Today my list analysis and offseason preview series continues with Port Adelaide, a team which has now come achingly close to finals only to miss out for the second year in a row.
For nearly all of his eight-year career at West Coast, the 203-centimetre South Australian Scott Lycett was overshadowed.
He played in the shadow of two of the premier ruckmen in the league.
First Lycett toiled under the tutelage of Dean Cox, then after Cox’s retirement in 2014, Lycett would usually serve in a complementary role with the talented yet oft-injured Nic Naitanui in an Eagles line-up that made two grand finals in 2015 and 2018, winning one.
Lycett was always a solid if underrated ruckman.
He would serve in a lead ruck role for most of 2017 and 2018 while Naitanui was hampered by numerous ACL injuries, and was solid in this role.
He was never elite, but capable enough to survive at AFL level.
The 2018 season was a breakout year for the big man, who was to enter free agency in the coming summer as well.
But it was his form during the Eagles’ finals series that led to a mammoth contract from the Power, and to say this deal is paying dividends right now for Port Adelaide would be an understatement.
Even in Lycett’s best year – when he was the lead ruckman to end the regular season following a Naitanui injury – his statistics were below AFL averages, giving up 20 disposals, 41 hit-outs and six clearances to Max Gawn of Melbourne one week, and then 37 hit-outs, 19 possessions and eight clearances to Stefan Martin the next.
The finals was when Lycett turned the corner and earned his big money from the Power.
The big man became a household name for AFL fans following the Eagles’ preliminary final against the Melbourne Demons.
Facing Max Gawn would be a daunting task for any player, following a historic season where the Melbourne ruckman registered nearly 1200 total hit-outs, 20 Brownlow votes, and a spot in the All-Australian team.
But Lycett’s outstanding defensive work in that game turned Gawn into an afterthought, with the AFLPA player of the year finishing the game with just 11 touches.
Lycett then followed this up with another great game in the grand final.
Though Lycett’s 15 hit-outs in a dual ruck role with Nathan Vardy didn’t stand out, his work limiting another elite ruckman in Brodie Grundy to just ten disposals was a big part in West Coast winning their fourth premiership.
After four years of relying on the aging Paddy Ryder as the sole ruckman, Lycett’s home-state club Port Adelaide needed to provide him with some support, and they gave the 26-year old a big five-year offer to lure him back home, which he immediately accepted.
This year, Lycett’s hit-out and disposal game has improved, up to 23.6 hit-outs and 16.2 disposals a game – second amongst all ruckmen, trailing only Grundy.
But once again, it’s his defensive work that is shining the most.
With the new 6-6-6 rule and more law changes helping the big men coming into place, ruckmen are more important than ever.
There is more scope for ruckmen to get the ball straight out of ruck contests, meaning more clearances for the tall timber.
But Lycett isn’t giving up clearances, and he’s still dominating rival ruckmen defensively.
This is how his opponents have performed in the first five rounds of 2019.
It isn’t that Lycett is completely shutting down his opponents – something that is close to impossible with these new rules.
But Lycett has helped keep this ruckmen from dominating, which was especially important in the first game against Max Gawn.
Gawn was dominant last year. The 208-centimetre giant with midfielder skills is a nightmare match-up, and a large reason why many in the AFL community considered Melbourne to be a premiership favourite this year.
Lycett responded by shutting down Gawn on the way to a big 26-point win for the Power to start the season.
The three matches that vaulted Lycett to stardom were against Max Gawn (twice) and Brodie Grundy, the best ruckmen in the game.
Lycett performs best when the lights are brightest, and he plays at a high level against elite competition in the biggest games.
He was meant to provide support to Paddy Ryder, but has overtaken him as the Power’s No.1 ruckman following an outstanding start to the year.
Lycett will need to improve his hit-out averages and make more of an impact in attack if he wants to be considered an elite ruckman.
But with some of the scalps he’s claimed this year – including playing so well on last year’s AFLPA player of the year that Fox Footy commentator Jonathan Brown said that Max Gawn had been “bullied” by Scott Lycett – this under-the-radar recruit is no longer an afterthought or simply a solid squad player.
The AFL is a league of copycats, and with the new 6-6-6 rule, more teams are employing two specialist ruckmen around the ground.
Lycett’s outstanding defensive form in 2019 is turning him into the model of the specialist defensive ruckman, limiting the impact of the opposition’s No.1 ruck while producing a solid performance around the ground too.
He may not be a Gawn or Grundy type of player, but a few more great defensive performances this year and he will have surely earned the attention of opposing teams.