Tom De Koning celebrates a goal during the match between Port Adelaide and Carlton at Adelaide Oval in round 12, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

THE IMPROVEMENT has been as significant as it has been rapid for Tom De Koning.

The young Carlton ruck enjoyed arguably the best game of his career on Sunday evening, helping to drag the Blues over the line against Essendon and demonstrating his exciting athletic profile once again.

De Koning's 17 contested possessions were a career-best amount, while his 24 disposals were just one shy of the career-high 25 he notched three weeks ago in a win over Gold Coast as his ball-winning abilities continue to improve.

Meanwhile, his 27.2 AFL Player Ratings points – Champion Data's most definitive statistic to measure influence on a contest – were not only a career-high, but were also the most anyone amassed across the entire round of football.

But the 24-year-old is unique, in the sense that he embodies a new wave of AFL ruckmen that are impacting and influencing games in a variety of ways not necessarily typical of the elite big men of years gone by.

For example, De Koning was last weekend's most influential player despite the fact he had only 19 hitouts and four hitouts-to-advantage. For context, his opponent last Sunday night, Todd Goldstein, had 35 hitouts and six to advantage.

Tom De Koning and Todd Goldstein during the match between Carlton and Essendon in R13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

So, what makes De Koning so good?

On Sunday night, Champion Data notes the 204cm ruck won first possession 15 times after stoppages. It was the most of anyone across the weekend, three clear of Brisbane's Lachie Neale and five ahead of his captain Patrick Cripps.

Seven of those 15 first possessions were from centre-bounce, tied with Sydney midfielder James Rowbottom as the most across the weekend. His 11 clearances were joint-most across the entire round of football, while his six centre-bounce clearances stood alone as the most.

Essentially, while De Koning isn't a dominant tap ruck in the traditional sense, he is now among the League's best modern ruck-midfielders and provides the Blues with yet another onballer that follows up and covers the ground.

Tom De Koning and Todd Goldstein compete in a ruck contest during the match between Essendon and Carlton at the MCG in round 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Indeed, his numbers across much of the last month highlight this. Since the side's round 11 win over the Suns, which coincided with a finger injury that ruled out his fellow ruck Marc Pittonet, he has been the League's most dominant big man.

Champion Data notes De Koning has averaged 21.1 AFL Player Ratings points, 22.3 disposals, 14.7 contested possessions, 9.7 clearances, 4.7 centre-bounce clearances and 6.7 score involvements in that stretch. It ranks him No.1 among the season averages of all rucks throughout that run.

De Koning's dominance


ROUND 11-13


AFL Player Ratings






Contested Possessions






CB Clearances



Score Involvements



That's not to diminish Pittonet's influence in the period between returning from an injury-interrupted pre-season and going out of the side due to his finger issue. Strangely enough, between rounds five and 10 – when Pittonet played alongside De Koning – he was Carlton's second-highest rated player behind Cripps.

Tom De Koning and Marc Pittonet during Carlton's training session at Ikon Park on June 8, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

De Koning simply offers Carlton something different and, as history would suggest, something more effective and sustainable in terms of helping the team's turnover game through his versatility.

Teams still amass the bulk of their score from turnover. For context, the League's best side, Sydney, has scored 59.9 percent of its total output from turnover this year, compared to 36.6 percent from stoppage and 3.5 percent from kick-ins.

Carlton is a much better turnover team when De Koning is playing as a sole ruck. According to Champion Data, the team's scores from turnover differential is -5.3 when Pittonet is paired with De Koning, but +25.4 when De Koning plays alone.

Tom De Koning handballs whilst being tackled by Noah Anderson during the match between Carlton and Gold Coast at Marvel Stadium in round 11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

It will make for a fascinating dynamic when Carlton returns from its bye with a Friday night clash against Geelong in round 15, which will coincide with Pittonet's likely comeback from his ongoing finger injury.

The numbers would suggest De Koning should remain as the club's sole ruck. If it ultimately remains that way, Blues coach Michael Voss might very well have the AFL's next best big man at his disposal.