As the modern game has progressed, so as the ruck position. Never before has so much been asked of the teams’ big men – having them being asked to tap, rove, defend and attack all at once, a versatile skillset has become key for any star ruckman.
With all of that being said, we have decided to rank each teams’ best #1 ruckman, purely from an individual standpoint and based on their form for this season.
#1 Max Gawn – Melbourne FC
It can be no question that Max Gawn is once again the best ruckman in the competition. Having been considered as such for the better part of the last four seasons, Gawn is having another stellar season as the main man in the middle for the slowly resurgent Demons.
The big man is enjoying an elite statistical performance as a ruckman, hauling in 17 disposals per game and 11 hitouts to advantage, forming a devastating partnership from the stoppage with the in-form Christian Petracca.
It’s hard to overstate Gawn’s value to his side. Melbourne are within a sniff of returning to the finals, and if they have any aspirations to get back to what their 2018 potential suggested, a lot of it rests on the efforts of their captain.
#2 Todd Goldstein – North Melbourne FC
For all of North Melbourne’s faults and problems that they’ve had this year, none of the blame can be levied on Todd Goldstein’s shoulders. The ever reliable ruckman for North is enjoyed a fine season, in what many could call a career ‘renaissance’, given his age and ability to continue to perform at a high level.
Goldstein has averaged 15 touches and 34 hitouts, on top of 10 of those touches being contested and over half of them being kicks. Goldy is also showcasing his elite endurance, rarely getting any time off the ground, owing to his necessity at the heart of the middle for North Melbourne.
It also has to be said that given the problem area for North Melbourne being their engine room, and what it’s capable of, it’s telling that Goldstein can still perform as an elite ruckman despite the lack of depth and class around him.
#3 Brodie Grundy – Collingwood FC
For all of the praise that has been levelled at Brodie Grundy’s versatility and still untapped potential, he’s had a ‘down’ season thus far. Perhaps this is owing to the lofty standards he’s set himself over the last 3 seasons, where he’d comfortably placed himself alongside Max Gawn for contention over being the league’s best ruckman.
In a ‘down’ year, Grundy is still averaging his usual haul of 16 touches, 34 hitouts and 9 hitouts to advantage. Unfortunately for the versatile big man, his kicking and marking have each dropped off from his career averages, where his overall influence on games isn’t as felt nor as dominant as we would normally expect from him. In saying that, as aforementioned it is a testament to just how good he is that we expect astronomical figures from him, to match his lofty standards.
Grundy has suffered from the injuries around him, as his co-stars in the Collingwood engine room are falling apart around him each week, so some slack has to be cut for Grundy. Granted, he has been outperformed on some occasions, no occasion more significant than their loss to West Coast, where Grundy’s impact was nullified. Still, it is no question that he remains an elite ruckman.
#4 Tim English – Western Bulldogs
Few players this season have made the leap in their abilities, as much as Tim English has for the Bulldogs. Ruck has been a problem area for some time for the Bulldogs – even going back to the Premiership in 2016 – but English is now ready to fill that void permanently, given the stellar season he’s enjoyed.
English has improved in leaps and bounds, upping his impact in just about every metric imaginable. English is enjoying a career-best season across the board, averaging 16 disposals and a staggering 5 marks per game. Though his hitout numbers are still left to be desired, his ability to roam around the ground in the mould of the modern, athletic ruckman has served his team exponentially.
Given his young age, English still has plenty of room left to grow, but his play this season has demonstrated that there is a lot to be excited about if you’re a fan of the Bulldogs.
#5 Reilly O’brien – Adelaide Crows
Social media gaffs aside, O’brien has a lot to be proud of this season, given his precarious position as the main ruckman for the league’s worst side. Similarly to Todd Goldstein, his team’s woes cannot be placed upon his shoulders, for he has performed admirably given the circumstances.
Tasked with the #1 ruck role following the departure of Sam Jacobs, O’Brien has stepped in without too much of a hassle, and given the shortness of stars around him, he has made to with what is currently at his disposal. O’Brien has averaged a solid 15 touches, 8 of them handballs, as well as 4 tackles. Like English, his hitouts are lacking compared to the elites, but his overall versatility helps him win favour among fans of footy.
We can all smile and laugh at the gaff involving Nic Naitanui, but truth be told O’Brien performed fantastically on that day, and will only get better given his age and rebuilding process his team are in the middle in.
#6 Marc Pittonet
No one could’ve seen this rise coming. After Matthew Kreuzer has been plagued again with another injury forcing him to the sidelines, Pittonet was thrown in to fill in the ruck spot for the Blues, but he’s done more than just ‘fill in’, given that he’s showcased his potential after being thrust into the team.
Meagre disposal statistics aside, Pittonet is averaging a cool 26 hitouts per game and 8 hitouts to advantage, as he slowly forms chemistry and understanding with the growing number of star Carlton midfielders, not just named Patrick Cripps.
Pittonet is able to give his teammates first grab at the footy, which allows them the opportunity to penetrate the forward 50 and gives Carlton goal-scoring potential that they’ve not enjoyed in years. It’s up to our imagination to see what potential Pittonet holds, when he’s given ample time to prepare and is not just thrust in out of necessity.
#7 Nic Naitanui – West Coast Eagles
Just for sheer volume, Nic Nat is right up there with the very best of them. It’s wonderful for us all to see him returning to consistent footy, following multiple knee surgeries that threatened his career.
So far his play this season has been uninterrupted and West Coast in recent weeks have been better off for it. His stats do not quite jump out at your, with an average 10 touches per game and a decent 29 hit outs, but this is all with approximately 65% time on the ground for the season. The management has been for his knees, but when he is on the field he’s as impactful as ever.
Truth be told, Nic Nat is really just being ‘load managed’ and it’s still enough to allow his midfielders to flourish. West Coast’s uptick in form has coincided with Naitanui’s consistent play, culminating in their demolition of Collingwood, where Naitanui outplayed Grundy despite not being on the field for nearly as long. This has been the high-flier’s best form since his last knee reconstruction.
#8 Jarrod Witts – Gold Coast Suns
All of the talk surrounding the surprising rise of the Suns has centred around the prodigious talents of Matt Rowell and Izak Rankine, but their veteran contributions cannot be understated – none more so than that of their captain, Jarrod Witts.
Always a solid performer, even in their dower years, Witts has kept up the good form and shown no drop-offs in his play, and seems to be better off for it now that things around him are forming together. For the season, Witts has been solid with 29 hitouts per game, 8 to advantage and 4 marks. He also formed a solid connection in the centre with Rowell before the latter’s shoulder injury, but still Witts hasn’t suffered given his star midfielder is no longer by his side.
It seems as though the Suns will continue to compete for the remainder of the season and Witt’s form will be thanked for it, given his reliable performances each week.
#9 Paddy Ryder – St Kilda
If this was compiled a few years back, and if Ryder had more consistent game time, he’d for sure be ranked higher. However, given the Saints have been rotating ruckmen between the likes of Ryder and Marshall, with the former having been dropped on a couple of occasions, it was hard to rank him any higher for this reason.
But make no mistake that he’s been on song whenever he’s been given the chance to show his value to his new side. His work as a ruckman is down from what is expected of him, being that he’s only operating at 8 touches per game and 21 hit outs per game, however it’s his versatility and ability to be sent forward that allows the Saints new dimensions from which to attack teams with, given the pairing of him and Rowan Marshall.
For what it’s worth, Ryder’s 9 hitouts to advantage is still among the best in the league, but it’s his ability to go forward that offers a new dynamic for the Saints. Considering we just saw him contribute big time in a big win against his former club, along his towering twin in Marshall, St Kilda look to have found their ruck rotation.
#10 Sean Darcy – Fremantle
Darcy was touted to be the replacement for Aaron Sandilands, once he broke into the side and became their permanent ruckman. The large ruck did show flashes of promise in his young career, but has suffered from a bit of a form slip this season.
Unfortunately, Darcy has gone down in every metric, putting up a measly 7 touches per game along with only 20 hitouts per game. Granted, he is playing under a brand new coach, in a new and shifting system, all the while his midfield has chopped and changed – no less than with Nat Fyfe of all players missing time due to hamstring problems. Sean Darcy cannot be at fault for all of his woes.
He is till only 22, which is a baby age for a ruckman, so time is still on his side and he can afford any slips in form. The hope for Freo is that he can rediscover himself if not this year, then in the next year and the years after that.
#11 Scott Lycett – Port Adelaide
Scott Lycett can still hold his head up high, knowing that he is a premiership ruckman. In his first season with Port Adelaide last year, Lycett enjoyed his best individual season to date, forming a devastating role as a ruck/forward utility player, capable of changing the dynamic of the game.
This season, despite Port’s hot start to the year, Lycett hasn’t quite enjoyed the same level of success and form that he would expect of himself. His work around the ground has lowered down to just 11 touches per game and only 1 mark, and he has yet to get a goal on the board. He has also been dropped on two occasions, with Ken Hinkley willing to experiment and throw curveballs in order to figure out his best ruck dynamic.
In saying all of that, Lycett is still decently performing at 24 hitouts per game, with 8 to advantage, a decent amount given the uncertainty around his position. Port would be hoping he can return to his best form if they are serious about a flag push.
#12 Callum Sinclair – Sydney Swans
Sinclair can hold his head up high as a solid ruckman, even if ill form and injury have hampered his successes in recent times. For what it’s worth, this season hasn’t been his best, but like a lot of rucks he has been the victim of turbulence and chaos around his football club.
He’s posted below average statistics in the way of 8 touches per game and only 20 hitouts, without ever really having a significant impact on the results of his team. Sinclair has simply been far below his usual self from past years, netting him a place in the bottom section of #1 rucks across the competition.
#13 Ivan Soldo – Richmond FC
Soldo is still the reigning premiership ruckman, so he does have that going for him. However, this season has been tame for what he was capable of in previous years, particularly last year, where he formed a strong two-headed ruck combo with Toby Nankervis.
This season, though, Soldo has been off the pace, with just 7 touches per game, 23 hitouts and only 5 of them to advantage. Slack can be given in the way of injuries to just about everyone on his team, with the Richmond lineup itself being a mystery each week. Still, Soldo’s place is set but not necessarily guaranteed, given that Nankervis can always usurp him, as well as ruck time being shared between Mabior Chol and Noah Balta.
#14 Stefan Martin – Brisbane Lions
Throughout his career, Stefan Martin has been an underrated performer for the Lions, exhibiting great tap work and running around the ground to get the job done as a ruckman. Unfortunately, he’s had quite the down year for his club, putting up his worst numbers thus far. It seems as though his age and injuries are starting to catch up with him.
For the season, Martin’s only been able to muster 6 touches and 18 hitouts – far below his high standards – whilst he’s been unable to maintain a consistent spot in the side due to his health and fitness. Slowly, his spot is being taken up by the big man in Oscar McInerney.
#15 Darcy Fort – Geelong FC
Ruck has been, and will continue to be a problem for Geelong, for the foreseeable future. By definition, Fort has served as his side’s #1 ruckman, but it’s a spot that hasn’t quite been as cemented and concrete as it appears.
Fort’s put up mediocre statistics for an AFL ruckman with just 9 touches and 21 hitouts per game – though it is his best season statistically. However, Geelong’s inconsistency with who they ruck with is infamous, and Fort has been in and out of the side as Geelong experiment with Ratugolea, Stanley and even Blicavs being thrown into the ruck spot.
#16 Sam Jacobs – GWS Giants
Sauce Jacobs was brought in as an immediate replacement and help for the struggling and limping Shane Mumford, as GWS push for a flag once again. However, Jacobs’ spot is still not as secure as it should be, with him having spent time out of the side for Mumford, the player he was supposed to replace.
Still, when Jacobs has been in the side, he’s looked superior to his slower teammate. His disposals have been subpar with only 7 per game, but his hitouts sit at 27 per game and almost 9 of them are to advantage, ensuring his side gets first crack at the footy. If GWS are serious about a flag run, they’re better off persisting with Jacobs as their #1 ruck in the long run.
#17 Tom Bellchambers – Essendon FC
Big Bello hasn’t had a consistent run this year, dealing with injuries as his body catches up with him. The big man has only managed 4 games thus far, but still has performed better than his back-up in Andrew Phillips.
Bellchambers has laboured with 7 touches per game and just 25 hitouts per gam, with 7 to advantage, but Essendon do appear to be a better side with him in it. He’s not a star by any stretch, but he could get the job done just enough for Essendon to finally make some noise come finals.
#18 Jonathon Ceglar – Hawthorn FC
It’s hard to say, but Ceglar is the worst #1 ruckman in the competition thus far. Ben McEvoy was initially shifted to the backline, but ‘Big Boy’ has now had to move back in the middle, with Ceglar now being injured, the combination looks to be changing again at the Hawks.
Compared to a few of the others just above him, Ceglar has been given ample game time and matches to prove himself, but he simply hasn’t done enough. His average of 22 hitouts and only 5 to advantage signify Hawthorn’s struggles with ball movement and possession, and his dropping in recent weeks has highlighted that he simply hasn’t been good enough.