It's a common frustration for Melbourne and Collingwood fans this year - watching their superstar ruckmen Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy dominate their opponents at each bounce down and throw-in, yet tearing their hair out at their teams' inability to capitalise.
These two giants -- literally, in the physical sense, and metaphorically in the way they've dominated the AFL's ruck position in the past handful of years -- should be significant trump cards for their two sides. Gawn, the Melbourne skipper, is a three-time All-Australian while Grundy has twice received that honour.
In 2020, Grundy ranks first for hitouts per game, with Gawn third (North Melbourne's Todd Goldstein sits second). Yet regularly throughout this season, neither club has been able to fully capitalise on the duo's hitout dominance despite boasting intimidating firepower at the coalface.
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You'd assume midfields featuring Scott Pendlebury, Taylor Adams, Adam Treloar and Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney and Christian Petracca would feast on gaining an armchair ride from their ruckmen, but that isn't the case. With plenty of experts and fans alike questioning Gawn and Grundy's impact, Champion Data statistics indicate Collingwood and Melbourne's midfield brigades should shoulder the majority of blame in not converting ruck dominance into clearances and scores.
Let's look at the Demons first. This year, Melbourne midfielders rank No. 1 for gaining first possession after a ruck contest, an indication Gawn is performing his primary role. However, from there, things get ugly - the Demons rank 16th in terms of turning first possessions into clearances, and 14th for turning clearances into a score. There is something clearly amiss in the chain between Gawn's big oustretched hands, the midfielders at his feet, and the Demons' forward line.
Pure ruckwork has never been Grundy's greatest strength -- his running ability, follow-up work and competitiveness at ground level make him an extra midfielder once the ruck contest is over -- but he is still one of the league's premier hitout combatants. As previously stated, he's ranked first in the league for hitouts per game, and his hitouts-to-advantage percentage ranks him fourth in the AFL. Job done. But from there, the Pies' onball brigade breaks down - ranking just seventh in terms of gaining first possession from a hitout, and a horrible 17th in turning those first possessions into a clearance. They're also just 13th in turning clearances to scores.
It is clear that something is seriously amiss at both teams in regards to their ruck-midfield connection. The question marks become even more pronounced when West Coast's Nic Naitanui almost single-handedly inspires his side to victory against the Cats. But was it Naitanui's brilliance that inspired that victory, or was it the Eagles' midfield that worked harder and smarter to capitalise on their ruckman's efforts?
One thing's for sure, the answer doesn't simply fall on the broad shoulders of Gawn and Grundy. It's a more complex issue than simply looking at the post-game hitout and clearance stats, but it's a riddle Simon Goodwin and Nathan Buckley need to solve before this crazy, shortened season gets away from them.
Below are the top 10 ruckmen in the AFL based on Champion Data's rankings:
1. Max Gawn (Melbourne)
2. Todd Goldstein (North Melbourne)
3. Nic Naitanui (West Coast)
4. Paddy Ryder (St Kilda)
5. Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast)
6. Scott Lycett (Port Adelaide)
7. Marc Pittonet (Carlton)
8. Reilly O'Brien (Adelaide)
9. Brodie Grundy (Collingwood)
10. Rowan Marshall (St Kilda)