LAST week, two AFL ruckmen went down with serious injuries. Last year, only three ruckmen were drafted.
When Rowan Marshall at St Kilda was ruled out for the start of the season with a foot injury, the Saints quickly signed Paul Hunter, who had been training with the club for the pre-season supplemental selection period spot.
When Braydon Preuss suffered his serious shoulder injury, the Giants looked inward – back at veteran Shane Mumford and towards the yet-to-debut Matthew Flynn to take on the No.1 mantle.
The gulf between the need for big men at the top level and how many are actually coming through the system has never been as glaring.
It is why, although the League is in an era where it has been forced to cut lists, resources and staff in the fallout from COVID-19, it should consider adding another way to bring ruckmen into the game.
The trend of clubs avoiding drafting ruckmen has been in plain sight since Brodie Grundy slipped to Collingwood's pick No.18 in 2012. Tim English, four years later, got through to the reigning premiers, the Western Bulldogs, with pick No.19.
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Instead, clubs have used the annual trade and free agency period to restock their ruck department with ready-to-go big men. In 2019, eight ruckmen changed clubs.
Last year, Preuss, Stef Martin, Tom Hickey and Shaun McKernan swapped clubs, with Shannon Neale (Geelong), Samson Ryan (Richmond) and Henry Smith (Brisbane) the only pure ruckmen entering the system via the NAB AFL Draft – Adelaide's top choice Riley Thilthorpe is considered more of a forward.
The AFL already has two categories of rookies: 'A' (players selected in the standard rookie draft) and 'B' (players who are from non-traditional recruiting backgrounds, such as international players, Next Generation Academy prospects and other sports).
But it should look at adding a third category to give clubs an opportunity outside the salary cap to nurture and grow young ruckmen to ensure their development continues.
The time and patience required for ruckmen to prosper means that some clubs would prefer to pick off mature-aged options in the exchange period, but opening up a rookie program where they can learn their craft to the side if they have been overlooked in the national draft would ensure there is a big-man breeding ground.
Some application would have to be applied – prospects must be 195cm or taller, for instance, and a cap of only one per club – but with the category B rookie list already being used to house ruck prospects from previous sports, including the success story of premiership Tiger Ivan Soldo, a dedicated ruck list offers even greater flexibility for clubs.
And with uncertainty surrounding the players' next collective bargaining agreement from the end of this season, establishing a ruck rookie list should be part of the discussions.