East Fremantle coach Steve Malaxos has backed Jonathon Griffin to fill the void in Aaron Sandilands' absence after the Fremantle ruck giant was ruled out for up to eight weeks with a serious hamstring injury.
Sandilands played alongside Griffin in Saturday night's NAB Cup win against Geelong but sat out the West Coast game due to what coach Ross Lyon described was a tight glute.
Fremantle football operations manager Chris Bond said yesterday scans had revealed a partial tear in the 30-year-old's hamstring tendon.
The 211cm three-times All-Australian will not require surgery but could be out until round four or five.
The Dockers have a tough start to the season with games against West Coast, Essendon, Hawthorn and Richmond all within the first five rounds.
"It's certainly unfortunate that Aaron will be out for an extended period of time, but we have great confidence in our structures and players to be able to fill the role," Bond said.
The injury continues a wretched run for Sandilands, who has missed 19 games in the past two seasons.
Griffin led the ruck during Sandilands' absence last year, averaging 12.5 disposals, close to 30 hit-outs and three marks a game.
In the 10 matches Sandilands missed through injury in 2012, the club won six and lost four, including the 65-point thrashing of West Coast in round 19.
Fremantle won eight and lost five games with him in the side.
Malaxos said he didn't expect to see Griffin at the Sharks for some time.
"He played pretty well when Aaron was out for an extended period of time and when Aaron got back in the team Griffo was a late withdrawal," he said.
"He played really well for us at times last year, particularly in the grand final."
Malaxos said Griffin had shown significant improvement last season compared to his first year at Fremantle in 2011.
"I thought his disposal was better and if he improves a bit more he should be fine," he said.
"I think he would like to take a few more marks but sometimes it depends on how the team uses you.
"Generally speaking, ruckmen seem to thrive on being given that No.1 responsibility and I think he thrives on it as well."
Griffin is likely to share the ruck duties with Zac Clarke in the opening rounds.
Clarke missed Saturday night's games with a slight groin strain but is a chance to play in this weekend's scratch match against Adelaide.
Kepler Bradley can also pinch-hit in the ruck, while new draftee Jack Hannath would be an outside chance to step into the team.
TAB.com.au was quick to respond to the injury news, pushing Fremantle out from $2.25 to $2.30 for their round-one clash against West Coast on March 23.
Fremantle's top-eight price has gone from $1.50 to $1.60 while the odds of them missing the finals shortened from $2.40 to $2.25.
Player's fixed-odds betting manager Ben Pomatti said the Dockers remained at $10 to win the premiership, despite the injury to Sandilands.
Pomatti said if the big man's absence extended longer than first thought, Player's markets were likely to change.
He said West Coast had come in from $1.75 favourites to $1.60, while Fremantle had drifted from $2.05 to $2.32 for the western derby since the market opened more than a month ago.
Meanwhile, Stephen Hill talked up Fremantle's growing midfield depth at the club's annual Australia Post AFL Community Camp in Jurien Bay yesterday.
Hill starred in both games on Saturday night, drawing post-match praise from Lyon.
The 22-year-old said it was great to get back to playing football and he was feeling good after the first hit-out.
He said having Port Adelaide recruit Danyle Pearce in the team had been a positive already.
"It is good having him running around as well," Hill said.
"Hopefully we can work well together."
Hill highlighted the improve- ment of emerging midfielders such as Tom Sheridan and Cameron Sutcliffe, as well as older players such as Clancee Pearce.
"There are a lot of guys through there (the midfield) now and there is a lot of competition for spots," he said. "They (the younger guys) have had really good pre-seasons and they are going to be up there pushing for a spot in the team."