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The men in the guts: Who goes in, who clears it, best combos

Ruckmen Max Gawn and Rhys Stanley do battle during Melbourne's clash with Geelong in round two - 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,News
Ruckmen Max Gawn and Rhys Stanley do battle during Melbourne's clash with Geelong in round two

Men in the middle: Matt Crouch (121 attendances), Rory Sloane (121), Brad Crouch (111), Reilly O'Brien (99), Cam Ellis-Yolmen (46), Sam Jacobs (41), Bryce Gibbs (29), Hugh Greenwood (28), Elliott Himmelberg (13), Wayne Milera (12), Josh Jenkins (11), Rory Atkins (10), Myles Poholke (7), Riley Knight (3), Eddie Betts (2), Jordan Gallucci (1), Paul Seedsman (1).

Go-to guys: The Crouch brothers and Rory Sloane are strong, contested midfielders who excel at winning the ball from the centre bounce. Ruckman Reilly O'Brien has taken his opportunity, playing five games in the absence of the injured Sam Jacobs.

Most successful starting four: O'Brien, Sloane, Greenwood, Ellis-Yolmen Clearance record: 4 wins, 0 losses

Ruck and roll: O'Brien has had the most success with Sloane, connecting four times with hit-outs to advantage.

Average centre clearance differential: -0.7 Ranked: 10th

Average points from centre bounces differential: +1.4 Ranked: 9th

Analysis: The Crows have improved their centre bounce work with Brad Crouch and Rory Sloane back in the side. Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Hugh Greenwood also play important roles. Ruckman Reilly O'Brien has performed admirably in the absence of Sam Jacobs. The Crows ranked last in 2018 in centre clearances won with a differential of -1.2. Through the first seven rounds of this season, they have improved to 10th with a differential of -0.7. - Lee Gaskin

Reilly O'Brien has shouldered the Crows' ruck load in Sam Jacobs' absence. Picture: AFL Photos

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Men in the middle: Lachie Neale (165 attendances), Stefan Martin (127), Jarryd Lyons (126), Dayne Zorko (101), Oscar McInerney (79), Rhys Mathieson (55), Jarrod Berry (55), Mitch Robinson (39), Hugh McCluggage (38), Cam Rayner (14), Charlie Cameron 12), Lincoln McCarthy (12), Ryan Bastinac (1).

Go-to guys: No surprise the Lions used their most experienced quartet most often. Neale, Lyons and Zorko offer a good combination of ball-winning and spread alongside Martin, while the younger trio of Mathieson, Berry and McCluggage still learn the craft.

Most successful starting four: McInerney, Robinson, Neale, Berry Clearance record: 4 wins, 0 losses

Ruck and roll: The most prolific centre square combination - Stefan Martin and Lachie Neale have connected eight times with a hitout to advantage.

Average centre clearance differential: -1.9. Ranked: 16th

Average points from centre bounces differential: +6.4. Ranked: 1st

Analysis: The off-season additions of Lachie Neale and Jarryd Lyons, along with the departure of Dayne Beams, was some pretty major upheaval to the Lions' centre square mix. While they're ranked low for centre clearance differential, what they do with those clearances is quite eye-opening. Wins over North Melbourne and Port Adelaide came directly from centre bounce dominance in the final quarter. It's fair to assume this chemistry will only improve as the season progresses. - Michael Whiting

Dayne Zorko and Jarryd Lyons have been key to the Lions' centre-bounce success this year. Picture: AFL Photos

Men in the middle: Patrick Cripps (168 attendances), Zac Fisher (102), Paddy Dow (95), Sam Petrevski-Seton (83), Andrew Phillips (70), Matthew Lobbe (43), Matthew Kreuzer (39), Will Setterfield (35), Sam Walsh (25), Levi Casboult (24), David Cuningham (21), Marc Murphy (15), Harry McKay (10), Ed Curnow (7), Jack Silvagni (6), Michael Gibbons (5)

Go-to guys: Cripps is the League's best clearance player and starts almost every centre bounce, while the Blues like Fisher, Dow and Petrevski-Seton's evasiveness out of the centre and their breakaway speed from the contest. Phillips is the leading ruck out of necessity.

Most successful starting four: Lobbe, Cripps, Fisher, Dow Clearance differential*: 5 wins, 0 losses

Ruck and roll: Four combinations tie for Carlton's most effective duo with four hit-outs to advantage each: Phillips to Cripps, Phillips to Petrevski-Seton, Lobbe to Dow and Casboult to Cripps.

Average clearance differential: +1.7 Ranked: 4th

Average points from centre bounce differential: +0.9 Ranked: 10th

Analysis: Carlton quite likes the mix of young talent it has out of the centre, which is reflected by the Blues being the fourth best clearance team in the competition. Cripps is among the game's best clearance players, while exciting trio Fisher, Dow and Petrevski-Seton add class and explosiveness. The Blues perhaps need a few more bigger bodies through the midfield, but can be excited by the development of their young onball group. - Riley Beveridge

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Men in the middle: Brodie Grundy (170 attendances), Scott Pendlebury (139), Adam Treloar (130), Dayne Beams (119), Taylor Adams (88), Levi Greenwood (32), Jordan De Goey (28), Steele Sidebottom (21), Mason Cox (15), Callum Brown (4), Tom Phillips (3), Josh Thomas (3), Jordan Roughead (2), Ben Reid (2)

Go-to guys: The Pies' top five centre-bounce players are obvious candidates who boast skills that complement each other well. There's Grundy's ruck dominance and rare ground skills for a big man, Pendlebury's ability to work in a phone box and distribute with quick hands, Beams' hardness and dual-sidedness, Treloar's breakaway speed and Adams' in-and-under work. Adams' centre-bounce attendances would be higher had he not missed two games, and he has again been sidelined.

Most successful starting four: Grundy, Pendlebury, Treloar, Adams Clearance record: 8 wins, 5 losses

Ruck and roll: Grundy's centre-bounce hitouts have found Adams on a team-high nine occasions.

Average centre clearance differential: -0.1 Ranked: 9th

Average points from centre bounces differential: +5.6 Ranked: 3rd

Analysis: The Magpies are middling in centre clearance differential but, when they make it count, are rated third in average points from centre bounces differential, just 0.8 of a point behind top-ranked Brisbane. With Adams out again, they will need to spread the load more and the likes of De Goey and Sidebottom could be called upon the fill the breach. Surprisingly, De Goey has attended more centre bounces than Sidebottom, who has played predominantly on a wing. - Ben Collins

Scott Pendlebury remains the Pies' main man in the middle. Picture: AFL Photos

Men in the middle: Tom Bellchambers (149 attendances), Dylan Shiel (116), Zach Merrett (92), Dyson Heppell (81), David Myers (56), Devon Smith (49), Jake Stringer (41), Darcy Parish (32), Zac Clarke (27), Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (26), Kyle Langford (23), David Zaharakis (22), Andy McGrath (20), Orazio Fantasia (12), Joe Daniher (9), Shaun McKernan (5)

Go-to guys: Heppell, Shiel and Merrett have been Essendon's main midfield men this season, with Stringer also thrown in to use his bulk, frame and power to take the ball out of the middle.

Most successful starting four: Bellchambers, Heppell, Shiel, Merrett Clearance record: 8 wins, 5 losses

Ruck and roll: Bellchambers has hit Shiel with eight centre-bounce tap-outs, the most of any ruck-midfielder combination at Essendon.

Average centre clearance differential: 6. Ranked: 7th

Average points from centre bounces differential: 13.1 Ranked: 2nd 

Analysis: The addition of Shiel, one of the true centre-bounce stars of the competition, has added a lethal element to Essendon's on-ball unit. The former Giant's getaway pace and ability to break past opponents has made him one of the Bombers' most consistent players early this year. Bellchambers has had a solid start to the year but isn't one of the competition's most dominant big men so the Bombers need to find ways at ground level to get the ball moving their way. - Callum Twomey

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Men in the middle: Nat Fyfe (129 attendances), Rory Lobb (120), David Mundy (115), Michael Walters (81), Reece Conca (73), Andrew Brayshaw (50), Darcy Tucker (43), Sean Darcy (35), Matt Taberner (15), Jesse Hogan (7), Bradley Hill (4), Adam Cerra (4), Lachie Schultz (2), Bailey Banfield (2)

Go-to guys: The Dockers want quality around the ball, and since Lachie Neale's departure Mundy and Walters have been pushed into the middle more often. Conca, Brayshaw and Tucker rotate through as defensive-minded options.

Most successful starting four: Lobb, Fyfe, Mundy, Walters Clearance record: 17 wins, 8 losses

Ruck and roll: No surprises that stoppage beast Fyfe and Lobb are Freo's best duo, combining for seven centre clearances this season.

Average centre clearance differential: +2.7 Ranked: 2nd

Average points from centre bounces differential: +6.3 Ranked: 2nd

Analysis: Rory Lobb might not be Aaron Sandilands, but the former Giant has more often than not held his own in the ruck, and with Fyfe, Mundy and Walters all in outstanding touch the Dockers boast some serious class at ground level. Throw Connor Blakely back into the mix – and potentially Sean Darcy and Sandilands if he can get fit – and you can see why Fremantle is as well-placed as any side to take advantage of the new 6-6-6 starting positions. - Travis King

Fyfe, Lobb and Mundy in familiar proximity as they walk on to the field. Picture: AFL Photos

Men in the middle: Rhys Stanley (154 attendances), Tim Kelly (125), Patrick Dangerfield (112), Charlie Constable (67), Joel Selwood (63) Sam Menegola (49), Cameron Guthrie (46), Brandan Parfitt (40), Esava Ratugolea (34), Mitch Duncan (30), Tom Atkins (28), Gary Ablett (3), Luke Dahlhaus (1).

Go-to guys: Kelly, Dangerfield and Constable has been Geelong's preferred mix of class, power and nous. With Joel Selwood spending more time on a wing and his brother Scott injury, Constable has assumed responsibility in his first AFL season.

Most successful starting four: Stanley, Selwood, Dangerfield, Constable. Clearance record: 5 wins, 2 losses

Ruck and roll: While Kelly has been to the most centre stoppages of all midfielders, Rhys Stanley has still found Paddy Dangerfield on seven occasions from the middle – the most of any Cat.

Average centre clearance differential: -1.0. Ranked: 12th

Average points from centre bounces differential: +2.0. Ranked: 7th

Analysis: The emergence of Constable and Parfitt as centre bounce specialists was on show in the first month before Selwood stepped in when Parfitt got injured in round five. Guthrie's comeback from injury has also added another option, a key reason why Constable was dropped last week. With Atkins clocking more attendances than Ablett, it's hard to see the Cats backtracking on plans for the modern-day great to be a permanent forward. - Mitch Cleary

Men in the middle: Jarrod Witts (145 attendances), David Swallow (88), Touk Miller (81), Jack Bowes (81), Brayden Fiorini (75), Anthony Miles (63), Jack Martin (50), Darcy MacPherson (29), Will Brodie (29), Peter Wright (23), Nick Holman (6), Jordan Murdoch (1), Charlie Ballard (1).

Go-to guys: With a relatively inexperienced midfield core, the Suns are happy to share the load alongside Witts. Swallow, Miller and Bowes are used most often as a unit, but with Bowes still so young, Gold Coast is keen for Fiorini and the hardened Miles to contest plenty of centre bounces.

Most successful starting four: Witts, Swallow, Fiorini, Brodie. Clearance record: 4 wins, 1 loss

Ruck and roll: Of the options Jarrod Witts has to target, it's youngster Jack Bowes he has connected with most – with seven hitouts to his advantage.

Average centre clearance differential: +1.1. Ranked: 6th

Average points from centre bounces differential: -9.3 Ranked: 17th

Analysis: For a young centre bounce combination, the Suns have done well. They've exposed Jack Bowes, Jack Martin and to a lesser extent Brayden Fiorini more than ever and have competed well against more experienced quartets. However, when they lose the clearance, they've been scored against quite heavily, with a third-quarter avalanche from Brisbane a good example. Stuart Dew will likely spend the rest of the season trying to find his absolute best combination. - Michael Whiting

Brayden Fiorini has become an increasingly important part of the Suns midfield. Picture: AFL Photos

Men in the middle: Jacob Hopper (149 attendances), Tim Taranto (140), Matt de Boer (128), Stephen Coniglio (124), Shane Mumford (123), Josh Kelly (41), Adam Tomlinson (40), Dawson Simpson (38), Toby Greene (6), Lachie Whitfield (5), Jackson Hately (5), Brett Deledio (2), Brent Daniels (2), Daniel Lloyd (1).

Go-to guys: The Giants' quartet of midfielders have been their most consistent performers this year, with Mumford's two-game ban meaning he's just outside the top four.

Most successful starting four: Mumford, Coniglio, de Boer, Taranto Clearance record: 10 wins, five losses

Ruck and roll: Mumford and Coniglio have been the most successful hitout to advantage combination with six.

Average centre clearance differential: +0.6 Ranked: Eighth

Average points from centre bounces differential: +3.3 Ranked: Fifth 
Analysis: Coniglio, Taranto and Hopper have been bulls around the contest this season and are all in outstanding form, so it's little surprise to see the Giants ranked well in both categories. Mumford's involvement should only improve the more footy he plays, and don't be surprised to see Greene increase his time in centre bounces as his tank improves after another interrupted pre-season. - Adam Curley

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Men in the middle: Ben McEvoy (145 attendances), Jaeger O'Meara (139), James Worpel (139), James Cousins (78), Dan Howe (73), Liam Shiels (55), Jonathon Ceglar (34), Jarryd Roughead (22), Ricky Henderson (15), Isaac Smith (14), Shaun Burgoyne (13), Chad Wingard (13), Paul Puopolo (13), Harry Morrison (8), Luke Breust (6), Jack Gunston (1) 

Go-to guys: McEvoy has been one of the game's most dominant rucks this season, while O'Meara and Worpel have been Hawthorn's most reliable onballers. Younger players like Cousins and Howe have had more exposure due to Tom Mitchell's long-term injury.

Most successful starting four: McEvoy, Howe, Cousins, Worpel Clearance record: 3 wins, 0 losses

Ruck and roll: Unsurprisingly, Hawthorn's most effective duo has been McEvoy to O'Meara. Together, they have combined for a hitout to advantage on 10 occasions.

Average clearance differential: -0.9 Ranked: 11th

Average points from centre bounce differential: +0.3 Ranked: 11th

Analysis: Winning the ball out of the middle has long been an issue for the Hawks and it was amplified when Mitchell went down before the season. Therefore, it's perhaps no surprise to see the Hawks ranked 11th for both clearance differential and scores from centre bounce. O'Meara has taken his game to another level in Mitchell's absence, while Worpel has benefited from more exposure. However, the side lacks production after that. Injuries to Howe and Shiels throughout the season have compounded problems for Alastair Clarkson. - Riley Beveridge

Jaeger O'Meara has been exceptional in Tom Mitchell's absence. Picture: AFL Photos

Men in the middle: Max Gawn (165 attendances), Clayton Oliver (150), James Harmes (128), Jack Viney (115), Angus Brayshaw (74), Nathan Jones (40), Christian Petracca (30), Jake Melksham (29), Michael Hibberd (10), Sam Weideman (8), Braydon Preuss (7), Declan Keilty (6), Tom McDonald (4), Tim Smith (4), Tom Sparrow (3), Billy Stretch (1), Christian Salem (1), Corey Wagner (1).

Go-to guys: Alongside Brodie Grundy, Gawn is the best ruckman in the competition and his attendance at centre bounces is crucial to Melbourne's success. Oliver, Harmes and Viney are the team's top contested players. Brayshaw has spent more time on the wing in recent weeks.

Most successful starting four: Gawn, Harmes, Oliver and Brayshaw Clearance record: 10 wins, 6 Losses

Ruck and roll: The best ruckman to midfielder connection is a tie between Gawn and Brayshaw and Gawn and Jake Melksham, who thrived in the role against Richmond in round six.

Average centre clearance differential: +2.3 Ranked: 3rd

Average points from centre bounces differential: -2.0 Ranked: 13th

Analysis: Melbourne was clearly the No.1 team in the competition for scoring from centre clearances in 2018, with a average points differential of +5.7. The Demons have seen that dip dramatically this season, dropping to 13th (-2.0). There is a technical aspect behind that negative trend, with the introduction of the 6-6-6 starting positions. Melbourne, which regularly played with extra numbers in defence, is no longer able to set up that way with the new rules in place. The Demons appear to be one of the teams that were most affected by the rule changes. - Ben Guthrie

Men in the middle: Todd Goldstein (172 attendances), Ben Cunnington (155), Shaun Higgins (99), Jed Anderson (82), Luke Davies-Uniacke (69), Jack Ziebell (58), Dom Tyson (48), Trent Dumont (23), Paul Ahern (19), Jy Simpkin (19), Aaron Hall (17), Tom Campbell (11), Nick Larkey (7), Cameron Zurhaar (4), Ben Brown (3), Jared Polec (1), Tarryn Thomas (1)

Go-to guys: Goldstein, Cunnington, Ziebell and Anderson, who didn't play until round four, form the Roos' most common centre-square quartet (22 times). Goldstein, Cunnington and Anderson, in particular, are staples in the middle, with the hard-running Higgins another regular among the midfield bulls.

Most successful starting four: Goldstein, Higgins, Cunnington and Davies-Uniacke Clearance record: 7 wins, 3 losses 

Ruck and roll: Goldstein and Cunnington have linked up at centre bounces 11 times this year. 

Average centre clearance differential: -2.7 Ranked: 18th

Average points from centre bounces differential: -10.1 Ranked: 18th 

Analysis: Coach Brad Scott's spoken at length about this being a major part of his team's early season struggles. However, worth noting is the Roos rank 11th and fifth for these two categories, respectively, in the past fortnight against Port Adelaide and Carlton. Both those sides are ranked in the top four for centre clearance differential, while the Dockers are No.2 for points differential in this scenario. That suggests North might be on the improve in this regard. Watch this space. - Marc McGowan

The old firm of Goldstein and Cunnington has been reliable as ever for North. Picture: AFL Photos

Men in the middle: Tom Rockliff (121 attendances), Travis Boak (111), Scott Lycett (110), Ollie Wines (101), Paddy Ryder (88), Sam Powell-Pepper (76), Willem Drew (68), Robbie Gray (60), Brad Ebert (29), Sam Gray (10), Connor Rozee (8), Steven Motlop (5), Zak Butters (3), Karl Amon (2).

Go-to guys: Rockliff and Boak give the Power an experienced hard edge in centre bounces. Lycett has shared the ruck workload with Ryder, while Wines is a contested-ball beast.

Most successful starting four: Lycett, Boak, Wines, Powell-Pepper. Clearance record: 5 wins, 0 losses

Ruck and roll: It hasn't taken long for Lycett and Rockliff to strike up a successful combination, with seven hitouts to advantage.

Average centre clearance differential: +2.7 Ranked: 1st

Average points from centre bounces differential: -0.1 Ranked: 12th

Analysis: The one-two punch of Scott Lycett and Paddy Ryder in the ruck has paid dividends for the Power with their centre clearances. They were good last year – ranked second in the League with a +1.8 differential – but now they are the benchmark with a +2.7 differential. Injecting Tom Rockliff and Travis Boak into more centre bounces has made a significant difference. However, the Power need to be better at translating that dominance into points. - Lee Gaskin

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Men in the middle:  Toby Nankervis (141 attendances), Dion Prestia (128), Dustin Martin (103), Jack Ross (81), Trent Cotchin (66), Jack Graham (53), Jack Higgins (53), Noah Balta (34), Shane Edwards (30), Kane Lambert (22), Josh Caddy (21), Jack Riewoldt (7), Kamdyn McIntosh (4), Shai Bolton (2), Liam Baker (2), Nick Vlastuin (2), Oleg Markov (1), Mav Weller (1), Jason Castagna (1) 

Go-to guys: Richmond's most common centre square combination – Nankervis, Prestia, Martin and Cotchin – hasn't actually taken to the field since round three, given the latter's hamstring injury. The Tigers have rolled nearly everyone through since then, most notably draftee Jack Ross, as well as fellow Jacks Higgins and Graham.

Most successful starting four: Nankervis, Martin, Higgins, Ross Clearance record: 6 wins, 0 losses

Ruck and roll: It's no surprise Richmond's best one-two combination is main ruckman Nankervis and superstar midfielder Martin, having made connection six times.

Average centre clearance differential: -1.1 Ranked: 13th

Average points from centre bounces differential: -5.4 Ranked: 16th 

Analysis: The injury-hit Richmond – a team which has used the equal-most players in the competition (32) – has had a whopping 19 players attend centre bounces. The stats demonstrate the significant effect Cotchin's hamstring injury has had on the Tigers' midfield, with the skipper attending 66 centre bounces in just two and a half games of footy. Even at their peak, the Tigers have never been an overly strong clearance side, preferring instead to rebound off half-back - Sarah Black

Jack Ross has been an instant hit for the injury-hit Tigers. Picture: AFL Photos 

Men in the middle: Jack Steele (151 attendances), Seb Ross (144), Rowan Marshall (115), Jade Gresham (90), Luke Dunstan (53), Jack Steven (50), Hunter Clark (29), Billy Longer (23), Lewis Pierce (21), Jack Sinclair (19), Josh Bruce (17), Blake Acres (12), Matthew Parker (6), Ben Long (5), Jack Billings (4), Josh Battle (1)

Go-to guys: The most commonly used quartet is Marshall, Steele, Ross and Gresham. It's been used 31 times, which makes up 16.8 per cent. Steele and Ross are ball-winners who also put time into stopping their direct opponent while Gresham is more offensively minded.

Most successful starting four: Marshall, Steven, Ross, Steele Clearance record: 6 wins, 2 losses

Ruck and roll: Marshall and Gresham have connected on three occasions this season, the most for St Kilda. That's not overly surprising, considering how talented Gresham is.

Average centre clearance differential: -1.7. Ranked: 15th

Average points from centre bounces differential: -3.4: Ranked: 14th

Analysis: A few months ago, the Saints would have envisaged their centre bounce assembly including Longer, Steven and Hannebery on most occasions. However, Longer has been overtaken by Marshall while Steven (mental health) and Hannebery (hamstrings and calves) have had time on the sidelines. It's an area of the ground they don't have an abundance of established star power in, so their poor rankings probably wouldn't be a great surprise to the club's hierarchy. - Dinny Navaratnam

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Men in the middle:  Callum Sinclair (152 attendances), Josh Kennedy (131), Luke Parker (124), George Hewett (98), Zak Jones (97), Isaac Heeney (59), Tom Papley (49), Sam Reid (34), Oliver Florent (8), Callum Mills (5), Aliir Aliir (4), Robbie Fox (3), Kieren Jack (2), Heath Grundy (2), Nick Blakey (2), Jordan Dawson (2)

Go-to guys: As the sole ruckman Sinclair is a centre-bounce staple, while Kennedy, Parker and Hewett are the team's best inside midfielders and crucial around the contest.

Most successful starting four: Sinclair, Kennedy, Hewett, Jones Clearance record: 12 wins, 5 losses

Ruck and roll: Sinclair/Parker and Reid/Parker are the best hitout to advantage combinations with two apiece.

Average centre clearance differential: -1.4 Ranked: 14th

Average points from centre bounces differential: -3.7 Ranked: 15th 

Analysis: The Swans' poor start to the season can be seen in these figures, an alarming picture for a side widely renowned for elite work in contested footy situations and especially clearances where Kennedy and Parker have led the way in recent years. More involvement from Heeney, Florent and Papley could help give the team a different look for the rest of the year. - Adam Curley

Luke Parker has been pivotal when Sydney has won clean centre takeaways. Picture: AFL Photos

Men in the middle: Elliot Yeo (122 attendances), Luke Shuey (119), Mark Hutchings (94), Nathan Vardy (90), Tom Hickey (79), Dom Sheed (75), Jack Redden (66), Andrew Gaff (46), Daniel Venables (9), Oscar Allen (7), Jeremy McGovern (1)

Go-to guys: Premiership big man Vardy was named the lead ruckman in the opening five rounds until he was dropped for the Geelong loss, and Hickey is now the No.1 since the Eagles turfed the two-ruck policy. Shuey and Yeo are the most dynamic mids, with Hutchings tagging from the middle.

Most successful starting four: Hickey, Hutchings, Sheed, Yeo Clearance differential: 6 wins, 1 losses

Ruck and roll: Sheed is in the Matt Priddis mould as a stoppage specialist and has combined with Hickey for six centre clearances this year. It's no surprise the Eagles used Sheed a lot in the middle against Gold Coast, and they need to find ways to get him in there more often.

Average centre clearance differential: -1.9 Ranked: Equal 16th

Average points from centre bounces differential: +1.6 Ranked: 8th

Analysis: The Eagles haven't been a great team in terms of taking territory and locking the ball inside 50 this year, and it starts from the middle. They haven't won centre clearances since round three against Collingwood, and Adam Simpson scrapped his long-held two-ruck system before the round-six loss to Geelong. West Coast has struggled to find the right balance in the midfield since Gaff's return pushed Sheed to half-forward, although that appeared to be shifted back against the Suns. With Nic Naitanui potentially only six to eight weeks from returning, a lot could change on the run home. - Travis King

Men in the middle: Tim English (151 attendances), Marcus Bontempelli (119), Tom Liberatore (112), Jack Macrae (111), Mitch Wallis (80), Josh Dunkley (58), Bailey Smith (30), Josh Schache (18), Billy Gowers (10), Bailey Williams (8), Jackson Trengove (3), Zaine Cordy (3), Toby McLean (2), Lachie Hunter (2), Aaron Naughton (1)

Go-to guys: English has been backed by coach Luke Beveridge as the first-choice ruckman all season. Liberatore provides the grunt contested work, Macrae is top five in the competition for disposals and superstar Bontempelli is the enviable combination of brute and polish. The midfield trio are all in the top 15 players for contested possessions this season. Wallis is an able deputy and Dunkley has been deployed as a back-up ruckman at times

Most successful starting four: English, Liberatore, Macrae, Bontempelli Clearance record: 17 wins, 12 losses 

Ruck and roll: English / Bontempelli with eight successful takeaways. The No.1 ruck tapping to the Bulldogs' best player is predictable. Interestingly, last season's rover in this category was Toby McLean, who has attended centre bounces just twice in 2019.

Average centre clearance differential: 10 Ranked: 5th

Average points from centre bounces differential: 10.3 Ranked: 8th

Analysis: The return of Liberatore from an ACL injury has made a significant difference to the midfield dynamic. Only Carlton beast Patrick Cripps has had more centre clearances than Bontempelli, and Liberatore is not far behind in equal 10th to emphasise why the Dogs have consistently used the same quartet. Melbourne aside, no team has used its top four more regularly. - Paul Bastin

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs