Get rid of ruckmen

Here’s a fun stat from round 7 of AFL action:

From 9 games, only 3 games were won by teams that had the most hitouts.

In some cases a team absolutely dominated the hitout tally but still got thumped on the scoreboard… you know… where it actually matters. *cough Melbourne cough*.

YES! I WON THE HITOUTS! Too bad we lost by 50…

Hitouts are a rubbish, antiquated and deceptive statistic. The only ruck measure that matters is “Hits to Advantage” (HTA), when a ruck is able to direct the ball straight to a teammate for effective possession.

So if HTAs are all that really make any difference in ruck duels, why don’t we focus on them more?

Because most ruckmen in the AFL absolutely suck at HTAs, that’s why. Most ruck contests end with the ball travelling straight to another 50-50 contest on the ground between midfielders anyway. The skill of the ruckmen, for the most part, has only a modest impact on the outcome of the match.

That’s why most AFL teams should get rid of their ruckmen in most games.

The “pure” Ruckman is like an appendix. It served a purpose once upon a time, but it’s no longer needed and should be removed if it’s causing damage.



Unless you have a Dean-Cox-style ruckman (who is effectively another midfielder) there is a good chance your side is running around with a lumbering giant who might dominate the total hitout tally (so is seemingly doing his job) but whose skills elsewhere around the park are not quite up to scratch.

The league’s top Ruckmen average around 10-12 HTAs per match. That’s pretty good. If the game is stop-start with a lot of ballups or throwins, your ruckman is definitely pulling his weight if he can give you 3 or 4 HTAs every quarter.

But if you’ve got an average Ruckman, you’re getting at most around 7 or 8 HTAs per match, probably less if they’re up against a quality ruckman. I am wondering whether that is worth the hassle if you’re not getting a really good return from that player elsewhere.

Basically I think AFL teams need to use one of three tactics, depending on the talent they have at their disposal…

TACTIC 1: The Dean Cox Model

You’ve got a ruck who excels at HTAs. You’ve got a ruckmen who can get in amongst elite midfielders and hold his own with good footskills and running ability. You’ve got a ruckman who can go forward and kick a goal or go back and disrupt things significantly. You’ve got a ruckman who doesn’t fade in the fourth quarter. You’ve got gold. Hold on tight and don’t let go.**

The Yardstick

TACTIC 2: The Jarryd Roughead Model

Jarryd Roughead is a forward who can hold his own in the ruck. Basically his aim in the ruck is to deny the opponents a HTA. That’s not all that difficult. Slam a body into the other ruckman in the contest, make sure he can’t just pluck it out of the air without being tackled… do anything you can short of giving away a free kick… and you’re 90% of the way to preventing a HTA. A lot of solidly built players would be capable of that. You don’t need much in the way of special training.

A lot of other teams should use Roughead as a template… train one bulky forward, one bulky midfielder, and one bulky defender in “negating ruckwork.” Let them cover their respective third of the oval, meaning they don’t have to lumber all over the park and fade in the fourth quarter. All they have to do is prevent HTAs. When you’re not up against a Dean Cox, it’s really not all that hard, and you don’t suffer on the scoreboard.


TACTIC 3: The Geelong Model

A bit revolutionary, but bear with me. Central to this tactic is the fact that Geelong are basically the Spanish National Football Team of the AFL… they have an embarassing gluttony of midfield talent.

Collingwood (when Jolly is injured) are the same. Richmond are getting there. Since Kreuzer is arguably better as a forward you can throw Carlton into this mix too.

Whenever these sides are not up against an elite ruckman, these teams should just run out with 6 pure midfielders, forfiet the hitout tally, and still win the midfield because they’re playing “6 mids vs 5 mids + 1 lumbering oaf”

Do you really think Geelong are better off running out with Trent West’s 10 iffy disposals/20 total hitouts/6 HTA per game? Or would they be better off with an extra “pure” midfielder wreaking havoc around the park?

So when Geelong play West Coast… yes… they probably need Trent West’s height or Dean Cox is probably chalking up 20 HTA and giving West Coast a clear scoreboard advantage. But if Geelong are playing Richmond or St Kilda or Port Adelaide or Hawthorn (teams that struggle in the HTA department)… perhaps they don’t need Trent West taking the place of a midfielder who would have better skills around the park and would chalk up 20-odd disposals while giving his team a clear advantage in areas that matter more to the scoreboard than the ruck contest – in-and-under contests and the run-and-carry department.

Crap! It’s below my head. WHAT DO I DO NOW!?

What do you think? Do you think your team should subscribe to TACTIC 1, 2 or 3?

**This is why the Jolly trade kills me. Sydney and Collingwood were apparently arguing over which round draft pick Jolly is worth. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Darren Jolly, even back then, was a proven solid, AFL-calibre ruckman. He’s worth multiple Top 20 draft pick… in a weak draft year make that Top 10 picks. A proven AFL-calibre player is worth so much more than a couple of draft picks.
AFL clubs are obviously enamoured by potential, hoping to find the James “Diamond in the Rough Pick 79” Hird…so they hold onto draft picks for dear life… but the chances of that happening are close to zero. If I was Sydney I wouldn’t have given up Jolly for anything less than two first-round picks… plus cash… plus maybe Collingwood should’ve thrown in a Lexus for every Sydney player. And even then, I’m hesitating.

3 thoughts on “Get rid of ruckmen

  1. Interesting. Being an Eagles supporter, I think my team should stick to option number 1, and then next year, option 1A – the Nic Naitanui model!
    I do however see the logic in a negating ruckman, who won’t win the hit-outs, but also won’t lose too many HTA’s.
    An alternate to this would be the “third man up” option. For Melbourne, a Jeremy Howe type player with a huge leap should just try to soar above the ruckmen (from a boundary throw-in) and win the HTA that way.

  2. For Hawthorn, Hale is rubbish in the ruck and is only good for stopping others getting to the ball first. Hes already a negative ruckman! Baileys a bit green and I dont think ive ever seen him hit a target with a tap. We do better with Jordan Lewis going third man up. Might be worth explporing a match or two (maybe against GWS) without Hale or Bailey and just using Roughy up front/in the middle and Lake or Gibbo down back.

  3. Pingback: Most overrated moves in sport | Mike or The Don

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