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Middle men: Your team's centre-square stars

Good things happen for the Bombers when Jake Stringer starts in the middle - AFL,Adelaide Crows,Brisbane Lions,Carlton Blues,Collingwood Magpies,Essendon Bombers,Fremantle Dockers,Geelong Cats,Gold Coast Suns,GWS Giants,Hawthorn Hawks,Melbourne Demons,North Melbourne Kangaroos,Port Adelaide Power,Richmond Tigers,St Kilda Saints,Sydney Swans,West Coast Eagles,Western Bulldogs
Good things happen for the Bombers when Jake Stringer starts in the middle

WHO GETS it done in the guts at your club? Who spends the most time in the centre square, and who delivers (or doesn't) when they're in the middle? Our staff writers run the rule over all 18 clubs.

Players used 19 Crows have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Sam Jacobs (466), Josh Jenkins (96)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Sam Jacobs (9.3)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
-1.4 (15th)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Sam Jacobs-Matt Crouch (40)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Bryce Gibbs (375)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-1.2 (18th)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Bryce Gibbs (2.1)

ANALYSIS: The Crows have missed star midfielder Rory Sloane and paid the price for not having a specialist back-up ruckman. They are the worst in the League for centre clearances, with a -1.2 differential. From Crows midfielders who have attended at least 30 centre bounces, Sloane – sidelined for nine games – is the only one with a positive clearance differential (1.9). Brad Crouch's season-long absence has also hurt. The Crows have a 1.7 clearance differential from ruckman Sam Jacobs' 466 centre bounces, but that plummets to -33.4 for forward Josh Jenkins and his 96 centre bounces. – Lee Gaskin

Rory Sloane's absence for much of the year has been telling. Picture: AFL Photos

Players used 22 Lions have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Stefan Martin (471), Oscar McInerney (103)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Stefan Martin (10.8)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
+0.5 (eighth)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Stefan Martin-Dayne Beams (47)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Dayne Beams (406)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-0.7 (14th)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Dayne Beams (2.6)

ANALYSIS: Despite a renowned on-ball brigade that includes Stefan Martin, Dayne Beams, Dayne Zorko and Mitch Robinson, the Lions have generally struggled at centre bounces this season. While Beams has the best raw numbers, perhaps the most effective man in the middle is second-year player Jarrod Berry. From 315 centre bounce contests, Berry is one of few Lions to have a positive clearance differential (plus-1.9 per cent) that also leads to a positive scoring differential. From a very small sample size (38 contests), Ryan Lester has remarkable numbers. With Lester on hand, the Lions win 36 per cent more centre clearances than the opposition – something for Chris Fagan to think about? – Michael Whiting

Players used 25 Blues have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Matthew Kreuzer (228), Matthew Lobbe (96)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Andrew Phillips (8.6)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
-0.5 (10th) 

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Matthew Kreuzer-Patrick Cripps (23)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Patrick Cripps (464)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
+0.8 (third)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Patrick Cripps (3)

ANALYSIS: It's all about Patrick Cripps. The Blues are the third-best centre clearance team in the competition this season, mainly on the back of Cripps' excellence. He has attended 464 centre bounces this year, clearly the most of anyone at the Blues. The impact of Zac Fisher has been particularly surprising, with the youngster recording a positive clearance differential of 9.6 per cent. It's the best of anyone at Carlton with more than 100 centre bounce attendances this season. Of the seven Carlton players to attend more than 100 centre bounces this year, four are 21 years of age or younger. – Riley Beveridge

Zac Fisher has been a bright light in the middle for the Blues. Picture: AFL Photos

Players used 18 Magpies have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Brodie Grundy (491), Mason Cox (76)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Brodie Grundy (12.8)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
+1.4 (third)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Brodie Grundy-Taylor Adams (46)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Scott Pendlebury (366)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-1.1 (17th)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Taylor Adams (2.6) 

ANALYSIS: The Magpies boast a dominant centre-square ruck duo in Brodie Grundy and Mason Cox and are powered by a talent-laden midfield group that prides itself on its contested-ball work, so it's surprising that they rank 17th for centre clearances with a -1.1 differential. Another eye-opener is that the Woods are most likely to get a centre takeaway with the involvement of youngster Brayden Sier (49 per cent success rate), Jordan de Goey (48.2 per cent) and Cox (47.4 per cent). Given the glut of injuries their backline has suffered, it's testament to the Pies' defensive mechanisms that they have generally repelled the opposition. – Ben Collins

Wherever he plays, Jordan de Goey has shone for the Pies. Picture: AFL Photos

Players used 23 Bombers have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Tom Bellchambers (437), Shaun McKernan (53)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Tom Bellchambers (11.2)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
+0.8 (fifth)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Tom Bellchambers-Dyson Heppell (38)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Dyson Heppell (329)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
+0.1 (fifth)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
David Myers (2.6)

ANALYSIS: Perhaps the Bombers should be using Jake Stringer through the middle more often. Of the eight players to attend more than 100 centre bounces for Essendon this year, Stringer's positive clearance differential of 20.9 per cent is far and away the best at the club. It's also among the best in the competition. Tom Bellchambers has the most centre bounce attendances of anyone at Essendon with 437 for the year, while Dyson Heppell has the most out of the club's pure midfielders with 329. Stringer has attended 134, the seventh-most at the Bombers, but maybe it's where he should be starting more frequently in 2019. – Riley Beveridge

Players used 28 Dockers have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Aaron Sandilands (236), Sean Darcy (105)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Aaron Sandilands (14.7)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
+1.0 (fourth)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Aaron Sandilands-Nat Fyfe (50)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Lachie Neale (370)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-0.1 (eighth)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Nat Fyfe (3.3)

ANALYSIS: No team has rotated more players through the centre square than Freo, mainly owing to the fact the Dockers have been forced to use a wide variety of ruckmen due to injuries suffered by first-choice pair Aaron Sandilands and Sean Darcy. Despite only playing 11 games together this year, Sandilands and midfield bull Nat Fyfe are still the equal-third most common ruck-rover combination in the AFL, showing how damaging the influential duo's injury worries have been for the Dockers in the second half of the season. – Travis King

Players used 22 Cats have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Rhys Stanley (318), Mark Blicavs (52)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Rhys Stanley (9.4)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
-1.0 (14th) 

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination: Rhys Stanley-Joel Selwood (20)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces): Joel Selwood (420)
Centre clearances won (team differential): -0.6 (13th)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games): Joel Selwood (2.4) 

ANALYSIS: With 30 seconds on the clock to beat the Western Bulldogs in round 15, there's no surprise Chris Scott turned to Quinton Narkle and Tim Kelly in the centre square. Both have emerged as the Cats' midfielders with the highest rate of turning centre bounces into scoring opportunities (Kelly at 13.2 per cent, Narkle at 16 per cent). While Kelly has a neutral ratio in his 212 centre bounces, the four players with more centre bounce attendances – Joel Selwood, Rhys Stanley, Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett – have negative counts. Despite having two of the best four players in the competition for career centre clearances on average (Selwood and Dangerfield), the Cats are ranked 13th in the AFL this year. Ruckman Ryan Abbott had a 37.5 per cent inside 50 success rate from his centre bounces on debut, compared to No.1 Stanley (28.9 per cent this season). – Mitch Cleary

When the whips are cracking, expect to see Tim Kelly in the middle for the Cats. Picture: AFL Photos

Players used 25 Suns have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Jarrod Witts (435), Brayden Crossley (34)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Jarrod Witts (10.8)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
-0.7 (12th)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Jarrod Witts-Jarryd Lyons (41)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Touk Miller (303)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-0.9 (16th)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Will Brodie (2.8) 

ANALYSIS: Ranked 16th for centre clearance differential, it's plain to see the Suns need to improve both the quality and depth of their midfield to climb the ladder. The standout midfielder at centre bounces is Jarryd Lyons – a man who has been dropped twice this season. While the team loses 3.5 per cent more clearances than its opponent in the middle, Lyons has a positive differential of 6.5 per cent. The man coach Stuart Dew should look to use more is Brayden Fiorini. Despite being restricted to just nine games through injury, Fiorini has an incredible strike-rate at centre bounces, helping the Suns win an extra 16 per cent more clearances than the opposition. – Michael Whiting

Players used 21 Giants have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Rory Lobb (180), Dawson Simpson (169)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Dawson Simpson (8.2)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
-1.5 (16th)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Rory Lobb-Steve Coniglio (23)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Callan Ward (350)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
+0.7 (fourth)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Callan Ward (2.5)

ANALYSIS: There's little surprise that Callan Ward and Stephen Coniglio are the two mainstays at the Giants, even with the West Australian starting plenty of games deep inside 50 and kicking goals. Dylan Shiel has the best clearance and inside 50 differential of the regular midfielders, with his explosive speed difficult for the opposition to counter. In a great sign for the future, two young guns in Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper are the standouts for score differential. The fact that Ryan Griffen (two) and Matt de Boer (one) have featured so little this year shows the impact of their role change to permanent forwards. – Adam Curley

Players used 24 Hawks have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Ben McEvoy (323), Jon Ceglar (134)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Ben McEvoy (9.9)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
+0.6 (seventh)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Ben McEvoy-Tom Mitchell (50)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Tom Mitchell (440)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
0.0 (seventh)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Tom Mitchell (3.3) 

ANALYSIS: No real surprise here with the Ben McEvoy and Tom Mitchell combination topping Hawthorn's centre square involvements and Mitchell (440) by far the midfielder with the most centre square involvements. It is interesting that the Hawks have struck their best patch of form for the season with McEvoy sidelined with a broken cheekbone, but they'll be happy to have him back for the remainder of the season. The Hawks have full trust in Jaeger O'Meara these days and he ranks second for centre bounce appearances behind Mitchell. The Hawks are only mid table for centre square stats, but once they get possession they become dangerous with their ability to work the ball to their advantage by hand and foot. – Ashley Browne

The Mitchell-O'Meara duo has worked wonders for the Hawks. Picture: AFL Photos

Players used 22 Demons have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Max Gawn (499), Sam Weideman (32)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Max Gawn (16.3)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
+4.1 (first)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Max Gawn-Clayton Oliver (71)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Clayton Oliver (427)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
+3.5 (first)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Jack Viney (3.6)

ANALYSIS: Melbourne is the top-ranked centre clearance team in the competition with ruckman Max Gawn essential to the Demons' midfield dominance. Gawn's ability to give his midfielders first use is critical to how the Melbourne machine functions, with the Demons ranked No.1 in the competition for centre square hit-outs to advantage differential. Gawn has developed a strong rapport with Clayton Oliver and Angus Brayshaw, but the fact 22 Demons have rotated through the centre bounce points to the team's emphasis on being versatile through the centre/forward regions of the ground. If they can get co-captain Jack Viney back into the side for the finals, the Demons will be far better off. – Ben Guthrie

Players used 16 Kangaroos have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Todd Goldstein (512), Majak Daw (39)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Todd Goldstein (11.8)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
+0.8 (fifth)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Todd Goldstein-Ben Cunnington (69)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Ben Cunnington (422)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-0.8 (15th)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Ben Cunnington (2.4) 

ANALYSIS: Paul Ahern's belated arrival as an AFL footballer this year has been celebrated – and rightly so, given not only his story after two knee reconstructions, but the positive impact he is having. North is almost a 10 per cent greater chance of winning a centre clearance when he is involved, with Jed Anderson (5.3 per cent) the other common denominator in success. They have attended 181 and 245 centre bounces, respectively. Majak Daw breaks even in that department, but every other Roo has a negative differential. The Roos also have their highest rate of an inside 50 (39.2 per cent) and score (10.5 per cent) when Ahern is in the mix. – Marc McGowan

Paul Ahern's impact on North's centre square work has been significant. Picture: AFL Photos

Players used 15 Port players have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Paddy Ryder (246), Justin Westhoff (140)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Paddy Ryder (9.6)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
+0.3 (ninth)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Paddy Ryder-Ollie Wines (22)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Ollie Wines (374)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
+1.8 (second)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Ollie Wines (2.2)

ANALYSIS: The Power are the second-best centre clearance team in the League, and have used the fewest number of players at centre bounces with 15. Midfield bull Ollie Wines (374 centre bounces) leads the way ahead of ruckman Paddy Ryder (246), Brad Ebert (231), superstar Robbie Gray (227) and recently-dropped Sam Powell-Pepper (226). Gray is the most effective with a 12.3 clearance differential, but he's also dangerous in attack and is the Power's leading goal-kicker this season. Defender Dougal Howard has been surprisingly effective when used in 31 centre bounces in the ruck, with a clearance differential of 22.6. – Lee Gaskin

Players used 21 Tigers have attended a centre bounce in 2018. 

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Toby Nankervis (459), Shaun Grigg (120)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Toby Nankervis (10.8)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
-1.6 (17th)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Toby Nankervis-Dustin Martin (33)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Dustin Martin (400)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-0.4 (11th)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Dustin Martin (3.4)

ANALYSIS: For a team so dominant, it's surprising that the Tigers are only ranked mid-table for centre clearances. They're 11th in the competition for centre clearances won and are 17th in centre square hit-outs to advantage. Playing one ruckman – and an undersized one at that – contributes to those numbers, but the Tigers base their game around their repel off half-back and pressure once the ball is in play so don't really care too much about winning the ball at the bounce or ball up. Unsurprisingly, lone ruckman Toby Nankervis and midfield bull Dustin Martin are the most common ruck-rover combination and are the only two Tigers to be involved in more than 400 centre bounces, although they've had 21 players in total attend one. – Jennifer Phelan

Dustin Martin and Toby Nankervis do a power of work for the Tigers. Picture: AFL Photos

Players used 23 Saints have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Tom Hickey (285), Billy Longer (116)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Billy Longer (9.6)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
-0.5 (11th)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Tom Hickey-Seb Ross (21)
Most used midfielder at centre bounces:
Jack Steven (408)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-0.2 (ninth)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Jack Steven (2.8)

ANALYSIS: When young star Jade Gresham has been in at the centre bounce, the Saints have a plus-5.7 per cent differential for how often they send the ball inside 50 compared to how often they concede an entry. The numbers aren't good for David Armitage in that regard, going at a negative 5.7 differential, perhaps explaining why coach Alan Richardson has had the onballer line up at both ends of the ground. Luke Dunstan finds himself out of the team, possibly because St Kilda has lost 4.6 per cent more clearances than it has won when he is in for the centre bounce. – Dinny Navaratnam

Players used 23 Swans have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Callum Sinclair (445), Dean Towers (34)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Callum Sinclair (7.9)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
-0.9 (13th)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Callum Sinclair-Josh Kennedy (40)
Most used midfielder at centre bounces:
Josh Kennedy (370)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
+0.1 (sixth)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Josh Kennedy (2.7) 

ANALYSIS: The Swans have been well beaten at times in the centre square this year, despite their star skipper Josh Kennedy being considered a clearance king. Kennedy is the team's best along with Luke Parker for clearance differential, but Sydney struggles to turn that into inside 50s. The team is -1.3 overall, with Parker (2.0) and Kennedy (0.0) the only two players in the positive. Kennedy and George Hewett have the best score differential. Callum Sinclair (445 involvements) has battled manfully as the sole ruckman, with Dean Towers (34) as his back-up. – Adam Curley

Luke Parker is one of few Swans to shine in clearances. Picture: AFL Photos

Players used 19 Eagles have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Scott Lycett (256), Nic Naitanui (246)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Nic Naitanui (11.8)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
+2.3 (second)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Nic Naitanui-Luke Shuey (35)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Elliot Yeo (373)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-0.6 (12th)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Luke Shuey (2.3) 

ANALYSIS: Since Nic Naitanui went down with his second ACL rupture four games ago, Scott Lycett has competed fiercely and given the Eagles' midfield a chance around stoppages – but the numbers show there is no replacing Nic Nat. When the spring-heeled ruckman attended centre bounces this season, the Eagles' clearance differential was +4.9 per cent, compared to -6.2 per cent when Lycett is in the ruck. Perhaps West Coast's brains trust should consider using small forward Willie Rioli more at the restarts. Rioli has attended 28 centre bounces this year and boasts +25 per cent differential at those clearances. – Travis King

Players used 20 Bulldogs have attended a centre bounce in 2018.

Ruckmen
2018 ruck attendances (top two):
Tom Boyd (201), Tim English (120)
Centre square hit-outs per game (minimum five games):
Tim English (5.9)
Centre square hit-outs to advantage differential (team):
-3.6 (18th)

Onballers
Most common ruck-rover combination:
Tom Boyd-Toby McLean (10)
Most used midfielder (midfielder who attends most centre bounces):
Jack Macrae (317)
Centre clearances won (team differential):
-0.3 (10th)
Centre clearance king (minimum five games):
Marcus Bontempelli (1.9)

ANALYSIS: The future looks bright for the Dogs with their centre-square set-up, with young guns Jack Macrae, Marcus Bontempelli, Toby McLean and Tim English all proficient in the vitally important phase of the game. The quartet are all in the positive when it comes to clearances and getting the ball inside 50 from a centre bounce. Versatile big man Jackson Trengove is impressive too, with an equal club-best 11.1 at clearances. Free agents Mitch Wallis and Jordan Roughead, on the other hand, aren't nearly as effective, with the Dogs negative 11.1 in clearances when Wallis is in attendance. At -3.7, Roughead is the club's worst-performed ruckman. – Ryan Davidson