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Rooks On The Radar – Forwards and Rucks

Chook has a crack at picking this year’s Tom Rockliffe and hopes he doesn’t get a Relton Roberts instead. Oh, and the rucks get a mention, too.

Forwards

Melbourne is indubitably a team on the rise, which bodes well for DT, and the main area it needs to improve is in the forward line, where Dees supporters are still desperately waiting for former number one pick Jack Watts to deliver on his potential. Some of the fans have already earmarked Jeremy Howe for the full-forward role and are tipping early games for the Tassie high-flyer. He may take a good grab, but we all know how long it takes KPPs to develop into decent DT scorers. Rookie-priced teammate Luke Tapscott is also in the mix for some time in the Demons forward line after failing to debut last year when injury cruelled his first season at AFL level. Tapscott is ridiculously strong, but you don’t get DT points for having the thickest neck in the league, unfortunately. A far more remote chance at the Dees is Tom McDonald, a ruck-forward at TAC Cup club North Ballarat last season, but, disappointingly, only listed as a forward in DT this year. Consider Howe and Tapscott if they look set for game time after the NAB, but be aware there may be higher points scorers out there.

A better prospect for points will be North Melbourne’s mature-age recruit Cam Richardson, who played for the Roos’ VFL affiliate North Ballarat during the past two years. A lot of early-season best 22s that I’ve seen have Richardson starting on North’s half-back flank, a position which could help him generate quite a few cheap possies running out of defence, which, of course, translates into tasty DT scores for us. As big a rookie “lock” as you can have in January, I’d say.

To switch tack completely, a long-shot could be West Coast’s Jack Darling. He’s popped up on a few planner teams so far, so he’s on the radar of some coaches, no doubt ones who recall his efforts at the under-16 national carnival in 2008, when he was clearly the best kid in the country. In the latest Prospectus, Champion Data’s Fantasy Freako draws attention to his “world-record” 308-point Supercoach score in an under-16 game. Unfortunately for Darling, a mixture of injuries and off-field indiscretions saw his peers not only catch up but surpass the West Perth starlet. He dropped to 26th in last year’s draft, where he was picked up by the wooden spooners. I wouldn’t bank on early games, but there’s clearly potential if he can get his body – and head – right.

Finally we turn to the new kids on the block, the Gold Coast. The Suns will offer us lots of cheap, fresh meat for our forward lines, but the problem will be points production, given that many of them are tall, key position-type players, and guessing exactly who’ll get the early games with Gold Coast scheduled for the season’s first bye. Brandon Matera looks the best bet from a scoring point of view, being a small forward who kicked 23 goals and averaged almost 17 disposals a game in the VFL last year. He failed to crack a DT century in 2010, but reached the 90s five times in his 17 games. Charlie Dixon kicked just one goal less than Matera last season (that’s 22 for all the mathematicians out there), but has never been as big a ball winner so expect a lower average. He is, however, considered a reasonable chance to play from the start in Gold Coast’s underwhelming forward set-up, as is fellow tall Sam Day and, to a lesser extent, Nathan Ablett. It’s wholly unfair to compare Nathan to his DT slut brother Gary, but it gives you some idea of his scoring potential to note that Nathan averaged 70 points less than Gary Jr in his last season at Geelong back in 2008. A look at his limited appearances in the VFL last year show little improvement from a fantasy perspective, scoring under 45 in seven of the nine games he played, including three 20s and an 11. Yuck. While Day is considered an extraordinary athlete, that doesn’t necessarily translate into mammoth DT scores – just ask those who picked Nick Naitanui last year.

In short, it’s lucky we’ll have some decent mid-fwd options to bolster our forward benches, because – at this early stage – there doesn’t appear to be much on offer here outside of Richardson and Matera.

Rucks

If quality rookie forwards look thin on the ground, then wait until you see the ruck stocks. Not that we should be surprised, it’s the same story every year: rucks simply take an eon to develop and quite often won’t play a senior game until their second, third or fourth year in the system. The exception this year will be Zac Smith at the Gold Coast, where the fast tracking of players is an unavoidable reality. Smith is tipped to one day don the DT ruck crown recently handballed from Dean Cox to Aaron Sandilands, but for now he’ll have to be content playing second fiddle, at least for the opening half of the season, to former Magpie Josh Fraser.

Ruckmen aren’t growing off trees at Richmond or Port Adelaide, apparently, giving Tom Derickx and Jarrad Redden an outside chance of getting some top-tier experience at the Tigers and Power respectively. Both have played senior footy: 23-year-old Derickx in the WAFL seniors and 20-year-old Redden in the SANFL reserves. Both are also at clubs with late byes, although I’d be flabbergasted if either played enough games or scored enough points to grow into good-sized cash cows.

People have been doing an excellent job of raising the rookies on their radar that I’ve skipped at this stage. Keep it going. I’d been saving the midfielders until tomorrow, but will now pop them into a couple of posts next week. That way we’ll have the proper prices (I think FanFooty’s fanplanner may have overpriced Swallow by about $20-25 grand), and you can really start to weigh up whether it’s worth paying the premium on high picks, or take the potential risks over job security and points production that come with basement-priced rookies.

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