West Coast premiership big man Nathan Vardy insists he is starting from scratch and expects the battle for ruck spots to heat up over the coming weeks.
In his third season at the club, Vardy has become critically important in the prolonged absence of Nic Naitanui (knee) and defection of Scott Lycett to Port Adelaide.
Tom Hickey and Keegan Brooksby are the fresh faces trying to break into the side ahead of the season opener against Brisbane at the Gabba on March 23.
“It’s strange how it’s happened … I was the new face for a little while,” Vardy said.
“With age and being able to play a few games since I’ve been here, you sort of naturally go into a bit more of a leadership position. Those new guys are pretty experienced in their own right as well but just being able to learn how West Coast do it and that sort of stuff is something I can help with.
“We’re not massively into the body contact stuff.
“I have played on Tom a couple of times, so had a feeling of what he was like as a player so I was ready for that, but I hadn’t seen much of Keegan at all and am trying to get used to playing on him as well. Over the next few weeks it will heat up and become a lot more competitive.
“I wouldn’t say the fact I was in the team last year puts me ahead.
“I think you still start from scratch. I’ve probably still got that head start in the knowledge stuff and what’s expected here at West Coast, but those guys are going to put in a full pre-season and when games come around they are going to be pretty much all over it so I’ve just got to keep developing my game as much as they are.”
Vardy, 27, has good reason to believe he has plenty of upside.
Having played primarily as a forward at Geelong, he now views the ruck as his best position after developing rapidly at the Eagles.
Vardy had 13 operations on his hips and knees as he managed only 25 games over five seasons at the Cats. But he has already managed 32 games in two seasons at West Coast, with a groin injury last year being his only major hiccup so far.
“The body is really good at the moment,” Vardy said.
“I’d always done joint injuries when I was at Geelong and then tore a muscle at the start of last year so that was different in itself, but I had no problems over the off-season.
“Being able to back up pre-seasons and back up seasons, that was what I couldn’t do at Geelong.
“I didn’t have any continuity in anything. As long as I can stay on the track, I am going to catch up on those years I missed.”
Vardy was one of the heroes on grand final day with 14 disposals, four marks and a huge last-quarter goal. “Every now and then it will slip away from your mind and something will remind you and then your face lights up again,” he said.
“It’s pretty amazing how footy moves on. People are talking about who is going to win a flag in 2019.”
He revealed the role Naitanui played in helping nullify Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy during September.
“Probably what people underrate about him or don’t realise is how smart he is,” Vardy said.
“When he has been watching the vision, especially in that finals series, because we played on a couple of good ruckmen, he was really able to orchestrate a plan to combat them.
“He has got a lot of strengths himself but probably what makes him a great player is that he is able to nullify what someone else is good at and then use his strengths to his advantage.
“I’ve been through a knee as well, so I get how he gets excited at little milestones and I probably appreciate that more than some other boys. He seems to be coming along quicker than his last one. Hopefully he can get out there soon, because he’s pretty special.”