Geelong had been expected to name a player to make his long-awaited return this weekend but the Cats pulled a selection surprise when it was ruckman Nathan Vardy and not forward Daniel Menzel.
Vardy’s last AFL match was the losing preliminary final against Hawthorn in 2013, with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament suffered at pre-season training then consigning him to a lengthy stint on the sidelines.
The luckless ruckman underwent a knee reconstruction but complications led to another three operations on the same knee.
Menzel had been widely tipped to play his first game since 2011 for the Cats against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night but was rested instead, ahead of a potential return in round 22.
“I’m very excited, obviously. It’s been a long time since I’ve played AFL football,” Vardy told the club’s website.
“I’ve dreamt about it every day that I’ve been injured … but it has probably snuck up on me a little bit.
“As much as I would have loved to have been playing with (Menzel on Saturday), he’s hopefully going to get his chance in the coming weeks.
“We’ve been able to bounce off each other and help each other through a lot of hard times. Now we’re just looking forward to enjoying some good times together.”
Geelong’s tall stocks have taken a beating this season with injuries to Rhys Stanley, Mitch Clark and Hamish McIntosh leaving coach Chris Scott to use pinch hitters Mark Blicavs and Josh Walker in the ruck.
Vardy will play just his 22nd AFL game on Saturday but will spend time matched up against an even more-inexperienced big man in American debutant Jason Holmes.
“He’s obviously learning the game and it’s going to be a big step for him,” Vardy said.
“It’s going to be one that he’ll probably learn a lot from but, hopefully, I’ll have an advantage having played the game for a lot longer.
“But just watching his tape, he’s very athletically blessed so I’ll have to try to combat his leap and his run.”
Vardy’s inclusion was one of three changes made by the ninth-placed Cats, with Tom Lonergan and Jed Bews also added to the side that succumbed last week to the Hawks.
The injury-hit Saints made a staggering seven forced changes, with Farren Ray, Luke Dunstan and Shane Savage other notable inclusions.