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The back-up: How does your club's second-string ruckman rate?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 16: Andrew Phillips of the Blues runs with the ball during the 2016 AFL Round 04 match between the Carlton Blues and the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne on April 16, 2016. (Photo by Scott Barbour/AFL Media)
Back-up or No.1? Carlton's Andrew Phillips has spent more time in the ruck than teammate Matthew Kreuzer

The Crows have relied on Sam Jacobs as their primary ruckman for years; indeed, their option of a genuine second ruck evaporated when Kurt Tippett joined the Sydney Swans at the end of 2012. Sure, Josh Jenkins has developed significantly in his ability to help out, but his emergence as a seriously dangerous key forward means the Crows will continue to depend on Jacobs giving their midfielders first use. Jenkins can offer Jacobs a reprieve from time to time, but he’s not a ruckman who will play big minutes in the middle of the ground. The developing Reilly O'Brien appears the player most likely to take over from Jacobs if the club requires it in the near future. - Harry Thring

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Sam Jacobs (107 minutes, five games)
2. Josh Jenkins (18 minutes, five games) 

It's one of the thinnest areas on the Lions' list, with just veteran Trent West and rookie Archie Smith as genuine back ups to No.1 man Stefan Martin. West overcame an ACL injury to play two games as a key forward at the tail end of last season and has started 2016 in solid NEAFL form. At 28, the Lions know what they'll get from the former Cat, but realistically, would prefer to keep him as a safety net for Martin rather than his sidekick. Smith is in his third season of development and coming along nicely, but is still a touch short of being an AFL-ready ruck. When Martin was concussed against Gold Coast, Josh Walker showed he was capable of playing backup minutes in a role that seems to suit him. - Michael Whiting 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1.
Stefan Martin (98 minutes, five games)
2. Josh Walker (24 minutes, five games)
3. Harris Andrews (one minute, five games) 

Matthew Kreuzer began the season as clearly the Blues’ No.1 ruckman but Andrew Phillips is spending more time in the ruck than the former No.1 draft pick. After such a promising finish to 2015, Kreuzer has struggled to have an impact this season and coach Brendon Bolton has placed plenty of responsibility on the 203cm Phillips, who has a good spring and could be a late developer at 24. Both are not high-possession winners and do not take enough marks around the ground, but they contest strongly at stoppages and are reasonably efficient at ground level. They do not have much effect on the scoreboard, scoring two goals apiece in the five games. Levi Casboult has done little ruckwork this season, concentrating on his key forward role. - Howard Kotton

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Andrew Phillips (62 minutes, five games)
2. Matthew Kreuzer (55 minutes, five games)
3. Levi Casboult (0.5 minutes, five games) 

Jarrod Witts was awarded the No. 1 ruck mantle for the season-opener against Sydney, but since splitting the webbing in a hand he has been forced to watch on while the ultra-competitive Brodie Grundy has made a good fist of the role. The duo has rucked in tandem 22 times over the past three seasons with varying degrees of success but are yet to do so this season, and it will be interesting to see how often the Pies use them in combination. Supporting them are two forward/ruckmen from contrasting backgrounds: mature-age US import Mason Cox and prized father-son selection Darcy Moore, both of whom provide variety to the club's big-man department – newcomer Cox has size and a leap that often enable him to get first hand on the ball and is surprisingly adept at ground level, while the spring-heeled Moore is raw and energetic and blessed with great skill. - Ben Collins 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Brodie Grundy (91 minutes, four games)
2. Jarrod Witts (82 minutes, one game)
3. Mason Cox (31 minutes, one game)

American import Mason Cox impressed during his debut against Essendon. Picture: AFL Media

The Bombers aren't flush with back-up ruck options after recruiting former Brisbane Lions big man Matthew Leuenberger as a free agent last year. Leuenberger's worth has been evident in the early part of this stage, particularly given Essendon lost ruckman Tom Bellchambers to a season-long anti-doping ban. As part of their 10 top-ups the Bombers recruited former Melbourne ruckman Mark Jamar, but he hasn't yet been called upon. It has meant the likes of forward pair Shaun McKernan and Patrick Ambrose have helped out Leuenberger when he's needed a break. The Dons also have rookie Gach Nyuon coming through the ranks but he will need to develop physically before being ready for a senior opportunity. - Callum Twomey 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Matthew Leuenberger (86 minutes, five games)
2. Shaun McKernan (40 minutes, one game)
3. Patrick Ambrose (19 minutes, four games) 

Aaron Sandilands' round one suspension and subsequent serious rib and lung injury in round three has shone a bright light on the Dockers' back-up ruckmen. Jon Griffin was axed after just 14 hit-outs and seven disposals in round one but returned to average 17.5 hit-outs and 12 disposals in the last two weeks as the number one ruckman. Griffin has only played 12 games since returning from a knee reconstruction in 2013 and hasn't quite reached the heights he did when he was the Dockers' number one ruck in the first seven rounds of 2013 when Sandilands was out injured. Zac Clarke's form has also faded since 2013 when averaged 21 hit-outs, 13 disposals and four marks. Since then he has averaged just 12 hit-outs in 37 games and his disposals and marks have dropped off. The Dockers trialled Alex Pearce in the ruck but he's a much more natural defender, while Jack Hannath is out of favour. - Alex Malcolm

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Jon Griffin (82 minutes, three games)
2. Aaron Sandilands (69 minutes, two games)
3. Zac Clarke (47 minutes, two games) 

Zac Smith has been outstanding since he jumped high at the first NAB Challenge centre bounce and palmed the ball to Patrick Dangerfield. He has only elevated his status since, kicking four goals and averaging 11 disposals a game. His efforts forward have been impressive and he has had a positive impact on the Geelong midfielders' confidence. Rhys Stanley has been less consistent but showed some signs against Port Adelaide that he could turn a game if he gets it all together. He has taken eight marks inside 50 but is averaging just nine disposals a game despite spending more time in the ruck than Smith. Mark Blicavs is the 'break in an emergency' option as a ruckman. He has played as a big-bodied midfielder and has been impressive. He averages 18 disposals a game and is a tackling machine, making 32 tackles in five games (including 12 against Port Adelaide) to be inside the top 20 for that statistic this season. Nathan Vardy and Mitch Clark have battled injury but could also step into the breach if required. - Peter Ryan

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Zac Smith (56 minutes, five games)
2. Rhys Stanley (65 minutes, five games)
3. Mark Blicavs (Two minutes, five games) 

The Suns have a genuine competition for the No.1 role, with Tom Nicholls and Dan Currie fighting for the mantle. Both are genuine ruckmen and unlikely to play in the same team, which leaves Sam Day in the role of playing the spare minutes when the top dog is resting. Nicholls started the season in favour, but after being beaten by the Lions combination of Stefan Martin and Josh Walker was replaced by Currie, who was solid against Todd Goldstein at the weekend. Keegan Brooksby is another option after playing three games last season, but the club has tried to turn him into a key defender this year. Day's minutes have been strong in the opening five weeks, combining a good contest at ball-ups with an improved ability around the ground. - Michael Whiting 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1.
Dan Currie (103 minutes, one game)
2. Tom Nicholls (100 minutes, four games)
3. Sam Day (17 minutes, five games) 

Athletic big man Rory Lobb isn't so much a back-up ruckman at the Giants, he's a tall forward capable of giving workhorse Shane Mumford a bit of a break when he needs it. Lobb will develop into a genuine ruckman with time, but at the moment his body isn't ready and the former basketball star from Western Australia is still learning the game, so he does his best work inside 50. Mumford relishes playing as many minutes as he can and is still arguably the club's most influential player. The Giants have youngster Tom Downie also coming along nicely in the reserves, recruited Dawson Simpson into the club last year and drafted Matthew Flynn from their academy, so their ruck stocks are looking strong. - Adam Curley 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Shane Mumford (93 minutes, five games)
2. Rory Lobb (26 minutes, five games)
3. Adam Tomlinson (Two minutes, two games) 

Jonathon Ceglar backs up Ben McEvoy and does well in the job assigned to him. The Hawks have not relied on star ruckmen in the Alastair Clarkson era, but Ceglar provides a decent contest. He generally plays forward when not following the ball and is no slouch in attack, averaging a goal per game this year. Ceglar is the beneficiary of a dangerous forward line around him. However, it remains to be seen if Ceglar could be Hawthorn's primary big man for a whole season. McEvoy is a solid mark and his ability to take intercept grabs helps the Hawks cut off opposition ventures into attack. His tap-work is nothing special but Hawthorn's game plan doesn't require domination in the ruck. As a pair, McEvoy and Ceglar do exactly what Clarkson asks. - Dinny Navaratnam 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Ben McEvoy (71 minutes, five games)
2. Jonathon Ceglar (56 minutes, four games)
3. Marc Pittonet (45 minutes, one game) 

Max Gawn is playing at an All Australian level so far in 2016. Gawn leads the AFL for hit-outs (40.8 per game) and is a significant part of why Melbourne is ranked fourth in the League for clearances – a staple of the club's early success. However, should Gawn go down with injury, the cupboard is pretty bare. Jake Spencer is yet to play this year due to plantar fasciitis in his foot (although he is not far away from a return), while first-year ruckman Mitch King will miss the season after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in a VFL match a fortnight ago. Rookie big man Max King is still developing his craft in the VFL. Cameron Pedersen and Sam Frost can pinch-hit in the position, but are not suited to a full-time ruck role, meaning Gawn will have to carry the burden throughout 2016. - Ben Guthrie

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Max Gawn (104 minutes, five games)
2. Cameron Pedersen (18 minutes, four games)
3. Sam Frost (Seven minutes, four games) 

Melbourne big man Max Gawn has given Demons fans plenty to smile about in 2016. Picture: AFL Media

Ben Brown was a bargain-basement pick No.47 for the Kangas in 2013 after being overlooked in three successive NAB AFL Drafts, and the shaggy-haired big man has since become an invaluable part of Brad Scott's plans. The 200cm Tasmanian is a strong-marking target and dead-eye kick up forward, but on the rare occasions star Todd Goldstein takes a rest, Brown holds his own for roughly 15 minutes per game in the ruck. Brown only averages a couple of hit-outs per match but, most importantly, he competes hard and gets around the ground. Drew Petrie still takes the odd turn in the middle, but Brown's development has allowed the Roos to lighten Petrie’s load and manage the veteran's body. - Travis King 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. – Todd Goldstein (111 minutes, five games)
2. – Ben Brown (15 minutes, five games)
3. – Drew Petrie (0.5 minutes, five games) 

Ask anyone at Alberton about which player is the most professional and they'll all offer the same answer: Matthew Lobbe. The ruckman is a workhorse, who thrives on playing big minutes to wear down an opponent throughout the course of a match. The suspension of Patrick Ryder has meant Lobbe has had to single-handedly carry the rucking duties this year. Dougal Howard was offered a taste in his debut but hasn't returned to the senior side. The Power are missing Ryder’s presence this year not only in the ruck but also up forward – particularly given the injury to Jay Schulz. - Harry Thring

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Matthew Lobbe (112 minutes, five games)
2. Dougal Howard (18 minutes, one game)
3. Justin Westhoff (Nine minutes, five games) 

Shaun Hampson was recruited from Carlton at the end of 2013 to play second fiddle to Ivan Maric, but he has become more of an insurance policy for when injury strikes. Hampson and Maric have only played in the same team six times, but the former Blue has been particularly valuable this year with Maric struck down with a back injury. Hampson has averaged 26 hit-outs when playing at AFL level, but his lack of impact around the ground (averaging 8.05 possessions) has prevented him from becoming the No.1 man. His inability to hit the scoreboard (with an average of 0.41 goals a game) has also meant the Tigers have preferred to use tall forwards Ben Griffiths or Ty Vickery as support ruckmen when Maric is fit. - Nathan Schmook 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Ivan Maric (110 minutes, one game)
2. Shaun Hampson (74 minutes, four games)
3. Ben Griffiths (30 minutes, two games) 

The Saints favour using a primary ruckman with back-up from a key-position player. Tom Hickey is playing the best football of his career and is spending most of the game following the ball. That leaves limited minutes for forward Josh Bruce, although defender Tom Lee spent time rucking against GWS in round five. Bruce generally rucks against the opposition's second-string big man so any potential damage is limited. If Hickey went down, Billy Longer and Jason Holmes would be coach Alan Richardson's options, in that order. Longer was the first-choice big man last year and is certainly talented enough to do the job. Holmes is reasonably proficient with his tap work and shows endeavour when contesting the ball but struggles around the ground. - Dinny Navaratnam 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Tom Hickey (103 minutes, five games)
2. Josh Bruce (18 minutes, five games)
3. Tom Lee (Two minutes, two games) 

With the retirement of Mike Pyke at the end of last year, the Swans used the Lewis Jetta trade to get Callum Sinclair into the club, and it's proved a masterstroke. The former Eagle has fitted in well, working alongside No.1 ruckman Kurt Tippett to give the Swans two athletic big men capable of being just as effective in the ruck as they are as key forwards. Sinclair has kicked five goals and Tippett eight in 2016, and the side has a flexibility that most clubs in the competition can't match. Coach John Longmire also has youngsters Toby Nankervis and Sam Naismith, plus Tom Derickx on the list for more cover. - Adam Curley

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Kurt Tippett (83 minutes, five games)
2. Callum Sinclair (43 minutes, four games)
3. Toby Nankervis (31 minutes, one game) 

Kurt Tippett's flexibility as a ruckman and key forward is a massive asset for the Swans. Picture: AFL Media

The back-up ruck is a very important role at the Eagles. They believe Nic Naitanui is at his best as an impact ruckman and are loathed to use him for more than 80 minutes. So they need a competent ruckman to complement him. The Eagles lost Callum Sinclair to a trade so Scott Lycett was forced to step up. He has rucked well, averaging 15.5 hit-outs in 42 minutes of ruck time, but hasn't impacted forward quite as much as he did in 2014 when he kicked 13 goals in 12 games. The Eagles used Fraser McInnes last week instead of Jonathan Giles when Lycett was out suspended, but at 197cm McInnes is only a stop-gap. Giles is there in case Naitanui goes down or needs a break at some stage during the year. But the Naitanui-Lycett combination leads all comers for hit-outs in the AFL this season and will remain in place provided both players stay healthy. - Alex Malcolm 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1. Nic Naitanui (79 minutes, five games)
2. Scott Lycett (42 minutes, four games)
3. Fraser McInnes (36 minutes, one game) 

The ruck position has been a revolving door at the Dogs under Luke Beveridge, with Jordan Roughead, Tom Campbell and Will Minson all unable to make the No.1 position their own. Roughead got first crack this season after Campbell succumbed to injury in the last weekend of the NAB Challenge. However Campbell got his chance after forward/ruck Tom Boyd's shoulder injury and impressed against the Lions on the weekend. Minson appears to be out of favour, with the 189-game veteran yet to see senior action this season after indifferent form in the VFL. First-year rookie Luke Goetz is raw, but has impressed with his athleticism and competitiveness with Footscray. - Ryan Davidson 

Average minutes per game spent in the ruck in 2016
1.
Jordan Roughead (71 minutes, five games)
2. Tom Campbell (69 minutes, one game)
3. Tom Boyd (38 minutes, four games) - Ryan Davidson