LUCAS Cook is the leading candidate to assume North Ballarat Roosters’ pivotal forward role vacated by premiership player Paul McMahon.
While McMahon’s departure to Springbank in the Central Highlands Football League is a major setback for the Selkirk Roosters, Cook shapes as a likely readystep-made replacement.
Cook, who was delisted by Melbourne last year, was always going to be a key link in attack as one of two marquee recruits for North Ballarat.
He appeared an ideal fit to partner McMahon.
The former North Ballarat Rebel will now have to head up the Roosters’ big forwards, complemented by the likes of North Melbourne’s Aaron Black.
Roosters head coach Gerard FitzGerald said the loss of McMahon had been a setback for his plans for the 2013 VFL season.
“We rate him highly as a player and a person.”
FitzGerald said one of the biggest areas of change in football was the fitness level required by high forwards.
“He was outstanding in the modern half forward role.
“Paul not only had the fitness required to play as a high forward in the VFL, we believe he had AFL fitness levels.”
FitzGerald said he was impressed by the progress being made by Cook since the Christmas-New Year break.
He said Pat Nicholls and Bryce Curnow were others who would be given an opportunity to step up in McMahon’s absence.
FitzGerald is eager to see North Ballarat come out of the blocks hard early this year – something it failed to do in 2012.
The Roosters won just one of their opening six matches and went on to miss the finals.
FitzGerald wants his players showing “real urgency” from the outset.
“We can’t afford to drift into the season.
“Energy and enthusiasm are factors we can control and I want to see plenty of them.”
This approach is behind a new-look practice match schedule, beginning with a clash against Port Melbourne at Eureka Stadium in Ballarat on Saturday.
FitzGerald said the Roosters had deliberately chased practice matches with “high quality” opposition.
FitzGerald said there would be nothing conservative about the Roosters’ approach.
Cook and former Greater Western Sydney player Steve Clifton will line up against Port Melbourne, with only players coming off interrupted preparations such as Liam Hoy and Nick Crouch to be eased back.
North Ballarat will then meet reigning VFL premier Geelong in a NAB Cup curtain-raiser to Geelong and North Melbourne at Simmonds Stadium on Saturday, March 9, and Williamstown in Ballarat on Saturday, March 16.