MORE players than ever before are going third-man up in ruck contests, with Geelong's Mark Blicavs leading the way.
Blicavs has taken just half of 2015 to smash the previous record haul of 'third-man-up' ruck hit-outs recorded in a single season.
Hawthorn’s Jordan Lewis has led the League for 'third-man-up' hit-outs every year since the statistic started being recorded by Champion Data in 2012.
In 2012, Lewis had 50, which he increased to 54 in 2013 and then to a record 63 last year.
This season, as debate heats up about whether a rule is needed to stop non-competing ruckmen from jumping to contest a ball-up or throw-in, Blicavs has surged ahead with 71 from just 11 games.
In a stark showing of the way the former steeplechaser has been used by Chris Scott this season, Blicavs' haul comes after racking up just 24 hit-outs in third-man up situations in 2013, and 29 last season.
But it's not just Blicavs who has increased his numbers.
Across the competition, the trend has exploded, with 868 recorded in total across the first 11 rounds.
In the same timeframe in 2013, there were 417. In 2014, the number was 470.
Interestingly, Fremantle – whose ruckman Aaron Sandilands leads the League for hit-outs – has two players in the top four.
David Mundy (29 'third-man-up' hit-outs) and Nat Fyfe (21) sit second and fourth respectively in the AFL, with Fremantle coach Ross Lyon saying he agrees with the practice.
"Sometimes there's a little bit of confusion about who's the ruckman, and you're screening out the third jumper and you'll get pinged," Lyon told Fox Footy on Monday night.
"I think you just need some clarity on that but I like it, I like the initiative.
"Hawthorn do it very well, a lot of teams do it very well, and if you're third up, if midfielders aren't playing on you, you're proactive so then it draws them out.
"They might be standing in cover to stop your exit, so by going third up, they come to you."
The AFL has since confirmed there won't be a knee-jerk reaction to the way the Blicavs-Rhys Stanley combination tore apart the Power on Friday night before the latter left the field with a foot injury.
However, the practice will be watched closely and there could be an increased need for a rule change if a main ruckman suffered an injury as a result of a third man coming over the top.
"If we detect the primary objective of one ruck is just to lock down on the other ruckman and block him while there is the third jumper, then I think we need to address that," AFL football operations manager Evans told 3AW on Tuesday.
"I'm conscious of not just jumping to it because we've had a discussion over the week.
"We've given umpire no different instructions this week but it's something we’ll monitor."
THIRD MEN OFTEN UP
Mark Blicavs (Geelong) – The man who caused the debate to flare up this week after he and Stanley successfully teamed up against Port Adelaide. At 198cm and naturally athletic, the Cats are benefitting from essentially having two ruckmen at stoppages.
Jordan Lewis (Hawthorn) – Has done it often throughout this career and still makes the current top 10 despite playing just seven games this season. Doesn't let his 186cm height prevent him from taking on the big guys.
Ollie Wines (Port Adelaide) – The Power are fourth in the competition for average 'third-man-up' hit-outs and Wines leads the charge with 20 (fifth in the League). He was second overall behind Lewis in 2014.
Callan Ward (Greater Western Sydney) – The Giants are 15th when it comes to implementing the practice but Ward is a frequent participant. Seventh this year with 18 so far, Ward was fourth in 2014 and third in 2013.
2015 MT 3HO
1 M. Blicavs (Geel) 11 71
2 D. Mundy (Freo) 11 29
3 D. Heppell (Ess) 11 28
4 N. Fyfe (Freo) 11 21
5 O. Wines (Port) 7 20
6 S. Reid (Swans) 10 19
7 C. Ward (GWS) 11 18
8 L. Jong (Bulldogs) 9 18
9 B. Ebert (Port) 11 18
10 J. Lewis (Hawks) 7 17
FIRST 11 ROUNDS (competition totals)