West Coast’s Eric Mackenzie back in favour at the Eagles

Forgotten West Coast defender Eric Mackenzie is back in favour at the Eagles with the backman picked for the round one clash against the Roos at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

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The 2014 John Worsfold Medallist was on the outer for most of last year as he struggled to adapt to the club’s new defensive game plan after missing the whole of the 2015 season with a knee injury.

The club’s key defender was also overtaken by young gun Tom Barrass who had a breakout season last year.

However, Mackenzie has been named at full back and will no doubt be used to combat the Roos’ lumbering forward line.

As expected ball magnet Sam Mitchell has been picked to make his debut after 307 games with the Hawks, along with Drew Petrie (North Melbourne) and Nathan Vardy (Geelong).

With both of the Eagles first choice ruckman Nic Naitanui (ACL) and Scott Lycett (shoulder) out for a large chunk of the season Petrie and Vardy will carry much of the ruck load this year.

Vardy is hoping his work with former West Coast ruck great Dean Cox will help him tackle one of the best big men in the game in Todd Goldstein.

“During my time at Geelong I played a little bit in the ruck, but I definitely spent more time in the forward line,” Vardy told the club’s website.

“I didn’t really have the luxury of working with a ruck coach at all, so to be able to come over here and learn from one of the best ever, it’s obviously been great for my development, as well as Drew (Petrie), who is sitting in the same boat.

“I’ve just learned that you can’t be a one trick pony in the ruck. I’ve been learning new techniques and going from there.”

Dom Sheed, Tom Barrass, Will Schofield, Drew Petrie, Jack Redden, Mark Hutchings and Chris Masten have all been named on an extended interchange bench for the Eagles.

The Roos are set to blood a number of debutants after overhauling its aging list last year, with club stalwarts Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo all given the chop.

Jy Simpkin, (pick 12 in last year’s NAB AFL draft), ruckman Braydon Preuss and 2015 draftees Mitch Hibberd and Declan Mountford will line-up North for the first time, along with zippy former Bulldogs forward Nathan Hrovat and ex-Magpies defender Marley Williams.

The Dockers will be buoyed by the sight of Brownlow Medallist Nat Fyfe playing his first home-and-away game for the club after he broke his leg in round 5 last year.

Boom recruit Cam McCarthy (GWS), Bradley Hill (Hawthorn), Joel Hamling (Bulldogs) and Shane Kersten (Geelong) will make their Dockers debuts for the club against Geelong at Domain Stadium on Sunday.

The game will see two of the best onballers in the competition – last year’s Brownlow Medalist Patrick Dangerfield and his 2015 predecessor Fyfe – go head-to-head again after their memorable clash at the Adelaide Oval in 2015 when the pair both picked up more than 35 possessions each.

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon said while he was “happy” to watch the Fyfe and Dangerfield spectacle unfold, he will be making sure the Cats superstar doesn’t get off the leash.

“Both teams will probably have a contingency if one gets away,” Lyon told the Dockers website on Wednesday.

“They’re both dominant midfielders, big, strong-bodied midfielders – slightly different in some ways – but we’ve got (David) Mundy as well and they’ve got (Joel) Selwood.

“Joel Selwood’s pretty handy, so if you just focus on one person (it can be detrimental), but I would expect them to be matched up in certain periods of the game.”

Connor Blakely, Hayden Cozier, Tom Sheridan, Nick Suban, Matt Taberner, Darcy Tucker and Lachie Weller have all been named on the extended bench which will be cut back to four on Friday.

Mature-age recruit Tom Stewart has been named for the Cats, along with 2016 draftee Brandon Parfitt and pacey running half-back Zach Tuohy from the Blues.