Young Dons soak up Rance's AFL knowledge

First-round draft pick Nik Cox is aiming to build on a productive first season in the AFL.
First-round draft pick Nik Cox is aiming to build on a productive first season in the AFL.

Versatile Essendon teenager Nik Cox hopes his first full AFL pre-season will set him on the path to eventually locking down a key position role as he learns tricks of the trade from former star fullback Alex Rance.

The Richmond premiership hero has joined the Bombers in a part-time development coaching role and was on hand to oversee training as the club's first to fourth-year players reported back for duty at Tullamarine on Wednesday.

Rance, who retired at the end of 2019 after 200 games with the Tigers, made one appearance as a fill-in player with Essendon's VFL side last season but quickly shut down talk of an AFL comeback.

The 32-year-old will be a valuable sounding board for the Bombers' youngsters, including 2021 rising star nominees Cox, Harrison Jones and Archie Perkins.

"He's awesome, it was great to meet him today," Cox said after the pre-season training session.

"He was an incredible player during his career and it's great to have him out on the track.

"He's a great voice and so experienced.

"He's got a lot of knowledge that's going to be passed down to us young players and he's going to be working with us closely, so that's an awesome thing for us."

A first-round draft pick in 2020, Cox made 20 on-field appearances in his debut season but finished as an unused substitute in the Bombers' last two matches, including the elimination final defeat to the Western Bulldogs.

The 19-year-old, who missed what would have been his final season of junior football because of COVID-19 shutdowns, said he felt fatigued towards the end of a long campaign.

He hoped his first full pre-season will better prepare him for the rigours of senior football.

"It's a big driver of mine; I don't want to fall off like I did (last season)," Cox said.

"I felt like I was getting a bit tired towards the end of the year and it didn't help having no footy the year before.

"That's what's good about having the full pre-season, I'm able to go and build my body to play a full season.

"It's not just my strength but my running and my contest work too."

Cox was tested in various positions last year - his near 200cm frame and mobility proving valuable assets - with the Bombers yet to settle on using him in a more specific role in 2022.

"(Versatility) is obviously one of my strengths and I want to keep that ability to be swung through the midfield, down back and down forward," Cox said.

"I'm sure I'll float through a number of roles through the pre-season and hopefully I can build into a key position further down the track, but we'll have to see."

Australian Associated Press