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The big men playing a big role in today's AFL

Melbourne could be 2018 premiership contenders. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Roar Rookie
8th August, 2016
5

The role of a genuine ruckman has never been more important for teams than during the 2016 season.

The biggest man on the ground has often been the barometer, the difference between winning and losing, depending on their influence on the game.

Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn is the most dominating ruckman in the league in recent rounds, and the most important player for the Demons this year.

On Saturday against the reining premiers Hawthorn, Gawn produced another perfect ruckman’s performance and steered his team to victory.

He was the most influential man on the ground. His 41 hit-outs, 11 marks and a goal proved pivotal in securing the Demons first win over Hawthorn in ten years.

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson gave Gawn high praise for his efforts against his side.

“It was one of the best second halves I’ve seen by a ruckman in a long, long time.”

The 24-year-old Demon has had a breakout season, just like many of his Melbourne teammates, and fans can finally see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Melbourne is a team on the rise, and finally has some spinal players who they can build around during the Simon Goodwin era.

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Young stars Jesse Hogan, Jack Watts, Tom McDonald and Jack Viney have jumped on Max Gawn’s back and taken their games to the next level.

The Demons are beginning to reek the rewards of their low finishes and high draft picks, with Angus Brayshaw, Christian Petracca, Sam Weideman and Hogan all gaining experience at AFL level.

This could be the group to lead the Demons back to the top in future.

Gawn has set the bar this season, he has played every game with heart and aggression and been a true cult hero that Melbourne teammates can rely on week after week.

He has truly worn the Jim Stynes number 11 with pride and honour.

While the Demons won’t participate in finals this season, they will finish with their best result since 2006.

Their inexperienced team sees them with ten players who have played less than 50 games, meaning they lack the consistency to stay with the top teams on a weekly basis.

This consistency will come as these young players continue to find their feet at the highest level, and their ageing stars will be able to take a back seat.

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North Melbourne is another team that relies on a large output from their premier ruckman, Todd Goldstein.

The All-Australian big man was dominating matches and was a major contributor to North winning their first nine matches.

Goldstein hasn’t been his normal self since the halfway mark of the season, struggling on and off with a knee injury and his form has declined.

Since Round 10, the Roos have won three games and lost seven, their form slump coincides with their tough draw and the injury to Goldstein.

While their first half of the season will warrant North playing finals, they have lost a lot of momentum with their tough draw, currently hang onto eighth spot.

There are a handful of ruckmen that fall in the top 20 most important players in the competition and are truly the barometer for their clubs. This includes Gawn (Melbourne), Goldstein (North), Sam Jacobs (Adelaide), Shane Mumford (GWS), Aaron Sandilands (Fremantle) and Stefan Martin (Brisbane).

Fremantle and Greater Western Sydney have been exposed in recent years when Sandilands and Mumford are out of the side.

The injury to Shane Mumford for the Giants last season effectively cost them a finals opportunity, their young list was not experienced enough to cover the loss of their best player.

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While the Giants are in a similar position this year to Melbourne, with young players able to assist their ageing stars, Fremantle have gone backwards in their development and seems that they are still too dependent on Sandilands.

The worrying sign for Fremantle is that Sandilands turns 34 in December, and it remains to be seen who his replacement will be.

Sandilands made his return from a long injury layoff in the Western Derby on Sunday, however his influence was completely blanketed by Nic Naitanui.

Sandilands was beaten in hit-outs (23-26), and only managed four marks around the ground.

In modern day football the ruckman is no longer a passenger, and the old saying “never handball to a ruckman” is becoming less relevant.

The rucking role is one that has developed with the game in recent years, the best ruckmen are no longer one-dimensional – as no player should be.

Their number one objective still remains giving their midfielders first use of the football.

However, their work rate and ground coverage is what takes a good ruckmen to a great ruckmen.

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