The Small Ball Revolution (a best 22 thread)

Ryan Buckland (just about the best footy writer going around), has used the term ‘small ball’ to describe the trend towards side filled with medium sized/smaller players and very few talls.

You know what else? Once confident in their systems, coaches Luke Beveridge and Damien Hardwick went all in on small ball, playing few key position players in their forward half and instead populating the forward 50 with mid-sized and small forwards who could bring the pressure and run the opposition off their feet.

The Bulldogs lost many of their tall forward options throughout the 2016 season, and turned to a cast of flankers and former midfielders to fill the forward half role. Jake Stringer played as a small forward in spite of his size, and Tom Boyd spent time rotating through the ruck.

The Tigers went even further, surrounding key forward Jack Riewoldt with four or five small forwards for the entire second half of the year. He was one out, the only man taller than 190 centimetres who spent time in the forward 50. And Riewoldt rarely left the forward half; 160 of his 305 touches came inside the stripe.

While there are many ways to skin a cat (the Crows still run a very tall structure), and not all ‘small ball’ game plans are the same, I think there is a definite trend towards this team structure. Talls are not totally out, but their key roles are intercept marking in defense, and providing a target up forward. Clunking contested marks is certainly a nice thing, but not if the behemoth clunking them can’t pressure if the ball hits the deck.

As I wandered home from Etihad today I again thought of the ineffectiveness of our forward press. We simply cannot trap the ball in our f50 in the way that other sides seems to make so easy. So I began to think about a ‘small ball’ best 22. The aim of the game is simple, pressure. Mid sized power midfielders rule the roost, medium forwards are generally preferenced over the big dogs, and ruck men had better be damned good or else you’re better off rolling with someone ‘undersized’.

Here’s my take:

B: Saad Hooker McKenna
HB: McGrath Hurley Ambrose
C: Heppell Zaharakis Mutch
HF: Tippa Stewart Fantasia
F: Green Stringer Laverde
FOL: Daniher Smith Parish
Interchange: Langford, Guelfi, Clarke, Zerrett


  • Goddard out - He would have been the perfect player for such a system in his prime, but right now he might as well be 200cm+
  • Daniher in the ruck - He’d lose the hit outs but have most giant rucks covered in the clearances. He would have license to fly for marks in defense and on the wing. Would be under instructions to bomb it long to Stringer at every opportunity. Rotates with Stewart.
  • Hooker plays the loose man. He guards the corridor. One the keys to beating opposition small ball is to only allow them the flanks.
  • Lav/Langford/Guelfi are all prototypical small ball players. Able to mark and be a threat forward but pressure and contribute around the ground.

That’s my ‘small ball’ best 22, what’s yours?

PS: The article is well worth a read.


Dodoro would have a heart attack if he saw this.

Why wouldn’t you go 3 rucks to stretch em?


Oh goody

Saad - Hartley - McG
Gleeson - Ambrose - Conor
Parish - Smith - The
Walla - Stewart - Stringer
RAZ - Joe - Fridge
TBell - Zerrett - Zaka
LAV - Clarke - Mutch - Guelfi

Points for dropping Hooker and Hurley (that’s the spirit!)

Fridge and Gleeson are both perfect small ballers, I left them out of my 22 as they are LTIs but they would definitely push for a spot

We were at our most dangerous in 17 when Green, Walla & Fanta were all fully fit and in form, the forward line pressure acts from your smalls are priceless in todays game.

Definitely. But why stop there? What if all 6 (or at least 5 of the 6) forwards were tackling beasts? I reckon I’ve seen a few teams pull that off recently, and we have the cattle to do it

Well worth a crack

I’m with ya on the SB Rev, add Colyer to the mix when he’s fit.

In many ways the Hird years forward line, with Hurley and Crameri as the main forwards was leaning this way. Guys who would pressure and fight for the ball to keep it locked in. Even if neither were massive marking targets, they were there to bring it to ground, but never get beaten in the contest.

Bring hirdy back


Hird certainly understood the importance of the press, and at times we had a pretty good one.

But he didn’t commit to it in the way dimma/Beveridge have. He even had that period of running three rucks.

Maybe just send Hurley to FF.

Hurley and Stringer as the marking targets

Joe at CHB

Agree that they are crucial to the style, and we have literally zero of these on the list who have proven AFL level ability.

It’s not entirely crazy, but I reckon that ship has sailed.

Vintage Crameri would be the perfect modern forward

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I think early the 3 rucks thing was an option, but by 2013 when the side was starting to play good football they’d moved away from that and were all in on the press.

No one has gone as far as Richmond, but Essendon were heading that way in that period. The Collingwood 2010 flag was entirely built on the press as well, and they set up to play the boundaries on the way in so as any contest that wasn’t won was halved to the boundary, allowing the press to be fully set up, and the ball retained in the area. Hird was definitely leaning that way in the 2013 side.

Vintage Crameri pretty much was the Stringer, or even Dusty role.

Good idea.

Except our smalls don’t put on any bit of pressure.

I’ve never seen the opposition waltz through our tackles like they do now.

We are physically and mentally weak as pis s

Took a while to get to the article. Interesting read.

Throwing Joe into the ruck makes sense at the moment. Our best options there at the moment get a pass mark at best while he is horribly out of form. Would love to see him run around all day on the ball.

Our problem is that we consistently draft HFF or HBF and hope to they turn into midfielders.

We are consistently beaten up around the ball, and thus the pressure on our backline is a constant.

The difference between growing up and playing midfield compared to those who grew up and played on a flank or wing and trying to play AFL midfield is massive. Look at Guelfi - a pure midfielder who actually knows how to position himself, get the ball in tight and dispose of it properly.

We have one PURE big inside mid on our list and he’s absolutely dominating the VFL. We need to get Clarke in ASAP. He WILL win the ball in the AFL. He WILL match it with the big mids of the AFL. And he WILL change the dynamic of our midfield.

*He won’t straight away obviously, but he needs time to get himself settled in the AFL. GIVE HIM GAMES.