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Time for Tom Lee to make his mark

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Michael Gleeson
Tom Lee: Still finding fitness after two shoulder reconstructions. © Getty Images Tom Lee: Still finding fitness after two shoulder reconstructions.

Where is Tom Lee? At a club crying out for someone - anyone - to take a mark and kick a goal in a forward line other than the first, second and third option of Nick Riewoldt, where is the man brought in to play second fiddle?

One of the bright lights to emerge in the grim end to last season, the key forward has been desperately needed in a one-dimensional forward line, but has  not been sighted.  

The simple answer is that he is playing in the VFL, with Saints coach Alan Richardson saying he is closing on a return ... but not just yet.

Lee was brought in 18 months ago to bolster a threadbare forward line. He arrived as a 21-year-old from Claremont as part of a deal using the pick the club got when Brendon Goddard left for Essendon. 

The Saints took the pick 12 they got for Goddard and passed it on to GWS, who gave them Lee as part of the priority access that GWS had to be able to trade players unsigned to AFL clubs. They also passed on a couple of picks - 24 and 25 - with which they picked  up the raw and speculative Spencer White and defender Nathan Wright. 

Last year, Lee played two games early before he was dropped, only to return  in round 15. He played all but one game for the rest of the year. He made his mark, though. His  emergence as a strong, marking forward was something to cling to for the disheartened.

After round 15, he was the Saints' primary target inside 50 and he  finished equal with Riewoldt on 16 for the most goals kicked in that  period.

Lee's form in the VFL this year has been modest - just nine goals in six games - but when he was recalled last  year for a second taste of seniors he had been goalless in his previous three matches.

Richardson said that Lee had both shoulders reconstructed at the end of last season and after a delayed pre-season he was still getting back to the fitness needed for the senior team.

He played the club's trial games and was a chance to play in round one, but a rolled ankle in the last pre-season game set him back again.  

"He has struggled for continuity on the training track, but his last month has been quite impressive. He has had to do a pre-season in a season and he has done more work off his own bat, which is impressive," Richardson said.

"We are keen to get him in the team, but we are not going to do him any favours to bring him in when he is not ready. But we are keen to get him in because we think he has the potential to make us better and to be a marking forward for us for a long time to come. 

"The reality is he has not been ready. We have not said 'you are not being considered until round 10 or anything', we have said 'we will play you when you are ready' and he has not played in the manner that suggests to us he is ready to go yet. That is not just kicking goals but it is making space, getting off your man, doing things defensively, the things we will look at in the total package. We are not doing him any favours bringing him in the team when he is not ready." 

That is where Tom Lee is now. It's hoped it is not a place he will be for long.

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