Saturday’s AFL clash between Gold Coast and Port Adelaide may be an end-of-season fixture between two clubs without finals hopes but for ruckman Zac Smith it’s career-defining.
The off-contract Suns tall is at the last chance saloon in terms of his future at the club.
Touted as one of the game’s brightest ruck prospects not so long ago, Smith’s battles with serious injury have hampered his development as Tom Nicholls now holds the Suns’ No.1 ruckman mantle.
A season-ending knee injury to Nicholls has given Smith one last chance to prove his worth to Suns’ coach Rodney Eade.
Outpointed last weekend by a smaller opponent in Essendon’s Shaun McKernan in the Suns’ two-point win over the Bombers, Smith faces a Port double act this weekend.
Power coach Ken Hinkley has recalled Matthew Lobbe to play alongside Patrick Ryder against the Suns, aiming to rotate the pair in the ruck throughout the game.
Eade is at least publicly sticking by 25-year-old Smith, playing down the job of shutting down Port’s tall options.
“The same as every week, he’ll ruck and get a bit of chop out from Sam Day and Charlie (Dixon),” Eade said.
“Obviously they’ll have a double one there but Tom Nicholls has dealt with it really well when he was there and we’ve got every confidence Zac can do the same.”
Lobbe will also have a point to prove after being dropped to the reserves for the past two weeks.
With Jay Schulz’s ongoing back condition forcing him out of the contest, Hinkley says both big men will face plenty of ruckwork at Metricon Stadium.
“Slightly different this week because we haven’t got Schulzy there,” Hinkley said.
“That allows one of them to play a little bit more as a forward. We’ll share that a little bit more I would have thought than we have earlier in the year because Patty’s form in the ruck in the past couple of weeks has been really strong.
“We certainly don’t want to take that away but we also need to give Lobes’ the opportunity to perform well in the ruck.”