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Stats Files: How an unheralded Hawk is mixing it with blue-chip draft picks

Unsung Hawk Ricky Henderson has had an outstanding season - AFL,Hawthorn Hawks,Ricky Henderson,Stats Files
Unsung Hawk Ricky Henderson has had an outstanding season

HE'S THE red-hot Hawk who was one of the last men contracted last year.

Ricky Henderson also happens to be arguably the AFL's most in-form wingman in 2019, or at least in the conversation with Giant Josh Kelly and Lion Hugh McCluggage.

The latter two are blue-chip draft picks selected in the top three, whereas Henderson was initially an Adelaide rookie selection before joining Hawthorn as a delisted free agent.

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His consistent excellence is underlined in his career-best numbers in disposals (27.7), contested possessions (7.7), uncontested possessions (19.9), marks (8.2), inside 50s (5), metres gained (482.6) and clearances (2.4).

And all only months from Henderson turning 31 years old, when history tells us he should be slowing down.

It's also two-and-a-half years since the Crows cut him, after he spent most of coach Don Pyke's first season in charge playing in the SANFL, only for the Hawks to toss him a lifeline.

 

Henderson's rags-to-riches rise is familiar to rival clubs, which have watched Hawthorn repeatedly hand-pick talent that wonderfully complements its gameplan.

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"Hawthorn recruits for system the best of anyone in the comp. They target guys to bring in who fit the way they play, and they have a long-established brand of footy," one opposition analyst told AFL.com.au.

"When you look at targeting a (Jack) Gunston; that's not just good luck. They get the right guy to fit the right system – and it's been the same with Ricky as well.

"They're not asking him to be anything he's not. They're just maximising his strengths, and his strengths are being a quality outside ball user who makes good decisions."

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Henderson ranks first in the AFL among wingmen for disposals, second for metres gained, inside 50s, marks and uncontested possessions and eighth for contested possessions.

At the Hawks, he is No.1 for disposals, inside 50s, marks and uncontested possessions, second for metres gained and fourth for contested possessions.

Not enough numerical evidence for you?

Champion Data places the former Crow as the third-best wingman this season based on ratings points at 13.8 – behind Kelly (15.1) and McCluggage (13.9) – and equal-13th overall since 2010.

On the same tracking system, Henderson is enjoying the best campaign by a wingman aged 28 or older in the same time period.

He is also performing 37.7 per cent better than the competition average for a player of his age, which is the sixth-best 'relative rating' of any player 30-or-over between 2010 and 2019.

Only Gary Ablett, Ben McEvoy, Shannon Hurn, Todd Goldstein and Shane Edwards are ahead of Henderson on this measure.

 

He joins a long line of gun wingers under coach Alastair Clarkson, most notably Bradley Hill and Isaac Smith, but now also including another recruit, Tom Scully.

Figuring out Henderson's improvement is more difficult, but the opposition analyst noted a higher workrate and seemingly a greater understanding of where he fits in the Hawthorn system.

"The Crows, historically, would get him into spots behind the ball where he could be free," the analyst said.

"But he's doing that through maybe a bit more workrate now, rather than relying on being set up structurally as a loose player.

"It's interesting that he's blossomed in a system quite similar to where he came from at Adelaide, but Hawthorn just finds a way to maximise talent from other clubs."

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Walters, the match-winning Docker

There was no certainty Michael Walters was going to break Fremantle's deadlock with Brisbane when he strode into goal in the dying seconds of their clash on Sunday.

In fact, Walters has missed four times from that distance and spot – about 50m out – in his career, with his eventual poster taking his scoring from that range to 5.6.

The Dockers, as a team, are 5.6 with three complete misses this season, while the competition tally from that spot is 61.62 and 41 non-scores.

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