Analysis: 2023 Rucks

Written by Gunboat Diplomacy on February 9 2023

Historically, the ruck line has been the position with the highest concentration of ownership percentages with the least amount of diversity and experimentation. However this time around there is a total lack of a set and forget combo and, it could also be argued, no real must have option to build from at R1. The ruck landscape is totally open with, by this pieces count, nearly 20 feasible options – perhaps a little less if we’re being serious but anything over a handful in recent SC history is galling. The present ruck scene offers combinations and structures well outside of SC orthodoxy, with scope to go for value and re-invest elsewhere, pay up and hope non-believers are punished, consider titans thought to be no longer or blend all the aforementioned. How coaches opt to navigate this uniquely open landscape will be determinative to how the early ranks fall.

You get the feeling that the OA rucks will wrap up in Round 24 with some names at the pointy end wouldn’t have expected. My particular shout is that one of the old school established rucks who haven’t really been relevant will somehow vie for a Top 2 finish just on consistency and the strength of their craft.

Let’s begin!

Nic Naitanui, Max Gawn, Brodie Grundy or Todd Goldstein? It might be time we rethink the role of an AFL ruckman - ABC News

Max GAWN (MELB, $622.1k, 113.0, 4%)

Opening Fixture: WBD, BRIS, SYD, WCE, ESS, RICH

Paired up with Grundy and recently copped a hamstring injury. Don’t see how you can rock him at R1 for 600k. We’ll get to how the Dees will potentially line up when we discuss his more relevantly priced partner in crime.

Jarrod WITTS (GCS, $605.1k, 109.9, 11%)

Opening Fixture: SYD, ESS, GEEL, STK, FREO, NTH

Are we all looking at it wrong? Given how open the landscape is could the move be to just pay up for the most established, safe option in Witts instead of dicking around with all these flyer options? Witts is a known quality from 2022: out of nowhere ramped up to a career best average of 109.9 even after a prolonged hiatus from the game due to injury, dropping 8 scores of 130+ and smoking the rest of the ruck options. He’s accordingly priced as such this time around. You’d think we’d all be jumping on him but something just doesn’t quite feel right –  which Lazza the other day summarized far better than I ever could:

He is over priced… Might pay to look at Witt’s top scores last season … he had 13 tons with many of them against second string rucks and 8 rounds at 90 or less .. 154 vs Pittonet, 136 v Cameron, 132 v Ladhams, 131 v Sweet, 119 vs Koschitzke, 148 v Finlayson and 133 v McEvoy (2nd game back after long injury lay-off) .. his draw afforded perfect “timing” to inflate his average…

The stars aligned last year and, of course to his credit, Witts just decimated the soft ruck fixture that was in his path. Opens the season against Hickey, who is the most restrictive ruck in the comp, but otherwise has a decent opening 6. Just a matter of whether you want to pay up 600k for him at the top of price when there are premo DEFs and MIDs at the same price (or more) who can put him away.

Tim ENGLISH (WBD, $581.k, 105.5, 27%)

Opening Fixture: MELB, STK, BRIS, RICH, PTA, FREO

Tingles is the most confounding ruck option. On the park, he’s R1. Goes at 1:1 for HOs to disposals and covers the ground spectacularly. His injury and management profile however is just traumatizing to be associated with – concussions, strains, indeterminative niggles. Over the last month he’s had both a concussion concern and then a minor adductor issue. Given he’s the 3rd most expensive ruck, it might be worth starting him; if he pops off, great, but if something happens you can easily go down to whoever emerged early. The value in fading him entirely and betting against him (saving trades and cash) still remains though…who’s game?

Sean DARCY (FREO, $562.2k, 102.1, 5%)

Opening Fixture: STK, NTH, WCE, ADEL, SUNS, WBD

The impulse to write him off due to the arrival of second fiddle Jackson is probably going to be warranted. Hasn’t been able to get a bruise free run and return to the heights of his rampaging 2021 and the addition of an internally rated 2nd ruck like Jackson won’t help. To be fair, he has been able to score well with Meek in the side before and is still a great overhead mark going back or foward but playing alongside a 2nd ruck is going to lower his floor by eating into his economy in the first instance and then also cap his ceiling by depriving him of those cherry-on-top CB H2As. Pretty good fixture but doesn’t feel great going head first into a 562k option who’s going to be second fiddled.

Reilly O’BRIEN (ADEL, $560.5k, 101.8, 2%)

Opening Fixture: GWS, RICH, PTA, FREO, CARL, HAW

Bloody SLOB. Absolutely ruined my life last year. Started him, all was well, but then showed a really annoying floor while not developing his intercept and around the ground work at all. Got a pretty nice early fixture but would be a bit of a gamble to start him after a down year and no signs of tangible development.

Nic NAITANUI (WCE, $537.5k, 97.6, 1%)

Opening Fixture: NTH, GWS, FREO, MELB, GEEL, PTA

Lifting this straight from tomorrow’s upcoming Eagles Preview:

You know what, in the current landscape,Nic Natanui wouldn’t be the most ridiculous pick. “But he’s old!” they howled, well yeah but so are most of readers and we kept you lot around. While he is indeed going to be 33 this year and plays very low, managed TOG he put up his career best SC season just two years ago (22 games, 115.1) and has had a very strong pre-season – looking lean, blasting everyone else away at match sims. 8 games last year is, of course, a red flag but even then he still cobbled together basically a triple digit average and scores of 119, 119 and 132. If Tingles has another issue, RoMo isn’t rucking solo and then one of the budget rucks doesn’t pan out, Nic Nat will probably be the best of the established rucks to be honest. Doubt any of us will have the stones to do it and the hesitancy of obviously warranted but watch him finish the year with a bizarrely serviceable average.

Will add by summary: durability, TOG and age valid concerns, price and early fixture not instantly compelling, but remains an all time talent capable of high H2A and CP blinders.

Mark BLICAVS (GEEL, DEF/RUC, $537.2k, 97.6, 3%)

Opening Fixture: COLL, CARL, GCS, HAW, WCE, SYD

The game’s ultimate utility is garnering some popularity. Capable of being deployed as a key defender, a ruck, on a wing and as a tagger gives him an incredibly volatile scoring stream. Will be hard to pin down where he’ll start given his versatility and fluid utilization in the Cats’ coaches box but if you’re game for the ride there’ll certainly be some nice purple patches on the back of SC conducive roles.

Toby NANKERVIS (RICH, $531.1k, 96.5, 1%)

Opening Fixture: CARL, ADEL, COLL, WBD, SYD, MELB

Had that brief period where he was straight up bussing, going on a rampage with scores of 107, 84, 121, 108, 135, 134, 85, 107, 141 and 95 before plummeting back down to earth with a 39 (did also have a 158 in Round 21). Was playing great footy at the time as well; strong H2A work and score involvement while maintaining that crash and bash style. If Mumford was a caveman, Nank is a caveman who’s discovered fire. Going to be surrounded by a fully refurbished midfield this year, so that could be interesting, but probably lacks the upside when priced over 500k.

Todd GOLDSTEIN (NTH, $513.3k, 1%)

Opening Fixture: WCE, FREO, HAW, CARL, BRIS, GCS

Really comes down to whether Clarkson persists with the on field development of Xerri at the expense of Goldy as a pure ruck. Still got it when playing solo. Definitely keep him in mind if/when Xerri goes down, by which point he might have DPP. For now though, a pass to the Arden Street stalwart.

Brodie GRUNDY (MELB, $512.9k, 103.5, 17%)

Opening Fixture: WBD, BRIS, SYD, WCE, ESS, RICH

It would have been inconceivable a few years ago that AA rivals Gawn and Grundy would end up in the same side, but here we are. The expectation is it’ll be Grundy who starts at the CB, with Gawn in more of a hybrid role. Batting to a great midfield, reportedly wrapped to be at the Dees and still an immense talent, so can probably be penciled in for 95~ at a starting point but a shared ruck economy, with Gawn no less, is always going to be frustrating and keep a lid on him.

I think starting Grundy at the center bounce and Gawn down back, with Grundy pushing FWD and Gawn coming up to the stoppages, would be a really unique set up that would accomodate their respectives strengths outside of HO contests (Gawn’s defensive in the hole intercepting and Grundy’s midfield-esque offensive mindedness. It does appear they’re just gonna go one at CB, on FWD and rotate however. Shame.

Rowan MARSHALL (STK, $506.5k, 92.0, 41%)

Opening Fixture: FREO, WBD, ESS, GCS, COLL, CARL

What will it take for this man to be free of the shackles of Ryder and 2nd fiddle duties? A lot actually. Even though Ryder’s hung it up the Saints have been babbling about how much “we love Rowan’s forward craft” and his “impact across the ground” – for god’s sake, as if he can’t do that as a solo ruck. The real death knell however was King’s injury, leaves the Saints without an anchor up forward and given the lack of list depth RoMo, in their heads, needs to therefore have some kind of a forward footprint. It’s so cringe. Campbell is battling but if he’s available for Round 1, it looks like they’ll go with him and RoMo as a 1-2. They’ve even said they would consider bringing Ryder back for an 8 game stint until King gets back and they can resettle! Disaster.

Long story short: only select him if he’s solo and free of the cult mentality that he needs to be FWD. Shame, because he’s got a nice fixture!

Braydon PREUSS (GWS, $506.0k, 91.9, 0%)

Opening Fixture: ADEL, WCE, CARL, ESS, HAW, BRIS

I still maintain Preuss was great early in the year until injury, suspension and selection colluded to just destroy him. Early on he was the #1 ruck for (get ready), total HOs, H2As AND contested marks and honestly, as someone who watches every game, an AA contender early. $506.5k is of course too much to find out but if Kingsley has his head on and runs an in shape Preuss solo I wouldn’t be surprised if he hauled ass. Mainly just wanted to put on the record that’s he genuinely a good player, aha!

Oscar McINERNEY (BRIS, $487.0k, 88.5, 1%)

Opening Fixture: PTA, MELB, WBD, COLL, NTH, GWS

Lifting this from the Lions Preview I did the other day:

Had that really strong 2021 backend where he was close to R1 behind only a rampaging Darcy but since then Oscar McInerney hasn’t taken that next step. Regressed on his average last year and still ranks as one of the work overhead marking and around the ground rucks in the competition. Opens the season against Port, Dees, Dogs, Pies, Roos and Giants – not the worst early fixture, but probably better options out there.

Suppose it would be fun to have him, Neale and Dunks though lol.

Darcy CAMERON (COLL, $465.9k, 84.6, 32%)

Opening Fixture: GEEL, PTA, RICH, BRIS, STK, ESS

A handful of setbacks, including a recent minor hamstring injury, have tempered enthusiasm for a player who is otherwise a must have to be perfectly honest. Sub 500k, did 104 as a ruck and is now the big boss with Grundy gone. Really like him as a FWD option but the move of selecting him as a ruck to see where the other rucks fall is also prudent.

Tom HICKEY (SYD, $465.9k, 84.6, 1%)

Opening Fixture: GCS, HAW, MELB, PTA, RICH, GEEL

Capable of some great scoring, playing in a red hot energetic and ascendant side and as the most restrictive SC ruck is totally insulated against tough fixtures. Again, only relevant in the current landscape and could be an absolute sleeper. Did 103.2 in a full 2021 season, was hampered early last but then made the quickest PCL recovery in medical history and found some dynamic form late while banging out 120s.

Luke JACKSON (FREO, $465.5, 84.5, 7%)

Opening Fixture: STK, NTH, WCE, ADEL, SUNS, WBD

Just don’t understand how 7% of coaches at starting a second fiddle ruck at 465k. Sure, he put together the nice scores last year at 84.5 in that role and is undoubtedly an ascendant talent but realistically what can a 2nd ruck/FWD do? 90 flat? Maybe press 95 on trajectory amongst a youthful midfield? Just doesn’t seem to have a lot of upside whilst playing alongside such a strong traditional HO ruck in Darcy. Freo have said they like him as a midfielder but that seems like a massive stretch given their clear lack of FWD stocks and stacked midfield.

Lloyd MEEK (HAW, $431.1k, 87.0, 5%)

Opening Fixture: ESS, SYD, NTH, GEEL, GWS, ADEL

Never had a proper run at it being behind Darcy but for the fleeting moments we’ve seen Meek he’s been a solid 9-5, HO ruck. Free reign at the Hawks would be great but likely going to partner up with Reeves apparently, so the early enthusiasm has subsided. Rucking at the Hawks to a new and obscure midfield probably also diminishes his appeal.

Scott LYCETT (PTA, $429.9k, 86.8, 3%)

Opening Fixture: BRIS, COLL, ADEL, SYD, WBD, WCE

“Which moron requests a traded after winning a flag?” is what I’ve derided Lycett even since he shipped off the South Australia. Just loathed him. Now, he is in my team along with 3% of coaches. Had an initial shoulder injury which then became infected and rubbed him out for all of 2022. Had a ripper pre-season in full contact and a few nice lauditory press conferences. Even if you sift through the hype, the case for Lycett is strong: 101.4, 96.9 and 94.2 prior to last year, a strong ceiling and batting to a robust midfield looking to catapult themselves back into contention. Should be solid for 90+ on that profile.

Clearly the walk up solo ruck at Port. Hayes isn’t up the level despite getting a lengthy chance and Finlayson would have been played as a FWD and 2nd ruck and wouldn’t have challenged for a solo spot – doesn’t matter as he’s injured and in doubt for Round 1 anyway.

Sam DRAPER (ESS, $398.7k, 72.4, 9%)

Opening Fixture: HAW, GCS, STK, GWS, MELB, COLL

Wighty and Theoriginalforce have somehow conned 9% of people in starting Draper! I’m stunned. He’s been the standout at the Hangar over the pre-season, which made me do a double take, and would not doubt be fun to own but the following facts remain: not a traditional HO ruck and plays a highly involved crash and bash style, which together is not at all conducive for SC. Also went flat on his average last year despite playing a full season. Going to have a capital season and take some strides for the Dons just very hard for that to translate into SC when he doesn’t capitalize on that solo ruck scoring stream.

Marc PITTONET (CARL, $386.1k, 70.1, 1%)

Opening Fixture: RICH, GEEL, GWS, NTH, ADEL, STK

Nabbed the Blues ruck gig a few years back and famously made 200k for many coaches at R3. He’s since struggled to find continuity in successive seasons at 13 and 8 games. That, of course, is cause for concern but there’s definitely a case for Pittonet in 2023 assuming he comes in ready to rock. He’ll be batting to what was, for half of the season, the best clearance and CP side in the competition, he has an old school 1-2 vibe with Cripps who is coming off Brownlow form (both score better playing with each other) and should get weapons he hasn’t really played with in Hewett, as a sweeper, and Kennedy, as a bull, into the engine room. Just on a #1 ruck role to that midfield, he should do 85~.

Jonathan CEGLAR (GEEL, $374.4k, 85.0, 0%)

Opening Fixture: COLL, CARL, GCS, HAW, WCE, SYD

Was apparently seen as the last ingredient required for a flag, an established ruckman. They managed to get by just fine without him lol. Injured last year and I literally haven’t heard a single thing on him over the pre-season.

Which 2x RUCs are you rolling with?

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So there we go. All the relevant ruck options catalogued. Have a read, fire off your choices in the poll and then, if you like, let us know your thoughts on the ruck landscape and how you’re heading in to 2023.


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22 thoughts on “Analysis: 2023 Rucks”

  1. I’m backing in Witts as I feel he can do well with a slightly improved midfield. He is capable of scoring well against the better ruckman, but what hurt him is the HTA or sharked hitouts.

    Looking at his stats he had 41 or more hitouts in 8 games, but then every other game was above 30 except for 3. Those 3 were 29 and 2 28s against Freo, WC and North in rounds 9, 1 and 23. He had scores of 113, 131 and 90.

    For his worst scoring game he had a 63 against Collingwood in round 16, where he was up against Cox and Cameron. What truly hurt him that game was 12 possessions being only 3 kicks and only 6 HTA. Cox ended up with 7 HTA. This tells me he was losing points likely from sharked hitouts.

    His next lowest score was against Adelaide in rd 14 for 68. He had 39 hitouts that game against O’Brien who had 33 hitouts. That game once again he only had 6 HTA, where O’Brien had 13 HTA.

    For his 2nd highest hitout games it was against Brisbane in rd 19 with 50 hitouts, but he only scored 80 points. 11 HTA in that game, but then how many would have been picked up by Neale instead?

    Going through the stats his scoring his heavily reliant on HTA as his best scoring games come from HTA as one game he had 23 HTA against Brisbane in rd 6, scoring 143 points. There were a couple games better, which had high HTA but also a high possession count.

    This is where I see Witts is fine against the better ruckman as he can win contests, it is just how the midfield goes around him. Gold Coast had gained Jed Anderson and Connor Blakely this season, so will this help benefit Witts, to generate more HTA and less being sharked, which will help his scoring?


  2. Got a little summary next week on a potential “new” ROB. Spent his time away supposedly fixing his mental demons which in turn may fix his desire to get around the ground and intercept more.

    Still managed 102 with 160/175 highs so any improvement on that, you’d take. Maybe I’m just hoping, or dreaming (sigh)!


  3. Whatever happened to Flynn at GWS? I felt like he was doing well in 2021 and has disappeared since.
    I may have missed something obvious


  4. Feels like a few wasted correction trades are inevitable, real lucky dip and good luck if you nail this!


  5. I can hardly believe that Draper’s and Jackson’s ownerships are more than double that of Lycett. Lycett is hardly going to reinvent the ruck landscape, but he’s a proven consistent scorer.
    Surely Draper and Jackson would be any owner’s second ruck. IMO in 2023, our second ruck needs to be somewhat reliable or bankable, given the top line of rucks are so hard to get a read on.
    I think we may be a year early on Jackson, we have almost no evidence on which to base any projections for him at Freo. And unless Draper totally reinvents his play style, I don’t see him as ever being SC relevant.

    Maybe I’m too cynical.


    1. Looking for a ruck that can hang around to be traded on your terms.
      I wanna focus on upgrading to those 110-115 players instead of swapping rucks back and fwd.
      A 90+ average is good if he gets it till traded.
      Can’t run a rookie, the top tier are to fragile or most likely peaked or playing split role.
      So a mid pricer it is.


  6. Long time site information stealer, first time poster.

    Finished 85th overall last season, so credit where credit is due to you guys for a top site.

    Another great article as usual, which has helped me to narrow down my ruck choice…….to one of 20 possibles lol.


  7. We had a few years where we had viable R3 cover through rookies. There was also some remarkable durability shown by Grundy and Gawn, which really saw us be able to bypass a R/F as cover.
    I think we are back to absolutely needing that R/F cover. The options I see at present:

    1. Start a Cameron or Jackson in the forwards. The plus is that you have immediate cover- which I think we need. More so if you are running English, Lycett, Pittonet or Meek. The first 3 for injury risk, and Meek on selection. The minus is they may not be top 6 forwards by end of the year, and you may block yourself from Gawn or Darcy if they get DPP.

    2. Start a Cameron or Jackson as R2, and move them down later. Plus is one less trade to fill your Ruck, and time to assess best Ruck options. The minus is that you won’t have cover early, which I think is higher risk this year.

    3. Wait for DPP and hope that either Gawn or Darcy get R/F DPP and be good enough to be a top 6 forward. The plus is that I think both Gawn and Darcy will score better than Cameron or Jackson. The minus is that you don’t have early cover. Also if they don’t get DPP, you may be forced to pay higher for Cameron or Jackson than their starting price. (However, a rookie R3 may emerge)

    4. Get a cheaper R/F option than Cameron or Jackson, with the idea that they can be upgraded later. At his price, Ratagolea would be a good choice, but I suspect GD is right and he’s not best 22. The other main option would be Fort for me. He had a few sub affected scores last year, and with McStay gone, he might get more games. Whilst he did play a fair few games, he was always fringe B22. Think that changes this year. The plus is that he is affordable enough to be a target F7/R3, whereas at their price Cameron and Jackson need to be F6. I think he might be able to improve 100k in cash – he might even get a Cameron-spurt if Big O gets injured.

    As I say, I think the idea of Ruck coverage is an important part of our planning this year. And I just think we have slept on Fort, and perhaps should add him to our list.


  8. My current team has Cameron and Big O

    Cameron because he’s underpriced and can be moved to F6 when we know who’s a better choice

    Big O because Brisbane have the best midfield in the comp and I typically favor rucks on teams with good mids. plus McStay to Pies eases some of Brisbanes Tall congestion so has a high ceiling

    Plus if he retains his price he will at the very least be a useful stepping stone for whoever is going 115

    Might turn Big O into Nic Nat if I’m feeling Brave


  9. I’m a big fan of English and Darcy and currently have both.

    Still considering Lycett.

    I feel Cameron is a little overrated. He had a purple patch last year after Grundy went down and averaged 107 from round 7 for 10 rounds. After that, his scoring had some real poor ones. Maybe he was tiring, maybe opposition teams were putting more time into him, I don’t know. There’s also a lot of noise that Cox will be R1 at the pies. In the end, he’s more insurance than anything but probably won’t average worse than his price.


  10. Loving the ruck situation right now. Loved GG set forget too…

    So many combo’s so many variables. RoMo and Tingles here early doors no lock. Might be the line that makes or breaks.


  11. Sam Draper – “game not suited to SC” v “inconsistent youngster to break out contender”

    Draper’s 3yr average suggests he’s not SC relevant. He’s within 2.4 points over 3 seasons – reliably blah:
    • 70.4 (8 games) in 2020
    • 72.8 (12 games) in 2021
    • 72.4 (22 games) in 2022

    Underlying stats:
    • Reasonable top end : scored 100+ in 30% of games in career (but only 14% of games in 2022) with a high score of 126
    • Gone missing a lot : scored under 50 in 18% of games (23% in 2022 which included 6, 21 & a 34)
    • High and low variation relates to basic game involvement spanning both HO & disposals (goals not driving much deviation in score)
    • Likely to play in 2023 : played 22 games in 2022 (is fit & firing coming into 2023 and definitely B22)

    As a 24y.o. ruck that was a late convert to AFL & (insert borderline innuendo about big men taking longer), he’s got plenty of upside if he delivers consistent impact.

    Assessment into 2023:
    • Break-out upside : more consistent game involvement in Draper’s 4th season could easily gain him 10+ points on 2022
    • Not a keeper in 2023 (unless your team is full kack)

    Might be worth considering as a safe steppingstone whilst the ruck landscape becomes clearer – probably killing time in your team like Lycett. He’s second string option to me as I watch Cameron (FWD to provide RUC back-up) injury, English role / concussion & Marshall role.



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