Sydney ruck coach Dean Cox concedes there is no way to stop West Coast big men Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett having an impact on tonight’s blockbuster at the SCG, admitting his side can only attempt limit the damage inflicted by the competition’s most imposing ruck duo.
Cox is in a better position than most to formulate a plan to combat the in-form Eagles pairing, having played alongside both Naitanui and Lycett before hanging up the boots in 2014 and spending two years on the club’s coaching staff.
The 37-year-old defected to Sydney in October last year and helped the Swans inflict West Coast’s only defeat this season, at Optus Stadium in round one.
The visitors that day got on top despite Naitanui (33) and Lycett (32) combining to deliver an overall 66-17 advantage in hit-outs.
Sydney’s on-ball structure at the base of the aerial contest was critical that day, allowing them to edge the clearance battle (47-38) as star forward Lance Franklin kicked eight goals.
“It’s a massive challenge,” Cox said.
“It’s not that common to play two rucks in the AFL anymore and they bring different strengths.
“They’re in the top-two for hit-outs that they win and it’s resulted in opposition sides being on the back foot.
“It’s about trying to make it a square battle throughout that midfield battle.
“You’ve got just try to nullify them with their ability to get their hands on the footy.
“It’s about trying to get them into certain area, make sure their hit-outs don’t go to advantage and structure up around the ball in knowing that you’re probably not going to win a high percentage of hit-outs.
“At some stage they’re going to get on top, but it’s about trying to minimize how often they can do it and for how long they can do it.”
Another former Eagles ruckman, Callum Sinclair, will have the unenviable task of doing battle with Naitanui and Lycett.
Sinclair left West Coast in a straight swap for speedy wingman Lewis Jetta after featuring in the 2015 grand final defeat to Hawthorn, agreeing to the deal as he sought more opportunity at the Swans.
Cox guaranteed Sinclair, one of 13 Swans to have played every game this season, had done his homework ahead of tonight’s crucial ruck battle.
“I think Callum’s been in OK form so far this season and he’s got a big job,” Cox said.
“The good thing about Cal is his ability to prepare and get the best out of himself.
“It was the same at West Coast, as well.
“It’s the analysis he does of opposition players and the way he prepares his body to get up every week and his attention to detail in working on areas that he needs to improve on that has always stuck out with Callum.
“That’s built him up to have a pretty consistent season so far.”
West Coast games record holder Cox, who played 290 games for the club, was front-and-centre as the Eagles and Swans shared one of the game’s most intense rivalries in the middle part of last decade.
He admitted it still felt “a little bit weird” to be in the red-and-white corner now.
“The first time we played them back in Perth was really different,” Cox said.
“It was the first game of the year and after being there for so long you still keep a close eye and a really keen interest on how they’re going and still speak to a lot of the people there.
“So it’s been a bit different, but this one probably hasn’t been as intense as the first game.”