Ruckmen - thoughts?

Blitz Gurus,

Please find below some ruminations on ruckmen, upon which I would appreciate your insight.

What do the below 15 ruckmen have in common?

Toby Nankervis
Scott Lycett
Jordan Roughead
Ben McEvoy
David Hale
Max Bailey
Shane Mumford
Brad Ottens
Darren Jolly
Mark Blake
Robert Campbell
Dean Cox
Dean Brogan
Clark Keating
John Barnes

If you answered they are all Premiership winners, well done. These are the starting rucks for all GF winners since 2000.

One thing I noticed looking at the list - and there is some fine players there – is that not many of them would lay claim to being one of the top few ruckmen in the competition. This is clearly open for debate, but broadly, it seems to me that the correlation between having a great ruckman and premiership success is weak from a statistical viewpoint.

Thinking about the current day rucks, those generally regarded as the best over the past few years – Grundy, Gawn, Natanui & Goldstein - have precisely 0 premierships between them, albeit Gawn may have a chance this year. If you believe in AFL ratings points, there isn’t a ruckman with a premiership in the top 10 performing rucks this year, although, again, that may change in a few weeks time.

This leads to a few possible conclusions.

  1. The difference between great and ordinary ruckmen is minimal
  2. Ruckwork is less influential in finals than H&A
  3. Having a great ruck can at times be detrimental - eg, a midfield with a poor ruck will better be better at sharking opposition taps
  4. Having a great ruck is a less effective spend of salary cap vs other positions – eg, Brodie Grundy
  5. Ruckmen performance is not well understood/measured
  6. Sample size is too small to draw firm conclusions- only 1 ruckman of 18 wins a premiership each year
  7. I’m reading far too much into this

There may be more.

Items 4 is interesting at this time of year. Is Grundy on $1m/year and a $300k/year midfielder a better use of resources than a $1m/year midfielder and $300k/year ruckman?

The other thing the majority of the post 2000 group have in common is being multiple club players. Only Bailey, Blake, Cox and Keating didn’t go on at least 2 clubs lists. Of those that appeared on multiple clubs lists:

Won Premiership With First Club:
Scott Lycett
Jordan Roughead
Robert Campbell
Dean Brogan

Won Premiership with 2nd or 3rd club:
Toby Nankervis
Ben McEvoy
David Hale
Shane Mumford
Darren Jolly (2nd & 3rd!)
Brad Ottens
John Barnes (2nd club, 2nd stint!)

Near enough to half of the premiership rucks of the last 2 decades were at their 2nd or 3rd club. Is there a learning/intellectual property aspect to this?

Whilst pondering this, I remembered Scott Wynd. As flawed as the Brownlow is, historically - at least as far back as I can be bothered going - it aligns with the great rucks don’t win premiership hypothesis. These are all the rucks who won Brownlows since 1960, 10 in total. None of them won a premiership.

Scott Wynd
Jim Stynes
Peter Moore
Barry Round
Graham Teasdale
Gary Dempsey
Graham Moss
Len Thompson
Noel Teasdale
John Schultz

I don’t put tonnes of value on this metric, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

What does it all mean? Do we look at them in the wrong way? Has the influence of a ruckman reduced as the game has got more professional?

Interested in your thoughts.


They’re tall, generally.


Need 'em I reckon.

Draper will be the greatest of all time, and win 7 premierships in a row.
Then what will the stats say?


Why are they called “ruckmen”?

because there’s more than one of them


I believe it was Barry Round who misheard the lyrics to James Reyne and Lyn Buckfield’s R.O.C.K. Rock, and went around saying, ‘I’m a ruck man.’
And the rest, as they say, is ruck and rover history.
And rover?
Ah, that’s another story.

Are you suggesting that Grant Thomas was right?

Or that Matthew Knights was onto something when he played NLM in the ruck against Adelaide in that final?

So not in the Knights school of finals team selection then?

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we’ve struck absolute gold with Draper.

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My take out from that: we should only pay Draper $300,000 and then trade him.

But if we trade him then he’ll become a premiership ruckman.

What to do??

Yes he is too good. We need a mediocre recycled ruckman to win a flag.

Yes but we need to trade him out to trade another in so that player is at their 2nd club.

A few thoughts in response.
From a self diagnosed bit of a ruck nerd, thanks to growing up seeing Moss, then the glory days of Madden.

Of all the points you raised I think this one has the most influence;

  1. Ruckmen performance is not well understood/measured

When I’m rating ruckmen I look at four key areas;

  • hit outs / taps to advantage
  • ability to help in ground ball & pack situations. Note this mightn’t be taking possession. It can be blocks, tackles, shepherds etc
  • ability to mark around the ground, preferably under pressure or contests
  • do they pose a danger in the forward line?

If I use those criteria then assessing your list of Premiership rucks, and supposed top rucks, starts to fall into an explicable order.

All those Premiership rucks were very good at at least two of the above criteria.* They might not have been the best of their era but were better than the average and certainly multi dimensional.
And in that sense, better rucks than some who commentators gushed over. Or were under rated, because their hit outs weren’t great, but they were very good at criteria 3 & 4. Ottens & Hale spring to mind here for example.

*Roughhead is the exception. I suppose I’d say here that Tom Boyd was their true ruck in the finals, with a once in a lifetime purple patch.

Rating current rucks
If I use the same criteria to rate supposed star contemporary rucks, Grundy is the odd one out.
He’s very good at one criteria - helping out with ground balls - but average or below average at the others.
I’ve said for ages he’s the most overrated ruck I’ve ever seen, and certainly not worth the money.
Again, a fundamental misunderstanding of what a ruck’s role is.

Regarding the question of are rucks worth it in finals.
One way to judge this is to ask, would the result be different if the rucks swapped teams?
In a lot of cases the answer is a pretty clear yes.
For example, swap Nankervis for Stanley, Mumford or Jacobs. Lycett & Vardy were much more rounded rucks than Grundy. Even swap Jolly for Gardiner in 2010 and you get the idea.

Finally re Brownlow medallists and rucks.
You could say a similar thing about mids & Brownlows really. Jobe, Fyfe, Ablett at the Suns, Neale, Mitchell etc etc.
Football is a team game.
And on that note it’s worth pointing out that of your list of Brownlow winning ruckmen, a bucketload played for Footscray. Enough said.


Rucks are of little importance until you don’t have one on a dry day and you get absolutely flogged.

Dogs have been bloody lucky this finals series but if they come up against Gawn on a sunny spring day he is going to absolutely massacre them.

Mrs didn’t know much about football a long time ago and heard the commentator say the Don Ruckman. From then on she thought there was a player named Don Ruckman.


I think it proves you absolutely don’t need the top ruckman in the comp to win a premiership - you really just need a big body who can compete with the opposition’s ruckman and negate their influence.

Obviously the connection with the midfielders and the sum of all parts is the most important aspect.

Teams who do not have a dominant ruckman find ways for their mids to work around it.
Bulldogs a fortnight ago.
Geelong… all year.
Richmond… low clearance team, post clearance turnover

There are 18 players on the field. Almost every player can be made “accountable” and many teams put extra work into dominant players both in the lead up and during the game if they get off the leash.

SMadden in the last quarter of the 1984 proves otherwise. His ruck work taps to Daisy Williams turned the game in the last quarter. He then dominated the 1985 GF to win the Norm Smith, when all the Dawks could put up against him was a back pocket specialist, David O’Halloran. This post may have no relevance to the OP, but a top ruckman is a weapon that can’t be disregarded as their work in the centre, can get the ball rolling to their team’s advantage first. When people talk about the great WEagles midfield Cox is always included. OTOH the ruck is rarely mentioned when discussion moves to the great BL midfield on 2001 - 2004.

Gawn has a huge part to play in the current series and looms as a huge road block to all the other teams involved this season.