Docker debut dilemma: delay for Hayden Ballantyne

Wrist injury complications for small forward may put back his debut until well into the season.

Thousands of fantasy coaches have already pencilled in Hayden Ballantyne as one of their starting forwards, but news is slowly starting to trickle out about his AFL debut being delayed significantly due to complications from a long-term wrist injury.

The word is well and truly out: small-to-medium forward rookies are fantasy gold. With Cyril Rioli, Josh Hill, Chris Mayne, Cameron Stokes and Ryan Gamble last year, fantasy coaches have been scouring the draft lists for non-tall forwards who have the body type to withstand up to 25 games, as Rioli did last year. Ballantyne has always seemed like a lock: mature-age, battle-hardened by years in the WAFL, proven goalkicker to the tune of 75 last year, slotting straight into the Fremantle structure where Jeff Farmer used to be. Everything pointed to him being a starter-quality forward.

Unfortunately, the wrist injury which has restricted his preseason looks like restricting the early part of his home & away season, too. After the revelation last week that Ballantyne had bone grafted from his hip to the left wrist to help it heal, Fremantle assistant coach Barry Mitchell had this to say yesterday:

“He’s coming along well, Ballantyne,” Mitchell said. “He’s doing a lot of running and should join in with major ball work soon. He’s been doing that on the side and is nearly ready to go. I don’t know exactly when he’ll be ready, but we are confident he’ll be right for the early part of the season.”

Fremantle Dockers Training Session

“Early part”, eh? That’s a different tune to the “aiming for round 1” that every other coach says about every other player at this time of year, even if they’re recovering from a double leg amputation. Reading between the lines, this is a strong message that Ballantyne is going to miss round 1, and could miss the first month or even more. The Freo hierarchy keep making noises about how he’s a long-term player so they don’t want to risk anything… which sounds just like the language that Richmond used last year to describe Trent Cotchin‘s interrupted preseason. Cotchin, of course, ended up debuting in round 8 of 2008 and played every game from then on.

We have two main scenarios for fantasy purposes. Either Ballantyne recovers early and debuts by round 2 or 3, in which case you’ll want him in your side from round 1 a la Rhys Palmer last year. Or, Ballantyne is kept in cotton wool and doesn’t debut until round 5 or 6, thus hitting the bubble (when his price changes in AFL Dream Team and Super Coach) only by round 8 or 9. In the second scenario, you don’t want him in your starting line up because (like Cotchin) he becomes an outstanding trade-down target for forward cash cows, whose price should have leveled out by then according to the rookie reaping graph.

It appears the West Australian newspaper is all over this story so we’re likely to get breathless updates on the latest pronouncements from the Fremantle staff. Every fantasy coach should be listening, because if Ballantyne isn’t right for the first three rounds then some hard decisions have to be made about starting fantasy options. It was easier to commit to tall timber like Scott Gumbleton, Taylor Walker or Jarrad Grant when you knew you could safely stow them on your bench as they accrued profits, but what if you have to start one of them? Those who were forced to start Kurt Tippett last year know the pain of inconsistency in tall forward rookies. Chris Yarran is a consistent small forward type, but many coaches are looking to start more than one forward rookie due to the depth of the position this year and there’s no guarantees on similar-sized forwards like Simon Hogan, Steele Sidebottom or Nick Heyne getting a string of early matches.

Starting the wrong forward rookie while you’re waiting for Ballantyne to heal could cost you hundreds of points. What’s your opinion on this potentially disastrous news? Who are you going to replace him with in your Fanplanner plan team? Which of the tall timber can you rely on most as a starter for the first couple of months of the season? Tell me in the comments.

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