FOUR weeks out from the start of the season, AFL Fantasy Classic coaches were left reeling with the news Braydon Preuss (RUC, $377,000) would be sidelined for four-to-five months.

Appearing in 40 per cent of teams prior to the news of his injury, the Greater Western Sydney ruckman became one of the easiest picks of the season when he made the move to his new club during last year’s Trade Period.

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The lure of being the Giants’ No. 1 ruck looked a winner for him personally and for the thousands of Fantasy coaches who made him the most popular ruck in the salary cap version of the game.

To add to the ruck carnage, almost 20 per cent of the competition had Rowan Marshall (RUC/FWD, $738,000) in their team prior to the AFL.com.au's Mitch Cleary revealing he'll miss the start of the season

Many of Marshall’s owners have used his dual-position status to field him in the forward line, but adjustments need to be made regardless of where he’s lining up.

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For what were a couple of picks coaches were happy with structuring the rest of their team around, now we’ve got to re-think (almost) everything.

Let’s consider the options.

Set and forget

The first place many coaches look to go is the set and forget option. That is, locking in two premium rucks.

Brodie Grundy (RUC, $867,000) already appears in 32 per cent of teams and has been the R1 of choice for the Grundy/Preuss combo. The most expensive ruck, Max Gawn (RUC, $944,000) is owned by 16 per cent.

Consensus thought is that the Gawn/Grundy is the optimal ruck duo.

Grundy looks to offer some value following two seasons averaging 120-plus and regressing last year to return an average of 113. Although that figure is elite, it was reported that the Pie found hub-life challenging and we should see him bounce back this year.

On the other hand, Gawn posted a career-high average of 124; a whopping 13 points better than what he achieved in 2019.  In any other position, you look to fade a premium ‘fully priced’, but the ruck division is a different kettle of fish.

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Another factor is Gawn has a sublime early run. As Calvin mentioned on a recent podcast, if Gawn scores like he did in the first six rounds as he did on his opponents in 2020, he’s be averaging 131. This would see his price increase due to his current breakeven of 124, making him hard to get as an upgrade target.

You could add Reilly O’Brien (RUC, $828,000) to the set and forget list. The 25-year-old averaged 108 last season and should continue to progress as the Crows’ main man as he comes into his prime.

Those likely to be their club’s No.1 ruck, with a bit player offering support rather than a dual-ruck set up, is key regardless of who you pick. The three names mentioned in set and forget may have a decent gap of the next best and appear safe options to maintain their standing as the best in the game.

You need a reliable captain and rucks often feature in the top-scoring players each round. Gawn and Grundy are certainly options to skipper your team for double point and they could be just as good as the top dollar midfielder (or defender/forward) you could sacrifice to load up in rucks.

Replace with another mid-priced option

A straight replacement is going to be tough based on Preuss' price point. There are no players priced at $377,000 or less that played more than 10 games last season, or has anywhere near the same upside.

You’re going to need to find extra coin from somewhere.

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Moving up the list, Tom Hickey (RUC, $418,000) could be considered if you can be confident that he will be the sole ruckman in his first year as a Swan. You’d think Callum Sinclair (RUC, $577,000) is in the mix to go in tandem with the four-club player.

Sam Draper (RUC, $454,000) played eight games for the Dons last season and offers value with a breakeven of 60. The 22-year-old may still be managed as he was in his debut year, making him a risky play.

The Lions traded Stefan Martin last October leaving Oscar McInerney (RUC, $550,000) as the big man to lead the ruck department. When rucking solo, he averaged a solid 85. If you believe there could be some natural improvement on top of this to take him to a 90-plus average, then he’d be a unique option worth considering. But again, he presents risk.

Similarly, Toby Nankervis (RUC, $556,000) will be leading the Tigers’ engine room as Ivan Soldo recovers from an ACL sustained late last season. He has a breakeven of 73 and could return a high-80s average as he did in his first two years at Richmond.

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Getting to the higher end of the mid-priced options, Jarrod Witts (RUC, $615,000) may save you some dollars from the top tier of rucks if he can return numbers similar to his 2019 season. Last year was a big drop off for the Sun who averaged 80 in the injury and COVID-19 affected season, a long way from the premium 104 posted the season prior.

All mid-priced or value players come with some risk, but the cash saved can help you out in other lines. Value has been the name of the game this pre-season with the tight salary cap and the apparent lack of potential cash cows likely to play early in the season. Every dollar is important, but you need to ask yourself if the ruck is where you need to take the risk

Look from within the Giants

Finally, could the answer be who replaces Preuss internally?

Do the Giants break the glass and back in the ‘use in case of emergency’ insurance policy in Shane Mumford (RUC, $466,000) or does Matt Flynn (RUC, $170,000) finally get a run going into his sixth season on the list?

I strongly advise against taking Mumford in any format of Fantasy, even if that price looks tantalising.

Flynn is the man the Giants may look to. After an ACL injury in 2019, he has been available since midway through last season but building his fitness. Reports out of GWS is that he’s been fighting it out with Preuss during the pre-season and is in good stead to stake his claim for a senior debut.

It would be a big call, possibly reckless, to go with him as your R2 if he is thrown in as the first ruck. With Gawn and Grundy as opponents in the first month of the season, he could be up against it to score (probably good rounds to make one of them your captain?!) and may also need the support from the experienced Mumford which would further limit his scoring.

Lock in Flynn as your R3 (bench) and enjoy the cash generation.

We’ve got some big calls to make in the next four weeks before round one commences. This is why we love Fantasy!

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