KAINE Mercovich’s emergence as a top-end Hampden league midfielder is having a ripple effect at Port Fairy.
Seagulls coach Daniel Nicholson, who will welcome Mercovich back to face Warrnambool on Saturday following AFL Young Gun Series representative duties, said his development had given other players more freedom.
“He is professional in how he prepares and deserves all the accolades he gets,” he said.
“His is our prime midfielder now – he’s taken that title.”
Nicholson said Mercovich’s aerobic capacity made him a dangerous four-quarter performer.
He praised his endurance, power and ability to be a scoreboard threat for the the second-placed Seagulls as they strive to make back-to-back grand finals.
“He’s really taken his game to the next level,” Nicholson said.
“It allows us to structure our forward line a lot more dangerously and the way our backs are going, it allows us to swing blokes around as well.”
Nicholson, who is averaging two goals a game in a midfield-forward role, is excited to return to Reid Oval – the venue of the Seagulls’ 2017 grand final defeat.
Mercovich is the only addition to Port Fairy’s side which is without defender Lachie Chapman (head knock).
“We’ve still got a few injuries but we’re happy with where we’re at at this stage,” Nicholson said.
“You can sometimes expect blokes to be sluggish after the bye but we’ve trained well this week.”
Warrnambool, which sits two points outside the top five following a mid-season form spike, is wary of the Seagulls’ plethora of threats.
“They are a good side – they run off half-back, their midfield is strong and having good forwards,” Blues coach Matt O’Brien said.
“We need to defend well but that starts across our half-forward line. We have to pressure them as they bring the ball into their forward line. It’s another opportunity for us to take on a top-five side.”
Warrnambool will be without captain Sam Cowling whose 150th game milestone is on the backburner due to a hamstring injury.
Fellow premiership-winning tall Andrew McCarthy is also out with a hamstring complaint and midfielder Matt Schnerring has returned to the TAC Cup ranks.
First-gamer Bill Quinlivan will be given an opportunity as a ruck-forward prospect help cover Cowling and McCarthy. Ben Fleming and Martin van Rooy also return to the Blues’ best 21.