Max Gawn and Tim English in the ruck during Melbourne's game against the Western Bulldogs in R1, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

IT WAS a subtle tweak, but the ruck rule has had an impact in 2024.

On the eve of the season, the AFL announced a change in interpretation for ruck contests, enabling straight-arm blocks providing the ruck involved is still contesting the ball.

It's seen an evolution in the most dominant types of rucks, with the stereotypical 'tap ruck' gradually losing their influence and being replaced by a more physical and imposing breed of stoppage player.

According to Champion Data's AFL Player Ratings – the stats guru's most definitive metric to define influence on a game – the five best rucks this year are Max Gawn (17.2 points), Luke Jackson (15.9), Kieren Briggs (15.8), Tristan Xerri (14.9) and Rowan Marshall (14.4).

However, of those five, Gawn is the only one who rates either 'above average' or 'elite' for any generic hitout metric. It shows that hitouts are no longer the defining feature to assess the game's best rucks.

Instead, rucks are now impacting games in different and more important ways. And, although the new ruck rule hasn't entirely led to this change, it's undoubtedly added to the gradual shift in style among the League's best rucks.

Toby Nankervis and Rowan Marshall in the ruck during the R4 match between Richmond and St Kilda at Norwood Oval on April 7, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

The pure 'tap ruck' is becoming obsolete, replaced by clubs using rucks as an additional stoppage presence. That's highlighted by Marshall (7.8 clearances), Xerri (7.2) and Briggs (6.6), three of the AFL's top five rucks, also being the three best clearance rucks in the competition.

Gawn (12.2 contested possessions), Marshall (12), Jackson (11.4), and Xerri (11.2), meanwhile, are also the four leading contested ball winners among all rucks this year, further emphasising the shift.

Luke Jackson competes in a ruck contest during Fremantle's clash against Adelaide in round three, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The total ruck stats across the competition haven't necessarily changed too dramatically – there are slightly less hitouts and hitouts-to-advantage, and slightly more grabbing the ball from the ruck – but the more physically imposing are growing more influential.

It's a sign of the times, and a sign that the AFL's rule tweak is emboldening such players.