Geelong will resist the temptation to hand Dan Menzel his first AFL match in four long years this weekend, despite losing Steve Johnson to suspension.
But such has been the impact Menzel has made at VFL level in the past month on his return from a fourth knee reconstruction that coach Chris Scott likely won’t be able to hold back much longer.
Menzel, 23, played the most recent of his 21 AFL games in the 2011 finals series before being cut down by the first of what turned out to be four serious knee injuries.
It would have been enough to end the career of most men – but the club has never lost faith in a player whose gifts have been equated to those of the mercurial Johnson.
“Most people wouldn’t be able to get through it, so it’s a remarkable achievement even to be playing VFL footy, and training the way he has amongst our elite players,” said Scott of Menzel.
“But given we know him intimately, and we see what he does day after day and the work he puts in, it’s not as surprising.
“He’s very confident in his own ability, with good reason.”
Geelong watchers have long made comparisons between Johnson – a three-time All Australian and triple premiership star – and Menzel, if only the latter could get on the park.
“He’s a mercurial player, really powerful, has great goal-sense, so you could make that comparison,” said Scott.
“They play in a similar sort of position as well.
“Longer term, we’d like to think that Dan Menzel could have a career approaching Steve Johnson.
“But he is coming from a long way back given that run of injury.”
In the short term, Mathew Stokes or George Horlin-Smith shape as the likeliest replacements for Johnson in Saturday’s big clash with Sydney at Simonds Stadium.
Scott is unhappy to have again lost Johnson to a one-match suspension, although that anger was mitigated when he learnt the strike on Allen Christensen last weekend was in response to provocation from another Lions player, rather than a case of Johnson targeting a former teammate.
“Steve is under no illusions that those sort of actions hurt the team and he needs to find a way to help the team in the next couple of weeks to make up for it,” said Scott of Johnson, one of several Cats aged in their 30s whose playing future is up in the air.
“Not really in the context of his career, but we haven’t got many games to go in the season to get ourselves in a position where we can play finals, so it has hurt us as team and it has certainly hurt him as an individual.”