 34.
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Midfielder/forward Quinton Narkle and defender Lachie Henderson are in talks for a one-year deals, Sam Simpson is on the verge of re-committing for two more seasons, while Brad Close is expected to stay.
It leaves Jake Tarca, Ben Jarvis and Zach Guthrie in limbo ahead of the first list lodgment due on Wednesday.
Tsapatolis will join a host of former basketballers on AFL lists next year including Hugh Greenwood (Gold Coast), Tom Fullarton (Brisbane), Tom Wilson and Mason Cox (Collingwood), Matt Owies (Carlton) and Mate Colina (Richmond).