SINCE the dawn of time, giant-sized men have dominated the AFL by getting their hands on the ball first following a throw-in or a ball-up. As the game has advanced, more emphasis has been put on winning clearances and stoppages and having an awesome ruckman on your side makes that task a hell of a lot easier. There have been times this season where teams have decided to use non-traditional players to contest ruck taps. Could we see a trend beginning to form in the AFL?
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THE Syndey vs. Freo game last weekend made me think about this theory a little more. It’s not unusual to see Fremantle using Nat Fyfe as a ruckman, with his stellar athleticism allowing him to compete against the bigger bodies. What was weird though was seeing the Swans combat the Fyfe move, by playing someone of a similar height in the ruck in Gary Rohan. This wasn’t an anomaly with the pair competing for several ball-ups. At one point in time, Freo opted to play David Mundy in this role as well, making me think more teams might try this tactic.
THERE are clear upsides and downsides to using a non-ruckman to compete for hitouts. Once the ball hits the ground having an extra midfielder, especially one who is talented below their knees is a massive plus. Imagine if the clunky Ben McEvoy had hands just as quick as Tom Mitchell?! Most of the time the taller man may win the hitout battle, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that their team emerges with the footy.
TAKE Aaron Sandilands for example. The Dockers man mountain has been racking up hitouts for years, yet there have been times when Fremantle has struggled to win the clearance battle. Is that Sandilands fault, or the fault of an average supporting cast? Tough to say. However, height in the ruck doesn’t always translate to success.
THROUGH nine games of season 2018, Melbourne leads the league in hitouts with help from All-Australian front-runner Max Gawn, who averages over 47 hitouts a match. It might surprise you though to learn that the Demons are also one of the best teams for clearances as well, averaging over 40.3 a game (second most in the league) and a league-best 14.8 centre clearances. This isn’t always the case though with Aaron Sandilands recording the second most hitouts per game (41.1) this season, yet Fremantle ranks below the middle of the pack for clearances (13th at 36.2 a game) and centre clearances (11th at 12.2 a game).
BACK in 2015, Todd Goldstein set a single season AFL record with a mammoth 937 hitouts. Where did they rank for clearances you ask? Smack bang in the middle of the league at 39.2 a game. Translation winning the hitout count doesn’t always translate to first hands on the footy. So why not mix things up and try using a beefy midfielder in ruck contests?
Image from abc.net.au
NOW that the league has eliminated the third-man up rule, ruckmen are left to fight it out solo when it comes to winning a hitout. This rule change could see a new era of unusual players rotated through the rucks. Freo aren’t the only ones who have been deploying this tactic. Blake Acres isn’t shy about competing for the occasional hitout with the likes of Josh Caddy and Josh Dunkley also recording hitouts in the last few weeks.
IS using another stronger midfielder a smart move? Probably not for a long-term option, but it may help give you flexibility around the ground. Imagine if Geelong decided to run with it as Danger competes for the hitout with Ablett, Joel Selwood and Mitch Duncan at his ankles. Damn. The potential bonus of having another faster, smaller player around the contests could revolutionise the way footy is played. It probably won’t, but it certainly could.