During the 2021 AFL offseason, Tristan Xerri seemed destined for a future away from the Kangaroos due to his limited opportunities in the ruck position. Now, that seems a distant memory.
Xerri took advantage of an undermanned Eagles’ outfit on Sunday to have the best performance of his career, acting in tandem with veteran Todd Goldstein.
At the beginning of the year, many AFL fans questioned how coach David Noble would balance his ruck situation.
Xerri, Goldstein, Tom Campbell, Jacob Edwards and new recruit Callum Coleman-Jones all presented as options that could be used in 2022.
In the opening round, Noble experimented with playing three of them in Xerri, Goldstein and Coleman-Jones. This inevitably failed and the Roos fell to the Hawks by 20 points.
Xerri however, had a solid game, and his form to begin this year has made it increasingly hard for Noble to leave him out of the starting 22, with Coleman-Jones likely to suffer after a disappointing first outing.
Coleman-Jones was omitted after the Roos’ round 1 loss to the Hawks, only having the four disposals and two hit outs in limited ruck minutes behind his two alternatives.
Noble spoke to the media after the game against the Eagles regarding Coleman-Jones, saying “I spoke to CJ (Coleman-Jones) during the week to put him in the ruck in the VFL.”
“He’s got to get up to speed and put pressure on those guys for sure.”
Coleman-Jones had initially moved to North Melbourne from Richmond in search of time in the ruck, a request that now seems unlikely.
Both Goldstein and Xerri rotated between a rucking role and deep forward throughout the game, with Xerri allowed more minutes in the center over his counterpart.
He had a career high in both disposals (20) and hit outs (24), with Goldstein collecting 20 hit outs himself.
Xerri also collected five marks and five clearances for the game, in his most well rounded performance to date.
In a game against Essendon in the VFL last year, Xerri had 35 disposals along with 27 hitouts in a win, highlighting his ability to develop under Goldstein.
Xerri was prolific in the VFL last season as one of the best ruckmen in the competition, claiming runner up in North Melbourne’s best and fairest.
The duo will aim to replicate many veteran and emerging partnerships currently in place throughout the AFL, such as Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall for the Saints and Max Gawn partnered with Luke Jackson for the Demons.
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Noble post game said, “I thought there were some really strong highlights.”
“Tristan Xerri in the ruck continues to improve… I thought Goldy (Goldstein) played a great game.”
With Goldstein turning 34 later this year, the Kangaroos will be thrilled with the development of Xerri as the club’s number one ruck.
Goldstein has been the head of the brigade for over a decade now, showing remarkable longevity as one of the best big men of the 2010’s, including holding the record for the most hit outs in a single game with 80 in 2015.
Xerri’s performance, while admittedly against weaker opposition, provided hopeful signs for Kangaroos fans.
The Eagles only had one main ruck option for the game, as star Nic Naitanui missed due to Health and Safety protocols.
It was Bailey Williams who was forced to contend with both Xerri and Goldstein through the whole game and was admirable in defeat.
Coach Adam Simpson had nothing but praise for Williams, saying, “We’ve got some younger players some opportunities (due to missing players).”
“Bailey Williams gets a chance to hold down the number one ruck spot and I thought as the game went on, he grew and grew- we’ll take a lot of positives”
The next test for Xerri comes against Brisbane Lions’ ruckman Oscar McInerney in what will be his toughest test so far this year.
The Kangaroos now sit at 1-1 after the opening two rounds, with the game against the 2-0 Lions at the Gabba up next.
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