Rowan Marshall lunges at Dylan Shiel during Friday's match (Photo: St.Kilda FC)

Rowan Marshall is set to prove himself as the solo ruckman of the Saints this year, with an impressive display on Friday night extinguishing any doubts surrounding his credentials after the departure of veteran Paddy Ryder.

The 27 year old has spent the majority of his career to date working in tandem with the likes of Ryder, rotating between rucking around the ground and a deep forward role.

With the retirement of Ryder at the end of 2022, the load has now fallen completely on Marshall’s shoulders as the only established ruckman in the Saints best 22.

Friday’s practice match against the Bombers saw the first official outing for Marshall as the main ruck, engaging in an entertaining battle against fellow emerging ruckman Sam Draper.

While Draper won the hit-out count over the match, with 29 to Marshall’s 18, it was Marshall’s work around the ground and ability to find the ball that left Saints fans excited come the final siren.

He gathered 24 disposals against the Bombers, finding much more of the ball than his opposition counterpart.

At the ground level Marshall was instrumental in helping gain an edge over the Essendon midfield, showcasing his ability to turn himself into essentially another midfielder in the trenches.

Rowan Marshall and Peter Wright engage in a ruck contest (Photo: St.Kilda FC)

He finished the game with eight clearances (a game high), with seven of those coming out of stoppages around the ground. Marshall often times was able to take the ball directly out of the ruck contest and move the ball forward, resulting in 430 meters gained. The Saint also had five inside 50’s and two rebound 50’s.

Marshall roamed all through the center of the ground and the backline, allowing Zaine Cordy and Mitch Owens to claim the ruck battles in the forward line.

The closest Marshall got was when he received the ball from a free kick at the edge of the 50 meter arc, to which he slotted a long range goal with the wind.

When sitting out of the forward line, Marshall was instrumental in stopping the Bombers rebounding ball movement, taking four contested marks as he floated across the middle of the ground, restricting the Bombers marking targets coming out of the defensive 50.

Marshall’s mobility around the ground forced the Bombers to find alternate routes out of defence to little avail, with the Saints small forwards then compounding the pressure and forcing them into errors while locked in the defensive half.

Saints assistant coach Robert Harvey has been impressed by Marshall’s work throughout the preseason, saying “He’s thriving on the work. He has all summer.”

“What we saw today we’ve seen for a lot of the summer. I think he’s been around long enough now that he knows what it takes.

“With Ryder going out the responsibility has fallen to Rowan obviously and he’s loving it. I think we saw today what he can do… The consistency he showed today is what we’re after.

“(It’s) just more the contest and competitiveness that he displays that the players love and the coaches love. That’s what we want to see and we saw that today.

“We’re really rapt with how he’s entering the season, he hasn’t skipped a beat all preseason so he’s as fit as he’s ever been and it’s good for him.”

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The man affectionately dubbed by the Saints faithful as “The Prospect” has been on the trajectory to elite ruck status since 2019, where he broke out and played 20 games for the Saints, averaging 28.45 hitouts and over 17 disposals a game.

After missing a significant portion of 2021 through injury Marshall was able to play nearly every game in 2022, both paired with his former mentor in Ryder and as the lone ruck.

One such occasion came against Hawthorn in round 20, where Marshall produced his best game to date. He amassed 30 disposals, 35 hitouts and seven tackles on his way to a victory.

His form towards the back end of 2022 had Saints fans salivating, with that game against Hawthorn in the middle of a four game patch where he averaged over 40 hitouts and 21.5 disposals.

When Marshall does rest on the bench the second choice options remain a question, with Harvey stating they still aren’t sure on what that situation could look like come round 1.

“Not yet. We haven’t settled down that front half yet so we’re just trying stuff as we go with our front half and that impacts the second ruck.”

“We know Rowan is our main stay ruck so we’ll see where that falls and obviously the Tim (Membrey) situation comes into it as well so we’ll see going in to Fremantle (in) round 1.”

The Saints looked clean around the ground in tough conditions on Friday, with the second quarter in particular a high point. They kicked six goals to none with the wind in that quarter to effectively kill the game at half-time, with the Bombers only registering the one goal in each of the first and third quarters that they had with the breeze.

Brad Crouch lead the field with 34 disposals while also collecting eight tackles and seven clearances. In the front half, Jack Higgins and the aforementioned Mitch Owens both kicked three goals while Dan Butler was as energetic as ever, laying nine tackles (three inside 50) and kicking a miraculous goal while off balance.

For the Bombers, it was their inability to convert that turned the game away from them after the first quarter. They kicked 14 behinds to just the three goals throughout the match, having the same amount of scoring shots as the home side but going down by 35 points.

Peter Wright had plenty of shots on goal but couldn’t quite get his accuracy right, kicking 1.4, while Nic Martin also struggled kicking 0.3.

It wasn’t all bad for the Bombers however, with some extremely positive signs coming from rookie Alwyn Davey Jr and new recruit Will Setterfield.

Davey Jr was electric in the first half, gathering 11 disposals and kicking a great roving goal to open the scoring on the day. He was only able to gather two disposals after half-time however, with much of the sting taken out of the game.

Setterfield played the majority of the game in the midfield and had another solid outing to back up last week’s performance, with 25 disposals and six tackles.

Bombers assistant coach Daniel Giansiracusa had nothing but praise for Setterfield, saying “I’ve loved the way Will has approached (the role).”

“I think he’s really flexible, you saw him even play a bit back today, so that’s good because it gives him a chance to play in all three lines.

“He’s been a real good addition for us and again another one (with) a great attitude. He’s fitted in really well with the boys and you think he’d be a really strong chance to play round 1.”

When discussing whether he is best suited to a midfield role, Giansiracusa said, “I would say so.”

“In saying that, that could be a wing as well. Again it’ll be against the opponent we come up against, (we’ve) got to find the right balance.

“We’ve got some pretty strong midfielders in [Zach] Merrett, [Darcy] Parish, [Dylan] Shiel, I think Archie Perkins showed some things today. We’ve got to find the balance there but not unsettle them where we are taking them out of their position where they’re prime movers.

“As I said, his flexibility is a strength and one that we’ll be looking to use as an asset moving forward.”

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