GEELONG’s see-sawing ruck battle saw yet another twist in its tale on Friday night.
Rhys Stanley’s game-high nine score involvements, two goals, six clearances and six inside fifties drew plenty of praise from fans and critics alike.
Stanley appears to have won back the number one ruck position, after second-year Cat Darcy Fort was given the nod to line-up against the Giants in Round One.
“Rhys’ training in the last three weeks has been exemplary,” midfield coach Matthew Knights says.
“He’s really demanded that position as number one ruck and played accordingly so full credit to Rhys for his performance on the night.”
Stanley got the ball rolling for the Cats against the Hawks, following up his own ruckwork to send the ball long inside 50 for the Cats' first goal of the night inside 14 seconds of play.
“Obviously the start of the game was really going to be critical to the end result and Rhys was up and in early with his ruckwork and his follow up work on the ground, he had a significant impact that first 10 to 15 minutes of the game,” Knights says.
“Against Ceglar it was important to get off to a good start and he gave our midfield a first look at the footy which was something we’re really pleased with.”
Stanley’s athleticism to follow up the ball at ground level was a feature of his game on the night, with his six clearances second only to the eight of Joel Selwood and Brandan Parfitt.
“Rhys really dedicated himself to get after the ball and get clearances. Not only did he win the clearances but he got some really good penetration out of those with his long kicking and his speed so it was a strong performance from Rhys,” Knights says.
“Whenever you’re out of a stoppage or a contest situation you can get the ball deep and put the opposition under pressure.
“It’s also a great tonic for your team. Particularly with our forwards and (when) our small forwards go do the work which they did.
“Dahlhaus and Atkins and guys like that were able to hit the scoreboard which really helped us.”
Stanley twice pushed forward himself, to get on the end of some Gary Ablett silver-service, with his two majors already matching his season-high effort from last year.
“(Hitting the scoreboard) is always a great sign. Gary Ablett’s kick to him deep was masterful, it was terrific. He was able to take some marks and hit the scoreboard as well,” Knights says.
“We’re really proud of the way he went about his footy on the night and the midfield benefitted from it.”
Stanley’s upcoming assignment against Carlton this week has also spent time in the Hawthorn ruck school, with Marc Pittonet serving five years as Ben McEvoy’s backup before moving to the Blues in the off-season.
Pittonet struggled early against Melbourne on the weekend, before steadying to help Carlton’s midfield gain the upper hand against Max Gawn and the Demons as the match progressed.
The 24-year-old managed 23 hitouts and five clearances to Gawn’s 34 and three.
“He’s done a really great apprenticeship Pittonet,” Knights says.
“He’s learned his craft off a great ruckman, McEvoy has been a consistent ruckman for a long period of time.
“He’s going to have a lot of that craft about him, he’s a big man and Rhys is going to have to play to his strengths with his agility and his movement.
"Not only Rhys plays a role in that but also Esava and Hawk when they take forward half ruckwork at times.
"If the three of them can really impose themselves, it’s going to make it hard for Pittonet.
“It’s going to be an intriguing battle and I never underestimate as a midfield coach how important the ruck battle is to the extent of the game."