Welcome back to the ruck rankings for 2021! You know it’s almost the offseason when you see the annual ‘ruck merry go round’ trade article floating around on footy media. But here at The Mongrel Punt, we’re all about breaking down the present, so let’s get stuck into it.
RUCKMAN OF THE FORTNIGHT
Coming off arguably the toughest fixture for ruckman for the last two weeks, Nic Naitanui’s strong performances against some other ruckman of the year contenders earns him the top gong for this week. Personally, I was very much looking forward to he fared against Gawn. On a scrappy, wet night in the west, Nic Nat wasn’t the Eagles most dominant player, but beat Gawn in hitouts (29-25) and hitouts to advantage (12-8), to go with 12 disposals (nine contested), a goal, five clearances, and two marks (both contested). The two colossi of Western Australia then locked heads in the derby and provided an entertaining and even tussle. Nic Nat finished with 36 hitouts (16 to advantage), 15 disposals (13 contested), six score involvements, and an equal game-high seven clearances. Secondary ruckman Nathan Vardy has been providing ample support, averaging 11 hitouts in his last two games.
BEST OF THE REST
Improving before our very eyes is the mullet-rocking talisman, Sam Draper. I’ve always thought that if he shaved his moustache and cut his hair, he would look like a 200cm baby. Anyway, Draper has been the driving force behind Essendon’s clearances in the last few weeks. In the upset win over the Dogs, he had a whopping 39 hitouts (14 to advantage) against Tim English who was no match for him, along with a goal, an equal game-high nine score involvements, three marks and four clearances. His aggression and doggedness at stoppages gave his side the edge, and this was the tale of the game a week later against the Suns and Zac Smith, who Draper was just too physical and skilled for. In this game, he had 24 hitouts (seven to advantage), three marks (two contested), five clearances, and three inside 50s, as he led the stoppage domination.
Continuing the theme of commanding young ruckman is Sean Darcy who is back in the votes after an injury-riddled last month. Despite not missing games, Darcy has been nursing a knee injury in-game and has received support from Lloyd Meek. Their ruck contest split was almost 50-50 against the Lions, as Darcy recorded 29 hitouts (eight to advantage), 17 disposals (11 contested), a goal, five clearances, all from the centre, and six marks, including two contested and four intercepts. Meek had 13 hitouts with just one to advantage but kicked a goal to go with two marks. There was no clear best ruckman to come from the derby despite NicNat grabbing top gong, as Darcy was up for the challenge. He finished with 29 hitouts (11 contested), 17 disposals (11 contested), a goal, four tackles, seven score involvements, three marks (two intercepts), and an equalled NicNat’s game high clearance number (seven).
Oscar McInerney is on a mini tear as he attempts to separate the top five ruckman from the rest of the pack. In the Lions’ rematch against the Dockers, Big O got revenge on Darcy after the latter smacked him in their first bout. Despite losing the hitout count 29-23, Oscar had more to advantage (11) as he was able to clear space for his midfielders, resulting in effective clearances. He also had 17 disposals (11 contested), two goals, eight score involvements, seven clearances, three marks, and three rebound 50s. Against the Pies, McInerney and the Lions were able to reduce Grundy’s usual output on the ground, limiting him to just 15 disposals and zero marks, as the Lions had it their way for most of the night. Instead, it was McInerney doing the work around the ground, finishing with 16 disposals (12 contested), six score involvements, two marks, six clearances, three tackles, four inside 50s, and four rebound 50s. He did however lose the hitouts 37-32 and hitouts to advantage 13-8.
Last week’s ruckman of the fortnight, Max Gawn slots into the final vote of the week. Gawn marginally came off second best against NicNat, posting 25 hitouts (eight to advantage), three marks (two contested), five clearances, five inside 50s, and three tackles. Gawn was then opposed to the Crow’s rookie ruck in Kieran Strachan a week later, and only recorded one more hitout than him (26-25) and two fewer hitouts to advantage (4-7), but his follow up work was second to none, finishing with 19 disposals (14 contested), four tackles, four score involvements, and a game-high 10 clearances. Gawn’s low hitout numbers in this game could be attributed to the fact that Luke Jackson had 19 hitouts himself (six to advantage) in another impressive game from the youngster, who also had 16 disposals and two goals, following a 21 disposal (11 contested) and six marks (equal game-high three contested) effort against the Eagles the week prior.
Max Gawn – 35
Nic Naitanui – 29
Brodie Grundy – 28
Sean Darcy – 24
Oscar McInerney – 9
And the rest:
Todd Goldstein – 7
Marc Pittonet – 5
Sam Draper – 4
Reilly O’Brien, Paddy Ryder/Rowan Marshall – 3
Jarrod Witts, Toby Nankervis, Peter Ladhams, Tom Hickey- 2
Shane Mumford, Scott Lycett – 1
Despite one more batch of votes yet to be distributed, Gawn has built an unassailable lead and is therefore crowned ruckman of the year for 2021! There is still one more round to go, but Gawn has no doubt been one of the premier ruckman for the year once again, alongside Nic Naitanui. The makeup of second to fourth place is still yet to be decided as we go into the final round of the season.
To the overall rankings:
Nic Naitanui (+1)
Max Gawn (-1)
Sean Darcy (+1)
Brodie Grundy (-1)
Grundy manufactured an industrious effort against the Hawks big men in Ceglar and McEvoy, who have been tough to crack of late. Grundy racked up 31 hitouts (nine to advantage), 16 disposals (10 contested), a goal, a game high six tackles, six marks (two contested and two intercept), four clearances, and four score involvements. A performance like this would’ve placed him in the votes, but it was his effort against the Lions that disallows for this fortnight’s recognition. Despite having his way in the ruck with 37 hitouts and 13 to advantage, he was unable to impact in the air elsewhere, finishing with zero marks and seven contested possessions. Darcy Cameron continues to provide back up support, averaging 13 hitouts and five to advantage in his last two games.
Rowan Marshall (-)
Marshall keeps on producing some solid performances as the solo ruck. He was simply dominant, in the air and on the ground, against Tom Hickey, gathering 29 hitouts (seven to advantage), 25 disposals (including an equal game high 18 contested), eight intercepts, six marks (including three intercept), eight clearances, and three inside 50s. However, like Grundy, his second game was far from impressive, with the Cats reducing him to just nine disposals, 21 hitouts (eight to advantage) and three clearances but persevered all day to rack up 22 pressure acts, impressive for a big guy.
Oscar McInerney (+1)
Todd Goldstein (+1)
Like a fine wine, Goldy just gets better with age. He is in some fine hitout form, occupying most of the ruck contests for North in the last few rounds. While not dominating, the stats are impressive, averaging 34 hitouts (9.5 to advantage), 17 disposals, 5.5 marks, and four clearances in the last fortnight. He has had backup in the form of Campbell in round 21 and Walker in round 22, who recorded seven hitouts each.
Reilly O’Brien / Kieran Strachan (-2)
In another thrilling showdown, ROB and Lycett went head-to-head in fairly even game between the two, posting almost similar stats across the board. ROB pipped Lycett in hitouts (29-28), disposals (17-16), contested possessions (11-9), but lost the hitout to advantage count (7-8), to go with two marks, four clearances, and five rebound 50s. Unfortunately, ROB suffered a knee injury in the game, and was replaced by Kieran Strachan, who is interestingly the same age as ROB. In what looked like a tricky affair against Gawn, Strachan held his own, finishing with one less hitout (25-26) but more to advantage (7-4), to go with 11 disposals, two tackles, and five marks (two intercept).
Tom Hickey (-)
Hickey keeps getting the job done as the Swans consolidate their finals position. He was one of the Swans best against North as he quietly goes under the radar, averaging 24 hitouts (8.5 to advantage), 16 disposals (6.5 contested), six score involvements, four marks, four clearances, and four inside 50s in the last fortnight. He also went back to help his team against the Saints and racked up five rebound 50s, but this wasn’t enough to stop the onslaught of goals kicked on the Swans in round 21.
Scott Lycett / Peter Ladhams (-)
As previously mentioned, Lycett and ROB engaged in an evenly matched battle, with Lycett just falling short of ROB in the hitouts (28-29), disposals (16-17) and contested possessions (9-11). Lycett also had four clearances, five score involvements, four tackles, and four intercepts, while he received backup from Ladhams (four hitouts) and Dixon (five). Lycett was flying in the following game against Carlton, racking up 11 hitouts in the first quarter alone before tweaking his knee in the second quarter, and was subbed out in the fourth quarter. He finished with 10 disposals, 1.2, and three marks (including two inside 50), as Ladhams took over the main ruck role and was sublime, gathering 23 hitouts (nine to advantage), 17 disposals (12 contested), 1.1, four tackles (including a game high two inside 50), eight score involvements, and six marks (including an equal game high three contested). This just goes to show that if Lycett is unavailable for the finals series, then Ladhams has shown time and time again to be adequate back up.
Jon Ceglar / Ben McEvoy (+1)
It’ll be interesting to see what the Hawks do with their ruck stocks over the pre-season, as Ceglar has made the main ruck position his own in recent weeks as McEvoy sits forward, and Reeves waits in the wings. As impressive as Grundy was against the Hawks, Ceglar had his measure for most of the contest, posting 21 hitouts, 20 disposals, a game high 13 contested possessions, eight score involvements, eight clearances, and six marks (including three contested and two intercept), as he matched Grundy’s heroics around the ground. Ceglar was all over Tim English down in Tassie, racking up 34 hitouts (six to advantage), 17 disposals (14 contested), four marks (including an equal game high three contested), and six clearances, as the Hawks went +40 in the hitouts. Over the last two weeks, McEvoy has averaged 14.5 hitouts (six to advantage), 10.5 disposals, and four marks, as he becomes a handy ruck/forward swing for the Hawks.
Sam Draper (+1)
Kieran Briggs / Zach Sproule / Shane Mumford (-2)
Briggs and Sproule filled the Mumford-sized hole in round 21 to perfection, putting in a Mumford-like performance by racking up 37 pressure acts and 16 tackles between them in a Giant win over the Cats. They also combined for 23 hitouts (eight to advantage), 20 disposals (16 contested) and five marks, with Briggs collecting five clearances and Sproule kicking a goal. Mumford returned from his scheduled rest against the Tigers and continued ‘the pressure act’, recording 19 of them to go with 28 hitouts (five to advantage), four tackles, a goal, and five disposals, which were all handballs and all clearances. Mumford is certainly implementing his rough and tough mojo into his coaching tactics, evident in the way the other GWS rucks go about it.
Rhys Stanley (+3)
BANG! Stanley responded to a couple of poor outings in the weeks prior by recording back-to-back games of 31 hitouts and boosted himself back up the rankings. This may coincide in him returning to the sole ruck role, backed up by the likes of Blicavs (10 hitouts in round 21), Hawkins (eight in round 22) and Ratugolea (six in round 22). In this time, he has also averaged 12 hitouts to advantage, 18 disposals (10 contested), 6.5 score involvements, 5.5 clearances and 6.5 marks, in a welcome return to form for the Cats big man on the eve of finals. He also had five tackles and a goal against the Saints as he reduced the impact of Rowan Marshall.
Toby Nankervis (-1)
The last month or so hasn’t been pretty for the reigning premiers and their ruckman, sliding down to the bottom four in the rankings at the end of what was a strong year on the top half of the table. Nankervis’ tackle pressure was strong against North, finishing with five tackles and 24 pressure acts to go with 15 disposals (eight contested), three marks, and four clearances. He also recorded 15 hitouts, of which none were directed to advantage. His work in the air was better against the Giants, with him and Coleman Jones getting on top of Mumford, the two combining for 29 hitouts (14 to advantage), 28 disposals and eight marks (including three intercept).
Tom de Koning (-2)
TDK lowered his colours in what was expected to be an easy match up against the struggling Zac Smith. Smith had the better of TDK for the day, with TDK directing just one of his 20 hitouts to advantage, to go with eight disposals, three marks (including two inside 50) and five clearances. He was much better against Port despite the thrashing the Blues endured, gathering 23 hitouts (six to advantage), 15 disposals (10 contested), eight score involvements, five marks (including two intercept) and five clearances.
Zac Smith (+1)
As previously mentioned, Smith comfortably defeated TDK in their round 21 matchup, recording 31 hitouts (10 to advantage), 10 disposals (eight contested), a goal, six score involvements, two marks, and five clearances. The tables turned on him in the next week however, as he was the one to cop a beating, losing to Draper in all aspects of the match, having 18 hitouts (six to advantage), just five disposals (seven contested) and zero marks.
Tim English (-2)
English unfortunately returns to the bottom of the table after putting up some disappointing performances of late. Comfortably beaten by both of his opponents, the return of Stef Martin will be critical as the Dogs need to fix up their midfield issues ASAP. Against the Bombers, English had a credible 24 hitouts (nine to advantage), 13 disposals (nine contested), a goal, six score involvements, and four marks (including three inside 50), but Draper was just too aggressive for him on the day. Ceglar and McEvoy limited English to just 10 hitouts in difficult conditions in Tassie, to go with 10 disposals, four tackles, and five marks (two contested).