IT'S A RUCK-OFF.

Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy were the clear best two ruckmen in the past two years – resulting in All-Australian selection each season for both – but suddenly have some serious competition.

And they're familiar faces who are rising to the task.

ROUNDS 11-13 Check out the full fixture

North Melbourne's Todd Goldstein (2015) and West Coast's Nic Naitanui (2012) have already been All-Australians before, and have a case again as the AFL's No.1 big man this season.

Goldstein averages more clearances than any other footballer – not just ruckmen – while Naitanui's taken the honours in individual battles with Gawn and Grundy, and was best afield against Geelong last week.

In fact, Grundy, according to the AFL Player Ratings, is only the ninth-best ruckman in 2020 among those to appear at least six times.

That rating seems harsh, since he's still putting up pretty gaudy numbers across the board. 

RUCKMEN (minimum six games)

2020 MATCHES

AFL PLAYER RATINGS AVE.

Max Gawn (Melbourne)

9

15.1

Todd Goldstein (North Melbourne)

10

14.1

Nic Naitanui (West Coast)

9

13.2

Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast)

10

11.3

Scott Lycett (Port Adelaide)

6

11.2

Rowan Marshall (St Kilda)

10

11.1

Paddy Ryder (St Kilda)

7

10.9

Marc Pittonet (Carlton)

8

10.7

Brodie Grundy (Collingwood)

10

10.3

Reilly O'Brien (Adelaide)

10

9.9

  • Statistics courtesy of Champion Data

Gawn's Demons will take on Goldstein's Kangaroos on Sunday without him, with Gawn to miss his first game of the season.

Melbourne's triple All-Australian revealed after Tuesday night's victory over Adelaide that he was dealing with a torn shoulder muscle, but was hoping to back up against North at that stage.

Gawn and Goldstein had some momentous battles in the past, but arguably none better than in early 2016.

It's one of the few positions left in the AFL where two elite players play on each other

- Corey McKernan

The Roos won by five points that day in a game involving 41 goals, with Goldstein amassing an extraordinary 19 disposals (15 contested), five goals, nine clearances and 13 hitouts to advantage.

Gawn countered with 18 possessions (17 contested), two goals, seven clearances and 25 hitouts to advantage.

Goldstein polled maximum Brownlow Medal votes that day, yet Gawn did the same when they last met in round 23 last year.

It wasn't close in that encounter, with Gawn dwarfing his rival in every key category: disposals (26-12), marks (8-4), goals (3-0), clearances (10-4) and hitouts to advantage (15-7).

Individual clashes between Goldstein and Nic Nat, Gawn-Grundy and Goldstein-Grundy are still to come this season.

Champion North Melbourne ruckman Corey McKernan believes those head-to-head battles might ultimately split them in determining All-Australian honours.

"That's the only way we're going to be able to judge it," McKernan told AFL.com.au.

"I'm really intrigued with the head-to-head battles to come. It's one of the few positions left in the AFL where two elite players play on each other.

"It will be interesting to see who can elevate themselves and find another gear. It's like who plays well in finals – that's the way we all judge the great players."

Making the Big Four's performances even more impressive is they are doing it in a pretty rich era for ruckmen.

St Kilda's ruck duo Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall – despite lowering their colours to Grundy in round three – are proving a strong combination, especially in more recent weeks.

00:18 Mins
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Former Port tall delivers critical goal

A smooth finish from Paddy Ryder gives the Saints breathing room in the final term

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Gold Coast captain Jarrod Witts is a master tap ruckman, Scott Lycett won a flag at West Coast and now leads Port Adelaide's ruck division, and Stefan Martin's long been a key Brisbane contributor.

However, it's Western Bulldog Tim English who McKernan thinks will replicate Gawn, Grundy and Goldstein in the future.

"He's the heir apparent," McKernan said.

"He follows up well, marks the ball really well and kicks it really well – I think I saw him kick on his opposite foot the other week. He's got all the attributes." 

00:35 Mins
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Towering English lets his hands do the talking

Western Bulldogs ruckman Tim English strong in the aerial contest and kicks a goal

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RATING THE BIG FOUR

Max Gawn (28 years old, 208cm)

Key 2020 stats: 16.2 disposals (9.0 contested), 3.1 clearances, 1.8 intercept marks, 10.2 hitouts to advantage, 56.7 hitout win percentage, 18.3 hitout to advantage percentage, 3.9 score involvements

Corey McKernan's take: "His stats in the middle of the ground speak for themselves, but the other part of his game that consistently outweighs what the others do is his marking. His ability to mark the ball is what's made him elite in my eyes. I know the way they set it up; he can play a kick behind the play. Melbourne's had a bit of inconsistency with their forwards being able to mark the ball, so do you try and throw him down there? If he can kick a goal or two a game, you take your value to another level again."

01:11 Mins
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Gawn eats up everything Hawks dish up

Max Gawn had a field day against Hawthorn, marking just about every ball that was sent his way

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Todd Goldstein (32 years old, 201cm)

Key 2020 stats: 15.9 disposals (10.8 contested), 6.5 clearances, 8.1 hitouts to advantage, 45.2 hitout win percentage, 11.8 hitout-to-advantage percentage, 4.5 score involvements

Corey McKernan's take: "Whatever he's doing from a mindset point of view; he's on the move straight away (making quick decisions). He was always good at it, but now he's consistently great at it. That's witnessed with where he is in the stats in clearances. 'Goldy' is easily the best field kick out of these guys, and both he and Grundy have consistently shown they can go forward, take marks and kick goals. He's doing a good job of putting himself in more contests."

00:28 Mins
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Roos talls giving Dogs defenders headaches

Ben Brown and Todd Goldstein show their aerial prowess

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Brodie Grundy (26 years old, 203cm)

Key 2020 stats: 15.8 disposals (10 contested), 3.9 clearances, 9.4 hitouts to advantage, 54.2 hitout win percentage, 14.6 hitout-to-advantage percentage, 3.9 score involvements 

Corey McKernan's take: "I think it's just his sheer consistency. Sometimes the other guys might have their colours lowered, but I can't think of many times others get the better of Grundy. He's got a great all-round game. Him and 'Goldy' are probably the most consistent across the board in all the facets we're talking about. They're going forward and kicking goals; their kicking is great; their follow-up is great; their taps to advantage are really good. With Gawn, for example, we might be saying there's a knock on his kicking, but that's only nitpicking."

00:27 Mins
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Grundy snapping like a small forward

Brodie Grundy shows he can do just about everything with a great snap around his body

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Nic Naitanui (30 years old, 202cm)

Key 2020 stats: 9.9 disposals (8.1 contested), 5.3 clearances, 8.1 hitouts to advantage, 62 hitout win percentage, 17 hitout-to-advantage percentage, 3.4 score involvements

Corey McKernan's take: "Nic Nat jumps that hard he invariably moves the other ruckman off the line. Sometimes it doesn't matter what other ruckmen do; he's just so strong once he jumps at the ball. But, if you're over six-foot-four, you've got to mark the ball. People could argue differently and say, 'No, he's there for hitouts'. I'd love to see him do it, because if he does, we're going to see footy you've never seen in your life. He's like a six-foot-six Cyril Rioli. Cyril didn't have to have the same stats everyone else did, because his impact was incredible. Nic Nat is exactly the same."

00:34 Mins
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Nic Nat snap gets the Eagles going

Nic Naitanui kicks an opportunistic goal for West Coast

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