Carlton AFLW coach Daniel Harford has emphatically dismissed Collingwood defender Stacey Livingstone’s description of star Blues forward Tayla Harris as “useless”.
Three claims were frequently made in 2015 that list managers should not believe.
1. You need to pay big money for a big forward
Wrong. Even unskilled tall forwards get a game nowadays, and they’re a dime a dozen. Save your big money for the little guys with rare skills.
Tall forwards are still crucial to a team’s forward structure, but taking marks and kicking goals is no longer their primary role. They just have to bring the long bombs to the ground and apply pressure after the ball hits the ground.
For this new role, it’s more important to have a big body and mobility than marking and kicking skills. Travis Cloke and Joe Daniher are vital to their respective teams’ forward structures, even though neither can kick straight. Jack Riewoldt could always kick straight but was becoming a second-rate full forward until he adapted to the changing role, vastly improving his mobility – particularly his follow-up after the ball hit the ground.
Raw, young recruits can fill the full forward role quickly, they just need a big body and mobility. Look at how quickly Jesse Hogan, Josh Bruce, Jeremy Cameron, Cam McCarthy, Tom Lynch and Charlie Dixon have all cemented a place in their respective forward lines. Paddy McCartin, Tom Boyd, James Stewart and Darcy Moore are likely to cement their place in 2016.
Contrast this fast-tracking with the role of the modern day ruck, where many years of experience are required to compete at the top level. Quick development means there’s a glut of tall forwards.
The glut will continue. Some clubs, like Greater Western Sydney, Richmond and the Swans have an oversupply. And plenty of big forwards seem to be seeking new clubs at the end of 2015 – take your pick from Charlie Dixon, Cam McCarthy, John Butcher and John Paton.
The end-of-season draft is also likely to yield several big, mobile forwards who, the way forward lines are structured nowadays, can slot into a senior role in 2016.
With such a glut, forwards like Boyd, Cloke and Kurt Tippett are being paid overs. Don’t pay overs for a key forward whose prime role nowadays is little more than a mobile spillage tower. Spend your salary cap on a less common commodity, like a classy ball user.
2. As teams become more attacking, there’s less need for taggers
Wrong. In early 2015, it seemed the traditional tagger had gone the way of the dodo. Key taggers like Ryan Crowley, Brent McCaffer, Heath Hocking and Scott Selwood were nowhere to be seen. Others like Liam Picken and Bernie Vince had cast off their tagging roles and were excelling as attacking midfielders.
Attacking teams like West Coast and Footscray were rising from the abyss. Gary Lyon in April 2015 was moved to proclaim the death knell of taggers.
But in the second half of the season tagging was resuscitated. Gary Ablett came back briefly from injury and immediately received the hard tag. Heath Hocking and Scott Selwood returned from injury while GWS’s Thomas Bugg, Melbourne’s Jack Viney and North Melbourne’s Ben Jacobs emerged as the game’s new frontline taggers.
Coaches’ attitudes to tagging were not changing as dramatically as we first thought. Perhaps they were reverting to the Liam Shiels model at Hawthorn, whereby the tagger’s role varied from a loose tag to a hard tag, depending on the opponent. But as long as there are certain players whose classy ball-use is key to their team’s success, there will be a need for taggers.
This was underlined on the weekend when Kangaroos tagger Ben Jacobs dispatched Tiger captain Trent Cotchin.
A good tagger in your team is worth more than you think.
3. Aggressive players are still keys
Wrong. In recent years, the AFL has introduced rules against sling tackles and diving into shins. And if a player slips low as you bump him, you risk getting suspended. The era of hard-nut footballers is coming to an end.
These changes bode well for outside runners like Andrew Gaff and the Hill brothers, and for the lightly built forward pocket like Eddie Betts, Michael Walters or Mark LeCras.
They do not bode so well for players like Brisbane’s Mitch Robertson and Collingwood’s Tyson Goldsack, who have made a career out of kamikaze attacks on packs. They even threaten to curb the aggression of Buddy Franklin and Luke Hodge, who used bone-crunching bumps as a weapon of choice.
If you’re investing some salary cap in a player who can bring aggression to your team, you’re a decade too late. A better investment for 2016 is a skilled, break-the-lines footballer, or a slippery little goal sneak.
List managers beware – your big money for 2016 should be spent on skills, not size and aggression.