Brisbane has added some height to its team for next season, after trading for Geelong ruckman Darcy Fort.
The Lions secured the deal after parting with a future third-round pick and pick 50, to get the 204cm big man and pick 41 in return.
It comes after a season where Fort failed to play at AFL level but dominated in the VFL.
He averaged 18.8 disposals, 20 hitouts, and 5.6 clearances per game, which was enough to win him Geelong’s VFL Best and Fairest.
But despite the Cats’ long-discussed issues in the ruck, Fort was down the pecking order and has only played eight AFL games throughout his short career at the Cats, with the likes of Rhys Stanley, Esava Ratugolea, and even Mark Blicavs (when required) all in front of him.
But in Brisbane, Fort instantly becomes the team’s number two ruckman behind Oscar McInerney.
He’ll be hoping to force his way into the team and play some senior games though, given that he’s already 28 and entering his fourth season in the league.
What will Fort bring to Brisbane?
Despite not necessarily being a best 22 player on arrival, Fort was easily one of Brisbane’s biggest needs this offseason.
The number one ruck position isn’t in doubt, with McInerney continuing to go from strength to strength.
He finished seventh in the Lions’ best and fairest this season, after a top-five finish the year before, ranking elite for average hitouts (29.2), hitouts to advantage (9.4), and clearances (5.5) per game.
But it was Brisbane’s backup options behind McInerney that were cause for concern.
The Lions let club champion Stefan Martin head to the Western Bulldogs last off-season, while perennial backup ruckman Archie Smith decided to pursue his options elsewhere and later announced his retirement.
Basketball convert Tom Fullarton featured in 14 matches this season but is ideally more of a tall forward who pinch hits in the ruck, averaging just 3.5 hitouts this year.
Academy product Connor Ballenden has only played three games since being drafted in 2017, while Henry Smith and mid-season draftee Kalin Lane are developing prospects who are yet to debut at AFL level.
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The club’s lack of ruck depth was seen in Round 4 against Collingwood when McInerney and Smith were both injured.
It left Fullarton and Ballenden to go up against two-time All Australian ruckman Brodie Grundy, losing the hitout battle 63 to four, though admittedly the Lions went on to win that game in a thriller.
But Fort coming up to the Den immediately gives Brisbane another viable option, whether McInerney is injured or the club wants to play the duo in tandem.
Also, despite having as much time in the AFL system as some of Brisbane’s younger ruckmen, the fact that Fort is 28 years old means he’s more experienced and fully developed.
Can Fort and McInerney play in the same side?
While Fort would be under no illusions that he’s being brought in primarily as a backup to play behind McInerney, he’ll be hoping to prove that they can coexist in the same line-up.
Given his age, relative to his time in the system and games played, Fort will be looking to make an instant impact in Brisbane and prove his value as a ruckman.
When speaking to Trade Radio about the club’s desire to bring Fort in, Lions GM of Football Danny Daly referenced Melbourne’s Premiership success with Max Gawn and Luke Jackson on how important two ruckmen can be.
He also pointed out that the team used to run McInerney and Martin in the same side before the latter left, a blueprint that would provide an instant role for Fort.
Another factor that could see him get into the team early next season, is his ability to play as a ruck forward.
In his AFL debut back in 2019, Fort kicked three goals, while also slotting 23 majors from 13 matches in the VFL that year, including a haul of six against Port Melbourne.
His best chance to play this role could come in the first half of the season, while key forward Eric Hipwood recovers from his ACL injury.
Fort’s most immediate challenge would be taking Fullarton’s spot in the side, who came back into the team after Hipwood’s injury.
While Fullarton has youth and potential on his side, Fort’s ability to compete in the ruck could mean he’s the preferred option, given that he’s averaged 17.8 hitouts at AFL level.
Brisbane is a team deep in the Premiership race, a position it’s puts itself in after several big acquisitions in recent trade periods.
Fort doesn’t have a big name like others who have joined, but he feels an immediate need for the Lions in their quest for silverware.
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