The art of the ruck.
They start the game and can be the difference between winning and losing.
Ruckmen are the most frustrating and hardest to develop.
The golden rule of recruiting is proven with these players – the taller the player, the longer the development.
But clubs are now taking ruckmen from the state league competitions and are causing this rule to be challenged.
In 2007 before there were expansion clubs, there was a young ruckman from the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
Matthew Kreuzer was dominating the TAC Cup with his size and athleticism, leading to him being taken number one overall in the AFL draft.
His career has been riddled with injuries that come with being so big and the physicality being very different from the TAC Cup.
Kreuzer is a great athlete but he has never really adapted well to the AFL.
Why do ruckmen take so long to develop?
The fact is these players are rushed into the AFL system.
Seven long years before Kreuzer was drafted, there was a young West Australian who would become arguably the best ruckman ever.
Dean Cox had made his debut for East Perth and was named best on ground in the WAFL grand final.
He was drafted in the 2001 rookie draft at pick 28. Dean Cox is a six time All-Australian, best and fairest winner and a premiership player.
Aaron Sandilands is the reigning All-Australian ruckman and has been one of the most dominant ruckmen in the last decade.
Sandilands is also a four time All-Australian, two time Ross Glendinning Medallist and dual best and fairest winner.
With the success these players had, why even try to draft top-level ruckmen when you can develop one from the rookie draft?
The main reason is because ruckmen are hard to find and the logic is the higher the pick, the better the player, when the fact is the more potential equals the better player.
Let’s say there are two ruckmen; the first is 200 cm and 92 kg and has great athleticism, but lacks in strength.
The other is 205 cm and 105 kg and is dominating his competition.
Who do you take?
The answer most of you probably said is the second one because he is dominating there so there’s no reason he why he shouldn’t in the AFL.
The answer should be the first ruckman, because even though he isn’t strong now he will adapt at a faster rate than the second ruckman because the larger ruckman has always dominated and will take longer to develop because of that.
If we want ruckmen who develop faster, then we need to move the draft age up to 20.
Those two extra years in development could mean they are more prepared for a system which is harsh on those who don’t perform and lack maturity.
State league ruckmen are going to continue to be drafted because of the impact they can make from the get go, but we can prepare the younger ruckmen for the jump.
Ruckmen are just hard to develop, that’s the way it is always going to be.