An ode to depth rucks changing clubs on Deadline Day (Smith, Pittonet, Phillips)

Of all the underappreciated roles around a footy club, the back-up ruck might take the cake. Most players can push for selection (at least at a pinch) in multiple areas across the ground, stoking irons in the fire across the footy department’s whiteboard.

Not so the depth ruck.

There’s often only one, maybe two spots that the lumbering talls can fill, and opportunity often strikes due to the injury misfortune of others. Rucks have nowhere to hide – when they play, you see them everywhere.

But if you are stuck behind a Gawn, Goldstein or Grundy you are likely to be seen nowhere ever.

If a depth ruck does get an opportunity at AFL level, they have to be ready immediately; because the football media and public like nothing more than tearing down the tallest of poppies as they ball watch the play and the underprepared ruck being beaten across the ground.

Today sees three depth-ish rucks change clubs – some hoping for a promotion up the depth chart, others just for another contract. But they are all worth remembering.


Marc Pittonet is a pretty standard-issue ruck who is swapping clubs to move up the pecking order. Not to the top of the pecking order by any means, but closer to being the primary understudy.

Andrew Phillips, whose spot Pittonet is taking, moves to Essendon with a genuine chance of becoming the Bombers’ number one man.

Meanwhile, Zac Smith heads home to Queensland via a trade from Geelong after being forced well outside of senior consideration at the Cats.

With the previous movements of Sam Jacobs, Billy FramptonPaddy Ryder and Darcy Cameron, this has been a trade period which has illustrated the way clubs have a very specific idea of how many rucks they want, the level of performance they expect from them, and how much they want to pay them.

The nearly universal rule is that when a ruck slips a rung due to age or being supplanted by a developing heir, or shows they can climb a tier, they will move clubs, and move for cheap as their level of talent finds a spot on a list to match. Rucks are fungible and replaceable, outside of the very select group of them who bring unique qualities to bear.

Marc Pittonet’s exposed form doesn’t suggest he’s about to star, in his limited games in 2019 he rated via (per game) marginal PAV as clearly inferior to Ceglar and McEvoy among Hawthorn rucks:

Player Games Off mPAV Def mPAV Mid mPAV Total mPAV
Ceglar 15 0.321 -0.002 0.613 0.31
McEvoy 19 0.485 -0.271 0.5 0.238
Pittonet 2 -0.429 0.04 0.255 -0.045

For Carlton, the trade of Phillips and acquisition of Pittonet represent precisely the mechanical decision about how many list spots, and how much salary, to tie up in the ruck division. Pittonet is probably better than the delisted Matthew Lobbe, but he is very much not better than Andrew Phillips.

Player Games Off mPAV Def mPAV Mid mPAV Total mPAV
Kreuzer 15 1.121 -0.213 1.285 0.731
Phillips 5 0.786 -0.276 0.703 0.404
Pittonet 2 -0.429 0.04 0.255 -0.045
Lobbe 2 -0.19 -0.341 -0.015 -0.182

Phillips was reportedly only being offered a 1 year deal by the Blues, and there’s more opportunity at Essendon. Without Phillips, Pittonet likely becomes the number 2 guy, at presumably a lower salary and expected level of performance than Phillips.

Thus, Carlton (likely) save the money, by increasing their exposure and risk any time Kreuzer is absent. It should be noted that at age 23, compared to Phillips’ 28 and Lobbe’s 30, Pittonet also does have some scope to be a late bloomer and become an AFL-level ruck if he does get the chance.

Zac Smith may have once held the number one spot at Geelong, but he’s played six games in two years with Rhys Stanley and Esava Ratugolea preferred for 2019 finals and Darcy Fort and Ryan Abbott also jostling for position. Smith has therefore found himself another spot, probably better paid, where he won’t crack the number 1 spot given the presence of Witts, but where he’s at least the clear number 2 after Tom Nicholls (who Smith is better than anyway) retired. Returning home to Queensland was presumably also attractive for him.

The trades

None of these trades value the ruck depth movement very highly. Geelong used the pick they got for Smith to acquire Jack Steven which is a useful bit of business. With Smith only serving as backup for Witts, the pick itself is probably worth more expected future value than Smith directly, let alone any direct comparison of Steven and Smith.

Carlton roughly break even in draft terms with the effective swap of Phillips for Pittonet. Collectively in these two moves, they’ve spent four post-54 picks and brought in three of them for a net cost of one late pick.

The picks Carlton traded in these swaps include those they acquired in the pick split with Sydney, which makes good sense. Hawthorn have father-son bid matching to do and likely prefer the extra points from the picks they got here compared to the pick 48 Carlton had to begin with.

Verdict: Three nearly token trades see three rucks find their level and the Hawks get bid matching points. Nothing exchanged here gets much above the end of the third round of the draft.

Note: This article is part of a series using a valuation method called Player Approximate Value (PAV) to evaluate trades for fairness and balance. Elsewhere, you can read much more about the method and theory behind PAVYou can also read about PAPLEY, the projection method used to derive expected future PAVs, which has been revised for 2019.

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