The art of the ruck, and its role in modern footy, is sometimes a little hard to pin down. While some sides have a lot of importance placed on the position, others use it as nearly an afterthought.
The Western Bulldogs have probably led the latter trend more than any other club in recent years. In 2020, the won the total number of ruck contests zero (0) times in 18 games. The year before, they won the hitout battle just once.
Despite having a group of extremely solid midfielders, including Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Josh Dunkley, Tom Liberatore, Bailey Smith and Lachie Hunter, the Dogs have largely failed to dominate the coalface.
At some point, failing to get first opportunity to win the ball off the tap of the ruck, or at least control the direction of the first opportunity at the ball, hurts a side.
For all the promise Tim English has shown in his short career, his ability as a front line ruck who can dominate first use of the ball is firmly in question. While English has shown some ability at ground level and to track the ball in flight defensively, he often gets bodied or pushed out of position in one-out situations – including ruck contests – by shorter opponents.
After four years of the English experiment, the Dogs have opted to bring in a mature ruck to stop the damage, at least for a year or two
After 190 games across two clubs, Stef Martin is entering the final stages of his surprising career. Starting out at Melbourne as a key position defender, Martin transitioned into the ruck over the years and established himself as a top level ruckman during his time at Brisbane. Never amazing in the actual ruck contest, Martin supplemented his value with his ability to win the ball around the ground and use it safely.
It’s Martin’s height, not his ruck craft, that means he doesn’t win a large amount of raw hitouts – although he generally does a good job of controlling the direction of the contest. Both are giant leaps on what English provides right now for the Dogs. Having Martin there will likely help mentor English in the finer points of top level ruckwork, which may be a bigger help to the Dogs in the future.
Presumably, the intention will be to play English and Martin in dual ruck roles next year, similar to how Brisbane deployed Oscar McInerney alongside Martin. This may work, but the question may be whether English or Martin can hold their place among the best 22 in a non-ruck role.
What started out as a simple late draft exchange became a three team trade with the inclusion of former rookie listed Dogs defender Lachie Young, who heads to North Melbourne. Young has shown limited flashes as a mid-sized rebounding type defender in a small number of games, and is probably worth a flyer for a Roos side in a deep rebuild.
Essentially, Young represents the Shinboners’ sixth draft choice – sitting somewhere in the 70-80 range. Just a single good season, or even reliable depth cover, will make this trade worthwhile for North.
The picks exchanged here are minimal when it comes to value. If Young or Martin get regular games in 2021 and beyond, the players will be almost certainly more valuable than the picks involved.
Verdict: Fair trade, Brisbane give up the most value and both other teams do well, but all within reason.
Note: This post is part of a series of posts using a valuation method called Player Approximate Value (PAV) to evaluate trades for fairness and balance. Readers can explore these values with tools such as 5-year player value projection charts and a Salary Prediction tool as well as the HPN Trade Calculator to evaluate potential trades.
Elsewhere, read much more about the method and theory behind PAV. Expressing the value of players and picks in terms of expected future PAV provides a common currency for comparing them in trades and other movements. Players are projected using PAPLEY, a method to derive expected future PAVs.