The Tom Rockliff decision – Carlton or Port Adelaide?

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    AFL free agency opens for 2017 on Friday, and while the year has seen the list of prospective free agents whittled down significantly, there are still some big names there, including former Brisbane Lions captain Tom Rockliff.

    For the next few days I’m going to look at one player who might move clubs in detail per day. For those who have been following my list management series, I’ll be looking at Adelaide and Richmond after the trade period. For now, let’s talk Tom Rockliff.

    Footy changes pretty quickly – a few years ago I would’ve said with confidence that Rockliff would be a Lion for life. The passion and loyalty he showed for the club in those days was second to none.

    Now instead a bloke who once took a parting shot at players leaving the club on Twitter is set to walk out himself, with the word being that unless something changes dramatically soon, he’ll be playing at either Port Adelaide or Carlton next year.

    Why has this happened? We can only speculate, but personally I suspect that Brisbane have played some if not most of the role in Rockliff’s decision to leave.

    They’re aware that Rockliff leaving by free agency, netting them a top 20 compensation pick, is probably the best thing for the club, and that may well have led them to put in front of him a contract offer designed to prompt thoughts of more lucrative possibilities elsewhere.

    Footy isn’t entirely a business, but it’s at least a little partially a business, and even a romantic loyalist knows how to read the writing on the wall – and when it’s a young man starting a family, a larger financial offer is the sensible decision rather than a greedy one.

    It’s taken some time for likely destinations to emerge however. Port Adelaide were first mentioned a few months ago, Carlton only in the past few weeks.

    Rockliff has gone through the classic cycle in the AFL of being underrated, to being overrated, to now being so often criticised as overrated that he’s become underrated again.

    He’s a game-mashing inside midfielder who can win clearances and rack up possession like few others – and he’s not a bad pinch-hitter up forward, either. He is a limited player in some respects but what he’s good at, he’s very good at, and you know he’ll deliver with consistency and reliability.


    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    For this reason alone he’s a perfect fit at Carlton. They’re looking for mature midfielders who can protect the kids long enough for them to develop, and Rockliff offers this in spades.

    He’ll be 28 when the next season starts so it’s reasonable to ask if he’s at all likely to play in Carlton’s next premiership. Conventional wisdom would say no, but conventional wisdom hasn’t gotten a flag right in at least two years.

    However Rockliff isn’t just a logical fit for Carlton in an on-field sense – he’s also an acquisition that, despite his age, makes perfect sense for their overall list strategy.

    When I reviewed Carlton’s list in August I said that the best move this offseason would be for the Blues to trade Bryce Gibbs and sign Tom Rockliff to replace a decent portion of his output. To toot my own horn a little, this was before news of Carlton having a genuine interest came out.

    It’s simple logic – trading Bryce Gibbs will net the Blues draft picks, but because Rockliff is a free agent, signing him won’t cost them any. If the Blues can spin whatever they get for Gibbs into a trade for Devon Smith and Matthew Kennedy, then they’re effectively getting three quality players (two of them quite young) for one – it’s got my thumbs up.

    As for Port Adelaide, they would certainly benefit from having Rockliff in the side but personally, I don’t believe he is the smart choice for them to recruit.

    They’ve got some great contested ball winners already and while it’s always handy to add more depth in that area, they surely only have so much more room in the salary cap to spend, and have to do this on their top priorities.

    For mine, their number one focus should be finding more players who can kick goals – and unless they plan to reinvent Rockliff as a high half forward, which isn’t the worst idea but not the best one either, this should probably rule him out.

    On top of that, signing Rockliff – or Steven Motlop for that matter – will immediately cancel out any free agency compensation they might have otherwise received for the impending departure of Jackson Trengove.

    That would only be worth a second-round pick at best but in a season where Port have already traded away their first-round pick, something, anything, is better than nothing.

    Whether it’s a wise move or not it appears that Port certainly are putting in an offer to Rockliff, but they’re also reportedly targetting Motlop and Jack Watts, and I doubt they’ve got the salary cap space available to bring in all three.

    Tom Rockliff Brisbane Lions AFL 2017

    (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

    As for Rockliff’s perspective the decision likely comes down to two factors – the chances of onfield success, and the best choice for the future of his young family.

    In nine seasons and 154 games Rockliff has never had the chance to play in a finals match, never even gotten close really, and so the chance to have some immediate success is something that will surely be tempting.

    That is obviously more likely at Port Adelaide than it is at Carlton, given the respective finishes of both clubs last year, though if Rockliff can play out another four or five years he’s every chance of experiencing September footy at the Blues.

    He has to be aware that Carlton are not recruiting him with the idea of him being a premiership player however, but as a mature player who can guide a developing young generation.

    Port Adelaide on the other hand very much are looking at him as someone who could play a premiership side as soon as 2018.

    As for what the best choice is for Rockliff on a financial level, this is something we can only speculate on without knowing the strength of the relevant offers. Carlton would certainly have the salary cap room available to make a larger offer than Port Adelaide, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they have.

    Carlton may also have some appeal as being located in Rockliff’s native Victoria, which would presumably place Rockliff much closer to the rest of his family than Port Adelaide, a consideration which goes beyond the financial component of the deal.

    My tip? Port Adelaide have many targets this year and surely cannot afford all of them, so they will have to work out an order of priority at some point. If Rockliff is not at the top of it, then he will most likely sign a deal with the Blues.

    Expect that to land Brisbane either an end-of-first-round or second-round compensation draft pick. Given they finished on the bottom of the ladder, it makes no difference – they’ll have picks 18 and 19 either way.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (95)

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 11:47am
      Macca said | October 3rd 2017 @ 11:47am | ! Report

      Good summary Josh and you deserve to toot your own horn on the blues/Rockliff link.

      I must admit I was dubious on it to begin with but I have come around and see a benefit for the blues if Gibbs stays or goes.

      My preference would still be for Gibbs to stay, pick up Rockliff and say Paddy Dow at 3 and if we can get either Kennedy or Smith or both somehow than that’s a bonus. A midfield of Kreuzer, Murphy, Gibbs, Cripps Rockliff and Ed Curnow supported by the likes of Cuningham, SPS & Dow with some pinch hitting from the likes of Fisher, Pickett and C Curnow is far from dominant but if the senior players all stay fit should see the blues be competitive most weeks.

      • October 3rd 2017 @ 2:08pm
        Birdman said | October 3rd 2017 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

        just like Collingwood who have a rolled gold midfield but strangely are going backwards….

        • October 3rd 2017 @ 2:13pm
          Macca said | October 3rd 2017 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

          Birdman – There is a massive difference between the Pies and the Blues – the coach!

          • October 3rd 2017 @ 2:54pm
            Birdman said | October 3rd 2017 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

            I’ll give you that Macca but list balance is also critical and it looks to me your club could be ‘over-fixing’ a deficit in the midfield just like the Pies have in recent years.

            • October 3rd 2017 @ 3:11pm
              Macca said | October 3rd 2017 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

              Birdman – The last 2 years have demonstrated pretty clearly that the blues need more depth in the midfield – in 2016 the lost Murphy and stopped winning, in 2017 they lost Cripps and Curnow and stopped winning.
              They finished last for clearances on average in the afl in 2017, 16th for centre clearances, 15th for contested possession, last for total possession and last for inside 50’s – I don’t think we are in any danger of over fixing the issue.

              On list balance in the last couple of years we have built a pretty solid if young backline with Docherty, Weitering, Williamson, Plowman, Marchbank, Jones & Byrne (plus MacReadie) and we have put in place some key components of the forward line in McKay, C Curnow, Silvagni, Pickett, Fisher (plus possibly Kerr) along with Wright and obviously Casboult but they need time to develop and I believe if we went after more forwards we could be over fixing.

              Also the 10 oldest players on the blues list includes E Curnow, Murphy, Gibbs & Thomas the mid field is the area that will need replacing first. (some of the others aren’t in the best 22 like White, Palmer & Rowe and A Silvagni who is a rookie)

              Throw in that Gibbs, Cripps, Murphy and Rockliff can all be very dangerous resting forward (Gibbs and Rockliff combined have kicked 66 goals in the last 2 years in bottom sides) and I am pretty comfortable.

              • October 3rd 2017 @ 7:21pm
                Don Freo said | October 3rd 2017 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

                A bit unfair, Macca. Many Carlton folk believe Bolton is improving but, yeah, I agree that Bucks gives Collingwood the edge.

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 1:56pm
      Peter the Scribe said | October 3rd 2017 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

      If he ever wants to play finals it’s an easy choice – Port.

      • October 3rd 2017 @ 2:48pm
        Macca said | October 3rd 2017 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

        Pete -who has played in more finals series in the last decade Port or Carlton?

        • October 3rd 2017 @ 7:24pm
          Don Freo said | October 3rd 2017 @ 7:24pm | ! Report

          Rockliff’s career is not going to last another decade. If he wants finals in the next 4 or 5 years – hmmm – neither of those teams would fulfill that dream.

          Big fish, small pond.

      • October 3rd 2017 @ 5:21pm
        David C said | October 3rd 2017 @ 5:21pm | ! Report

        Can’t see Rocky relocating a young family to Port unless its a mega offer, and Port don’t have the cash available for a mega offer. He’ll move to Melbourne or stay in Brisbane which gives Carlton a pretty good chance of getting him.

        • October 4th 2017 @ 7:19am
          David C said | October 4th 2017 @ 7:19am | ! Report

          Sun Herald reporting Port has won, wait a couple of days for confirmation.

      • October 4th 2017 @ 12:31pm
        Gecko said | October 4th 2017 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

        If he wants to play at a club where he’s a good fit and where a premiership is possible, he could sound out the Eagles. They need hard midfielders and they need to keep their window open while Kennedy, Shuey and Hurn are in their prime.

        • October 4th 2017 @ 12:35pm
          Don Freo said | October 4th 2017 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

          …and he catches up with his bestie, Redden.

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 2:00pm
      WAYNE OATES said | October 3rd 2017 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

      A very good article about the Tom Rockliff situation Josh.

      I am surprised North Melbourne did not make a play for Rockliff after they missed out on Dusty Martin.and Kelly from


      When he does decide where he is going it will be interesting to see if Brisbane match the amount of money Port or

      Carlton offer him.

      This is where you made a very good point Josh. Maybe the Lions wont be all that disappointed if he does depart.

      After all they are going to need some salary cap space if Luke Hodge and Charlie Cameron head to Brisbane.

      One thing for Port and Carlton (and even Brisbane if he did decide to remain there) to be wary of is his fitness. He had

      injury problems this year and recently had end of season shoulder surgery.

    • Roar Rookie

      October 3rd 2017 @ 3:48pm
      Pedro The Fisherman said | October 3rd 2017 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

      Sorry – posted 2x and can’t seem to delete.

    • Roar Rookie

      October 3rd 2017 @ 3:48pm
      Pedro The Fisherman said | October 3rd 2017 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

      Rockliff will go to the club offering the highest salary it seems and that may be any of a number of clubs including Port and Carlton. If he wants to play at a club that could offer success in the near term then it would be Port (of those 2) but other clubs probably in front in that regard. Richmond, Adelaide, Geelong, GWS …

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 4:47pm
      Dave said | October 3rd 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

      And what happens to your theory when Bryce and Tom both pull on the navy blue in 2018? Gibb’s is a required contracted player. Why is that so hard to understand?

      • October 3rd 2017 @ 5:11pm
        TH said | October 3rd 2017 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

        He has come out and said he doesn’t plan on leaving too.

        • October 3rd 2017 @ 5:53pm
          Mattyb said | October 3rd 2017 @ 5:53pm | ! Report

          If Gibbs stays I can’t really see any purpose in getting Rockliff unless Carlton think their premiership window is opening or they’re starting to blink because of the membership issue.
          The membership issue is quite interesting,Carlton now have only around 6k more members than StKilda and North which is damning and must be of some concern. Richmond,Collingwood and Hawthorn now have 25k more while even Essendon have 20k more despite their own issues.
          I could see Richmonds rising to 80-90k next year while the blues will do well to maintain 50k on the back of again going backwards,so the gaps rapidly growing.I’m sure there would be some concerns and discussion at board level.

          • October 3rd 2017 @ 10:14pm
            Macca said | October 3rd 2017 @ 10:14pm | ! Report

            Mattyb – the blues membership increased in 2017 and they were 11th in the league, roughly 3k up on the reigning premiers the Bulldogs, 8k up on St Kilda and 10k up on North. They were also only about 4K down on Geelong and 6k down on Adelaide.

            They were also 7th on the ladder of attendance.

            All in all that is pretty reasonable for a team expected to be bottom 4 – nice of you to be concerned though

            • October 3rd 2017 @ 10:26pm
              Mattyb said | October 3rd 2017 @ 10:26pm | ! Report

              0.3 increase and slipping further behind the other Vic clubs I’ve mentioned. The membership issue inside the club is huge,how can you continue to ignore so much? How low have standards dropped?

              • October 3rd 2017 @ 10:49pm
                Macca said | October 3rd 2017 @ 10:49pm | ! Report

                Small increase this year on top of a 3k increase th year before, above the reigning premier, not far below teams that have hardly missed a finals series in more than a decade – considering the expectations on the blues the last coup,e of years it is hardly a crisis – what would Ben more concerning is how a team that one the premiership last year couldn’t muster more members than a team expected to finish bottom 4. How low have your standards dropped?

          • October 3rd 2017 @ 11:52pm
            Darren said | October 3rd 2017 @ 11:52pm | ! Report

            To be fair MattyB Carlton have always been a low membership/high support team. Their figures now are historically very high. I don’t think it would be a concern.

      • October 3rd 2017 @ 5:34pm
        Kane said | October 3rd 2017 @ 5:34pm | ! Report

        I hope Gibbs stays and Rocky also comes, it will only help the development of the young blokes that we’ve got.

        • October 3rd 2017 @ 6:05pm
          Mattyb said | October 3rd 2017 @ 6:05pm | ! Report

          Kane,you don’t think it will hinder the development of the young players and the long term growth of what’s a really thin list? Surely Murphy,Gibbs,Cripps,Thomas and Palmer is enough listed experience to help the young players,Docherty can also go through the midfield.Also the 10th and 11th GWS recruits in Kennedy and Smith,if they come aren’t exactly fresh faced kids.
          Gibbs and Rockliff seem more one or the other,the Gibbs out will be good for the blues,like the article says,get 3 players for the price of one,and Gibbs has never been AA so if Carlton can get a first round pick that would be a big help going forward.

          • October 3rd 2017 @ 10:16pm
            Macca said | October 3rd 2017 @ 10:16pm | ! Report

            Kennedy has 2 years in the system – thatqualifies as experienced for you?

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