THE RETURN to fitness of Geelong ruckmen Hamish McIntosh and Dawson Simpson has been welcomed by Nathan Vardy, who is hoping to hold down a key forward post for most of this season.
Injuries to McIntosh and Simpson meant Vardy spent the last part of the Cats' 2013 campaign almost single-handedly shouldering the rucking load.
It was a great learning experience for the 22-year-old, but he isn't keen to repeat it in the near future.
"I grew up as a junior playing the ruck, and I enjoyed it then," Vardy told AFL.com.au.
"But last year getting a real taste of playing against those monsters of the game, I realised I'm not physically ready to be the club's No.1 ruckman yet.
"It takes that extra load off my shoulders if I don't have to play in the ruck. Last year I had to fill the role because those boys were down.
"But with them on the track it gives me the freedom to be able to play forward and just chop them out when I'm needed to."
Providing that McIntosh and Simpson stay fit, Vardy will this season play mainly at centre half-forward, the position previously filled by James Podsiadly, who was traded to Adelaide last October.
Vardy will roam up and down the ground with fellow key forward Tom Hawkins playing closer to goal.
"That's been the focus for me during the pre-season," he said. "I've been learning how to complement Hawk as much as I can."
Vardy is likely to line up in Geelong's NAB Challenge opener against Collingwood at Simonds Stadium on Wednesday night.
"Provided I get through training I'll be playing next week, so it's very, very exciting," Vardy said.
"I'm sick of training during the week for no games on the weekend, I'll give you the hot tip.
"You smash yourself all week, and then when the weekend comes you've got nothing to look forward to."
Although he has endured plenty of injury setbacks since arriving at Geelong via the 2010 NAB AFL Draft, Vardy is confident his body can withstand an entire season at the highest level.
And it was that time playing in the ruck last year that helped him build that belief.
"I think that jumping in and wrestling with blokes all day was a great test for my body," he explained.
"To be able to get through so many games, after the injury history I've had, gave me a lot of confidence in my body."
Vardy has set his sights on playing in two of the Cats' three pre-season matches, and he's expecting Hawkins to line up alongside him against the Magpies on Wednesday.
"There's a very high chance of that, I think," he said. "He's been training fine.
"He's in a similar boat to myself with the way he's managed by the fitness staff, so if he gets through training he should play."