Welcome back to another edition of the highly-anticipated ruckman rankings. Hopefully, this serves as a light distraction to all those going into lockdown this weekend, and fingers crossed we get to see some good footy.
And all starts with the big men!
RUCKMAN OF THE FORTNIGHT
A new ruckman of the fortnight, you wouldn’t read about it!
Sean Darcy has come out of nowhere to claim the highly sought-after award from Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn. Starting from as low as 12th spot back in round six, Darcy has made a remarkable rise in the last month to kickstart a career breakout year. He comfortably beat Andrew Phillips in round nine, posting 39 hitouts (15 to advantage), 22 disposals (14 contested), eight tackles, and seven clearances, including an equal game-high four centre clearances.
In what was supposed to be a tougher matchup against Tom Hickey the week later, Hickey suffered an in-game leg injury, but played the game out. Darcy was able to make the most of Hickey’s misfortune and dominated, amassing 51 hitouts (14 to advantage), 12 disposals, seven score involvements, and two contested marks.
This accolade is very well deserved, and hopefully, he can claim this gong a few more times to keep this segment a little more varied
BEST OF THE REST
Once again, Max Gawn was stiff to miss out. Putting together another All-Australian-bound campaign, Gawn had 44 and 32 hitouts (16 and 9 to advantage) against Marc Pittonet and Reilly O’Brien respectively, while also averaging 17.5 disposals, (11.5 contested), four clearances, and seven score involvements in this time. He clunked a massive 10 marks against the Crows including five contested marks, third most in the league for the round and most of any ruckman.
After being recently criticised for his lack of impact on general play of late, Nic Naitanui reminded critics and footy fans alike of his ability to be a powerful presence around the ground. In round nine against ROB, Nic Nat had 31 hitouts (14 to advantage), 13 disposals, (10 contested). However most importantly, he took four marks, his most since round four, 2018, and three contested marks, his most since round 12, 2016. He received a bit of help from Bailey Williams a week later against the formidable pair of Shane Mumford and Matt Flynn. He battled hard, especially after half time, to finish with 35 hitouts (11 to advantage), 15 disposals, (12 contested), seven clearances, six tackles, nine score involvements, and a whopping 24 pressure acts.
Brodie Grundy keeps getting the job done. He lost the battle against Tom Hickey in round nine despite having 27 hitouts (nine to advantage), 17 disposals, (14 contested), six clearances, and five inside 50s, but lacked his usual impact. He responded a week later with an arguably best on ground performance against stand-in ruckman Peter Ladhams. By half time he already kicked two goals as he gave Ladhams a proper lesson in ruck craft, working him around the ground to finish with 33 hitouts (10 to advantage), 23 disposals, (14 contested), two contested marks, a game high nine clearances, five tackles, and an equal game high six inside 50s.
Before announcing who gets the final vote of the week, Tom Hickey gets a shoutout for his dominant display over the premier ruckman Brodie Grundy. In this game, Hickey had 18 hitouts with just four to advantage, but performed well around the ground with 19 disposals (16 contested), three marks (all contested) a game high eight clearances, five inside 50s and five intercept possessions. As previously mentioned, a leg injury he sustained against Fremantle marginally marred his usual impact, but fought on to finish with 24 hitouts (seven to advantage) and 12 disposals (eight contested)
The final spot of the fortnight goes to Toby Nankervis, largely due to his brilliant performance in Richmond’s incredible come-from-behind win against GWS. Up against the rookie ruck duo of Matt Flynn and Kieran Briggs, Nank stood tall, posting figures of 29 hitouts (six to advantage), 16 disposals (12 contested), a goal, 20 pressure acts, five marks, tackles, intercept possessions, and seven clearances. He was a little quieter a week later against Oscar McInerney but his work around the ground was once again commendable, finishing with 21 hitouts to go with 18 disposals (15 contested), 22 pressure acts, and five clearances.
How enjoyable is it seeing Paddy Ryder in full flight? While there were doubts as to how he would fare carrying the full brunt of the main ruck role without support from the injured Rowan Marshall, the 33-year-old veteran has once again proved that he can do it all. Over the last two weeks he has faced some trouble-free opposition in Mark Blicavs and rookie Jordan Sweet, and averaged 38 hitouts (12.5 to advantage) and 10 disposals in this time. His performance against Sweet was particularly impressive, which also included two contested marks, five clearances and seven inside 50s.
Reilly O’Brien (-2)
Another small decline for Reilly O’Brien, who had a very tough fortnight against Naitanui and Gawn. He was well beaten in the air and around the ground in both games, averaging 19.5 hitouts (six to advantage), 10 disposals (seven contested) and two contested marks. He did however have five tackles and four clearances against Naitanui, as well as an equal game high two goal assists against the Dees.
Marc Pittonet (-1)
Pittonet was soundly beaten by Gawn in round nine, who reduced him to just 23 hitouts (10 to advantage) and nine disposals. The week after there was no better opportunity to redeem himself than to showcase his improved abilities against his former side, the Hawks. In this game, the Blues brought in Tom de Koning to support Pittonet against the massive Hawks duo of Ben McEvoy and rookie Ned Reeves. Pittonet and TDK combined well, with Pittonet taking most of the ruck contests (59-31) while TDK was able to impact forward of the ball, taking two contested marks and kicking a goal. Pittonet himself bounced back with 30 hitouts (10 to advantage), 13 disposals (eight contested), four marks and four clearances.
Matt Flynn / Shane Mumford / Kieran Briggs (-)
The Giants spent the last couple of weeks figuring out their best ruck set up and they may have found it in the latter round. Mumford was rested against the Tigers in round nine, which granted Kieran Briggs a debut. While they shared ruck duties for most of the evening (68-39 ruck contests), Flynn had much more impact out of the two, doubling Briggs in hitouts (30-15), and had more hitouts to advantage, disposals, contested possessions, and tackles. Briggs was subsequentially dropped for Mumford the following week to combat Nic Naitanui and his counterpart Bailey Williams. In this game, Flynn took the backseat as Mumford attended most of the ruck contests (57-28), and both ruckman were serviceable without being impressive. They were well beaten in the hitouts department, having 21 hitouts between them to Naitanui’s 35 alone. Mumford was back to big, bustling best however, laying seven tackles while Flynn floated forward to kick two goals. This appears to be the ideal combination for the Giants, with Flynn in the side to give old Mumford a rest while Mumford also provides that extra physicality at the contest.
Peter Ladhams (NEW)
Peter Ladhams came in for the suspended Scott Lycett and has put together some modest performances to prevent Lycett’s ranking from slipping too far. As discussed in my pre-season article, Ladhams has shown that he is more than capable of upholding the solo ruck role, but the last two games have shown the best and the worst of what he can come to expect. In round nine he was opposed to Jordan Sweet and was too good for him, posting 37 hitouts (eight to advantage), 18 disposals (six contested possessions), and five score involvements and inside 50s, in a very convincing performance.
The following week, he got absolutely spanked by Grundy who reduced him to just 10 hitouts. However, Ladhams was still able to rack it up around the ground, finishing with 21 disposals, six score involvements, and clunked nine marks, including a game high four contested marks. We love to see that from Ladhams, getting beaten at the contest but making up for it in general play.
Todd Goldstein / Tom Campbell (-)
I thought it was about time to consider Tom Campbell as a genuine second ruckman, having attended 34% of the ruck contests in the last fortnight, which perhaps contributes to Goldstein’s quieter year so far. However, Goldy has been quite decent of late, starting off with a fine performance against Ben McEvoy. Goldy was much more effective in the air than McEvoy, posting 13 hitouts to advantage to McEvoy’s three, despite having a similar amount of hitouts. Goldy also had 19 disposals, six marks and six score involvements in a vintage performance from the big man. Against Andrew Phillips a week later, the two hunks were solid, combining for 32 hitouts (eight to advantage). Individually, they had similar disposal numbers (14 to Goldy and 13 to Campbell) as well as nine contested possessions between them. Furthermore, Goldy had an impressive 20 pressure acts, and Campbell slotted two goals himself.
Oscar McInerney (+1)
The Big O bounced back from a quiet fortnight the two weeks prior, averaging 34 hitouts (9.5 to advantage) in the last two weeks. Against Caleb Graham, McInerney also had one contested mark and five clearances, and against Nankervis, he finished with six disposals, all contested, as well as seven tackles and 17 pressure acts.
Ben McEvoy / Ned Reeves (-1)
McEvoy’s ranking was at risk of dropping even lower due to his performance against the Roos which I just mentioned, McEvoy finishing with 26 hitouts, 12 disposals, three marks, and six contested possessions. However, beanpole Ned Reeves was given his debut the following week, which I thought was a little premature given Jon Ceglar is still putting together strong performances in the reserves. The tallest player in Hawthorn’s history, Reeves attended around three quarters of the ruck contests and was quite impressive, while McEvoy took the back seat Against Pittonet and TDK, Reeves posted 22 hitouts (six to advantage), 13 disposals (eight contested), six intercept possessions, and took a few nice marks, including one contested mark in the backline to launch a Hawks goal. Hopefully, the Hawks keep giving games given the age profile of their other ruckman, 31 (McEvoy), 30 (Ceglar) and Reeves being just 22. He’s the son of the Hawks CEO, so you’d think his name is prominent on the team sheets from now on.
Andrew Phillips (-)
He’s not doing a whole lot wrong, Phillips – in fact he’s very consistent. Low possession numbers are probably the only thing that is holding him back from jumping a few ranks. Over the last fortnight, he was averaged 21 hitouts (six to advantage), eight disposals and 4.5 tackles. His scoreboard impact has been adequate, kicking a goal a game as well having six score involvements against North, making a decent contribution to the Dons big win.
Mark Blicavs / Esava Ratugolea (-)
The Cats have persisted with Blicavs as their main ruckman in recent weeks and it has paid dividends. He was quiet against Paddy Ryder which was expected, posting 17 hitouts, 11 disposals (10 contested) and six clearances. The following week against the Suns, Esava Ratugolea was brought back in the two big men put former Cat Zac Smith to the sword, with Blicavs finishing with a stat line of 34 hitouts (six to advantage), 18 disposals (10 contested), six tackles, marks, clearances, and a goal, while Ratugolea ably backed him up with 19 hitouts himself (nine to advantage), 11 disposals (nine contested), while both took a contested mark each.
Jordan Sweet (-)
As expected, the rookie Dog is finding it difficult to push his way up the rankings, although his last few games have been modest. He’s been well beaten in the hitout department (34 hitouts for himself vs 78 by the opposition) but played well around the ground, having four clearances and inside 50s against Port, and holding his own against Paddy Ryder a week later with six tackles and six marks.
Zac Smith / Caleb Graham (-)
It’s all I’ve asked for and the prodigal Sun has made his return. Caleb Graham might have played his last game as a ruckman for his career against the Big O, returning with 10 hitouts, 10 disposals, six intercept possessions and five marks. But the man of the moment is Zac Smith, the two-club journeyman who played for Gold Coast from 2011-2015, played with the Cats up until 2016, and then returned to the Sunshine State in 2021. In his last full season for the Cats, Smith averaged 15 disposals, 31 hitouts, and four clearances in 2017. In an injury-riddled career, highlighted by just six games played in the last two years, Smith finally made his return from a PCL injury sustained earlier this year. He was serviceable, finishing with 22 hitouts (eight to advantage), nine disposals, and kicked what was probably the goal of his career from the pocket of GMHBA stadium. Hopefully, this is the start of an injury free run for Smith as he could make a rise up the rankings in no time.