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Lack of young ruckmen could leave clubs short

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Dandenong Stingrays' Bailey Williams has mixed time in the ruck with forward duties - AFL,Under-18s,Draft Combine
Dandenong Stingrays' Bailey Williams has mixed time in the ruck with forward duties

IF YOU are a club hoping to find a ruckman this year then looking through the list of players invited to the NAB AFL Draft Combine wouldn't have been fun reading. You might want to revise plans.

The AFL last week released its list of 80 players who will test at Etihad Stadium in October, and only three can play as ruckmen – Kieran Briggs, Bailey Williams and Riley Bowman.

And there are caveats with those three, too. Briggs, who was named the All Australian ruckman, is a member of Greater Western Sydney's Academy but is 199cm. He hustles and bustles and is physical, and could attract a second-round bid, but some recruiters have doubts he is big enough to be a ruckman at the top level.

Williams and Bowman have shared rucking duties for Vic Country and the Dandenong Stingrays this year, but could also be seen to play their best footy in other spots – Williams as a 198cm marking forward and Bowman (198cm) as a versatile tall.

So where are the other ruckmen? The simple answer is it is not a draft flushed with them. 

At the under-18 championships South Australia used 19-year-old 195cm prospect James Siviour and 193cm James Braidwood in the ruck and swapped him with Ben Jarvis, a 188cm forward with a nice leap for his size.

Jarvis has also played in the ruck for his SANFL club Norwood throughout the year, which has bugged some recruiters who are keen to see what he can do as a permanent forward.

Vic Metro's main ruckman at the carnival has quit football. Joe Griffiths, an athletic big man from the Sandringham Dragons, has decided to stop playing and pursue his university studies instead.

 

Metro even chose to ruck Brisbane father-son prospect James Rendell, a 198cm forward, at times during the championships.

Other big men in the Victorian system – Mark Marriot, Bailey Schmidt, Tom Hallebone, Ben Kelly and Blake Schlensog – are considered further back in the pack. Some may win an invitation to test at the state Combine later in the year.

Clubs searching for a mature-age option face just as hard a task this year. Darcy Fort is considered the most likely of the ruckmen at state level to get a chance. The 24-year-old was originally overlooked at the 2011 draft but has played well for Central District this season. 

One experienced recruiting manager lamented the lack of ruckmen as "a real concern for the game".

Riley Bowman (right) is a versatile tall who can play ruck and forward. Picture: AFL Photos

The AFL this year recognised the issue by introducing a 'talls camp', where 20 prospects trained for three days under the tutelage of former West Coast and North Melbourne big man Drew Petrie for specialised coaching.

But it also put on hold its US Combine, where it had travelled for several years to source key position players and ruckmen. Collingwood's Mason Cox is a product – and success story – of the US Combine and why some clubs believe that program should have been maintained. 

The lack of ruckmen available this year has seen clubs also dig deeper into what the future of the position is at AFL level.

Is a mobile big man better than a big, big man? Will they be a key position player who can fill the ruck role when called upon? Is it crucial to a team's chances if they lose the hit-outs but win the clearances?

Another option some see as likely to emerge more and more is clubs listing former basketballers or athletes from other sports as category B rookies instead of picking shorter rucks in the draft.

Either way, there aren't many options this year anyway.