West Coast Eagles ruckman on track for a start

West Coast ruckman Scott Lycett is a chance to be fit for the start of the season proper after making strong progress in his recovery from a knee operation.

Lycett underwent surgery on his left knee in September after battling a PCL injury during the second half of the 2016 campaign.

Although Lycett was initially set to return in time for round one, West Coast coach Adam Simpson feared the 24-year-old might not be ready until midway through the season after his initial recovery was slower than expected. However, Lycett’s progress has ramped up significantly over the past two months, and he’s on track to play in the club’s final pre-season match on March 9 against Melbourne.

If he gets through that unscathed, Lycett will be considered for the March 26 round-one clash with North Melbourne.

“He’s training fully now,” Simpson said. “And now it’s about getting some games under his belt. That will start next week.

“He’ll be pretty close to playing round one or two.”

Lycett’s looming return places even more heat on the battle for ruck berths. With Nic Naitanui set to miss most or all of the season, recruits Drew Petrie and Nathan Vardy are battling hard to lock down a spot.

Jonathan Giles is still recovering from a thumb injury, meaning Vardy and Petrie will share the ruck duties in Saturday’s pre-season clash with Fremantle in Geraldton.

The Eagles will unleash a near full-strength squad against the Dockers, with former Hawthorn skipper Sam Mitchell to debut for his new club.

Meanwhile, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson starts his 13th season as the competition’s third-longest-serving coach, behind Gold Coast’s Rodney Eade and Essendon’s John Worsfold.

Clarkson, 49, holds the record for most games, 283, at one club among active coaches. If all goes to plan, he will rack up another milestone when Hawthorn face Fremantle in round 18 — his 300th game in the top job, overtaking club legend Josh Kennedy Sr as the Hawks’ longest-serving coach.

It’s a significant spell, especially for someone who has already guided his side to four flags and achieved the fourth three-peat in the competition’s history.

But Hawthorn head of coaching Damian Carroll says Clarkson, who last year extended his contract to the end of 2019, remains as driven to succeed as ever as he prepares to oversee a new-look Hawks team.

“For a guy who has obviously had a lot of success, he’s still extremely passionate about seeing the club stay at the top,” Carroll said. “He’s certainly a guy who is constantly thinking about how we can improve as a team.

“He’s still challenging us all to work really hard on our players’ games, how we can get the best improvement out of them and how that can correspond to us having a good season again this year.

“Even with eight or nine new players coming to the club – some young guys and some from other clubs – I think pre-season has been pretty fresh,” he said. “Obviously a couple of guys who are pretty influential around the club have moved on so it’s certainly provided an opportunity for some other guys to step up.”