Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan expects debutant Connor Ballenden to slot straight in to the Lions’ AFL lineup against Essendon.
The Lions’ depth will be tested against the Bombers with Archie Smith (ankle), Dan McStay (suspension), Ryan Lester and Daniel Rich (both hamstring) all out of Friday’s match at Metricon Stadium.
With Smith joining first-choice ruckman Stef Martin on the sidelines, Ballenden gets his chance in the AFL and Fagan is confident the 200cm, 101kg Lions academy graduate is ready.
“Connor Ballenden, particularly in the last six months has been doing a lot of ruck practice as well as forward craft so he can just come in and fulfill the role that Archie was doing last week as far as we’re concerned,” Fagan said.
“A few weeks ago he kicked four goals against West Coast in a reserves practice game.
“He’s been rucking and competing really well. Bringing the ball to ground and making second, third efforts if he hasn’t been able to win it himself so all those things you would like a big forward to do, he’s been able to accomplish over the last few weeks.”
Ballenden is one of five changes from the Lions team that narrowly beat Melbourne last weekend.
With Tom Berry omitted, one-gamer Sam Skinner comes into the team along with Ballenden, Alex Witherden, Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Noah Answerth.
The Bombers have also rung the changes with big man Sam Draper to make his own AFL debut while Dylan Shiel returns from suspension.
Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, ex-Lion Tom Cutler and James Stewart are also included with Conor McKenna and Shaun McKernan both managed and Mitch Hibberd (omitted), Jayden Laverde (ankle) and Kyle Langford (suspension) also out.
Friday’s match starts at 8.10pm.