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Totally Rucked

Wowee! Damian Stone takes us through a comprehensive look at the ruck lineup and what you should be doing to maximise your points and value for money. The sub heading of the article pretty much sums it up… “When set and forget becomes Cox and the rest”. Thanks Damian for such a ripper article.

When Set and Forget becomes Cox and the Rest

It seems for just about everyone that the biggest issue coming out of the NAB Cup has been the ruck positions.

In previous years with a few exceptions, the Ruck position has been the easiest to fill in most teams. Just pick Dean Cox and Aaron Sandilands. Lock in 200 points per round and then find two rookie priced guys to ride the bench because in all likelihood they are never going to play.

Last year’s byes made the third ruck sport more important and thankfully the DPP Drew Petrie at just $209,700 stepped up.

This year, prior to the NAB Cup, looking at prices, projected roles and scoring many in the Dreamteam community, myself included, explored the previously unheard of strategy of 1 Premium Ruck and Three Rookies. Why? The inclusion of GWS and a number of more experienced game ready rookies offered the opportunity to spend the absolute minimum on rucks freeing up cash to upgrade Defence or Forward spots 4 through 6.

Before committing to the 1 premium /3 rookies scenario, here’s a short review  at the trend in ruck scoring for the past five seasons.


Total Points Leader – Jeff White at Melbourne (Wow) 1,921
Points Per Game Leader – Dean Cox at West Coast @100.5. Cox had the 9th highest overall PPG average.

Cox average 13 more points per game than second place Jeff White.
5th best Josh Fraser – Coll @80.3 and 10th best Darren Jolly – Sydney @69.9

1-2 variance: 13
2-5 variance: 7.2
5-10 variance: 10.4
1-10 variance: 30.6 ppg


Total Points and Points Per Game Leader – Dean Cox at West Coast, 2,348 @106.7 per game.

Cox had the 4th highest overall PPG average.
Cox average 20.7 more points per game than second place David Hille – Essendon.
5th best Aaron Sandilands – Freo @81.9 and 10th best Brendan Lade – Port @73.6

1-2 variance: 20.7
2-5 variance: 4.1
5-10 variance: 8.3
1-10 variance: 33.1 ppg


Total Points – Mitch Clark at Brisbane (Again wow) 2,077.
Points Per Game Leader – Dean Cox at West Coast @107.3 per game.

Cox had the 7th highest overall PPG average.
Cox average 11.8 more points per game than second place Aaron Sandilands.
5th best Josh Fraser – Coll @87.8 and 10th best Kurt Tippett – Adelaide @72.9

1-2 variance: 11.8
2-5 variance: 7.7
5-10 variance: 14.9
1-10 variance: 34.4 ppg


Total Points and Points Per Game Leader – Aaron Sandilands at Fremantle, 1,859 @97.8 per game.
Sandilands had overall PPG average outside the top 40.

Sandilands average 12 more points per game than second place Paddy Ryder – Essendon.
5th best Hamish McIntosh – North @80.5 and 10th best Matt Kreuzer – Carlton @75.9

1-2 variance: 12
2-5 variance: 5.3
5-10 variance: 4.6
1-10 variance: 21.9 ppg


Total Points and Points Per Game Leader – Dean Cox at West Coast, 2,366 @107.6 per game.
Cox had the 11th highest overall PPG average. Cox also scored the 7th highest amount of total points.

Cox average 8.2 more points per game than second place Todd Goldstein – North.
5th best Shane Mumford – Sydney @91.5 and 10th best Brad Ottens – Geelong @81.5

1-2 variance: 8.2
2-5 variance: 7.9
5-10 variance: 10
1-10 variance: 26.1 ppg

What we can learn from history is that:

  • A fit Dean Cox is a Dreamteam God. With only injury stopping him for being the leading ruck each of the past five years.
  • Only in 2009 did Cox and Sandilands finish 1st and 2nd in terms of ppg.
  • At least 4 of the top ten ruck scorers change every year due to injuries and retirements.
  • The major difference in ruck scoring is from the best finishing ruckman to the second best ruckman, except for 2010. 2010 was the high point of the rotation policy and teams in general played two ruckman. In terms of Dreamteam, it was the worst scoring year for rucks for the past 5 years.
  • The advent of the sub-rule has dramatically increased ruck scoring across the board with the variance in points scoring between ruck positions 1-10 returning to 2009 levels.

So analysing the numbers for the last five years we can see that the top ruck averages around 105 points per game and until last year the difference between 1 and 2 was at least 10 points per game or 200 points per year. Except for two years when Brendan Goddard was at his peak, no other position has had the variance of the ruck position. Even with the set and forget strategy, the value was in having the best ruckman, Dean Cox, and a one of the top 5 scorers who managed to stay injury free.

In 2011 with the sub rule dictating playing just 1 ruckman and a Leigh Brown type of utility ruck, we saw ruck scoring increase again to pre-sub levels. We also saw a new generation of athletic lead rucks emerge many with the ability to contribute around the ground.

In 2012, we can expect this trend to continue but must be mindful of some trends. Some teams will play two ruckman on the ground of all time. Carlton with a lack of key forward seems likely to play Kreuzer and Hampson. West Coast will play Cox and NicNat. Geelong will line up with Trent West/Big O. For a majority of rucks the balance of their points is from hit outs and the time spent in the forward line has a negative impact on scoring.

Moves to speed up the game such as more holding the ball calls will limit the amount of ball ups which restrict hit out opportunities. On the flip side, with two expansion teams, overall league scoring is up which increases the amount of centre bounces.

Also keep in mind the no throw in rule that is in effect for the NAB Cup, is artificially keeping ruckman’s scores low. The rule creates less stoppages and ruck contests making the expected points output from ruckman seem lower than it will be in the home and away season.

Given the history lesson and establishing some guidelines for 2012, let’s review all the main ruckstars and potential combinations for Dreamteam in 2012.

Ruck Apart (100 ppg+)

Dean Cox, West Coast – $532,000

That price tag is scary but not if you consider that fact that Dean Cox is the Dane Swan of ruckman. When considering all three strategies, you must start with Cox in Ruck position 1.

He is currently owned by only 28.7% of coaches, which still makes him the third most selected ruck. Given his history why the low number. The cost and the continued emergence of Nic “Air Jordan” Naitanui. Nic Nat with his well documented leaping ability is likely to take more centre bounces. The strong play of key forwards Josh Kennedy/Jack Darling and the Big Q make you wonder where NicNat and Cox will rotate when not in the ruck.

Where Cox differentiates himself from other rucks, is his ability to start counter attacks across half back with strong disposal and marking skills which should hold up even at 31. Cox has had injury issues and West Coast have said they will look at resting older players throughout the season. Given this, is 21 games of Cox at 105 points plus the extra $84,500 better than 22 games of McEvoy at 95? Yep by 115 points.

Looking at the draw, there aren’t many late season chances to rest Cox. The Round 15 trip to Hobart to face North and a Round 21 trip to play Port seem the only viable options. Cox missing Round 21 would be a season killer for Dreamteam owners playing finals.

As his NAB Cup form has shown, all of the above is redundant. Health permitting, Cox is 8% to 23% better than the second best ruckman. That’s right, the second best ruckman. In 2011 he was 17.6% better than the 5th best ruckman. The price hurts but quality always costs more. A must have.

Genuine Ruckstars (90-100ppg)

Aaron Sandilands – Fremantle @ $469,000. Averaged 95 ppg in 2011.

Matthew Leuenberger – Brisbane @ $459,100. Averaged 92.8 ppg in 2011

Shane Mumford – Sydney @ $452,400. Averaged 91.5 ppg in 2011.

Ben McEvoy – St Kilda @ $447,500. Averaged 90.5 ppg in 2011.

Sam Jacobs – Adelaide @ $434,200. Averaged 87.8 ppg in 2011.

Looking at this group you can pick either experience or potential. L-Berger, McEvoy and Jacobs are expected to improve on their 2011 averages in 2012. A fully fit Sandilands and Mumford are expected to play no worse.

Prior to the Jonathon Brown injury, all were likely to play a majority of the season as a sole ruckman. Given the form of Brisbane forwards without Brown, the Lions look likely they will play Ben Hudson as a forward rotating in the ruck.

All these guys seem plausible Number 1 Rucks for Dreamteam, with byes and ruck combinations playing a key role in finalising a line up in 2012. If starting with Dean Cox, you can’t really have L-Berger or Jacobs due to the shared week 11 bye.  McEvoy is the most logical Set and Forget partner for Cox.

The one issue for these rucks is missed games, everyone except L-Berger missed at least one game in 2011, with Sandilands and Mumford missing more than 5 games due to injury.

Sandilands given his recent injury history is a concern with news this week surfacing of a calf strain. The only other sport that has nearly 7 foot guys running around is basketball and if there are any injury correlations we can make is that as these guys get older they tend to get ankle, feet and knees injuries which rob them of their jump. You don’t even have to be that old just ask Greg Oden. Is this the season he breaks down for good?

Potential Ruckstars (80-90ppg)

Matt Kreuzer – Carlton @$326,000. Averaged 65.9 ppg in 2011.

Zac Smith – Gold Coast @$355,400. Averaged 71.8ppg in 2011.

Will Minson – Western Bulldogs @$365,500. Averaged 73.9 ppg in 2011.

These are all young guys that can play on the ball and down forward.

Kreuzer is the standout. A former number 1 overall pick, with a skill set similar to Dean Cox. This is the second year removed from knee injury which is when a player typically returns to full fitness. Many owners were tempted mid-season by his 133 point breakout game. Kreuzer then failed to deliver due to nagging injuries. His highest average for a full season has only been 76 points. His NAB Cup form has been promising but you have to be concerned about the potential time that he will be forced to play out of the goal square. The Blues are short of other options, if only Shaun Hampson could score as well on the field as off the field. That aside, he is has the most upside of the mid-priced options.

Zac Smith was a star performer at a rookie price in Dreamteam last year. He tired over the course of the season. Still raw, his potential is why you would consider selecting him but you doubt he will progress at the same exponential rate in 2012. NAB Cup form has been disappointing until this week where he rucked against Izzy. We can also expect Gorringe to play more this season. A Smit/Fraser combo will see more Zac in the ruck while a Gorringe/Smith duo will see Zac helping Bock in the forward line further reducing his scoring output.

Was it just me or did Will Minson remind people, slightly older people of Paul Salmon in that game against Carlton? The 116 points has made people strongly consider him. The low hit out score in that game can be attributed to the rules in the NAB Cup. Cordy and Roughead are still raw meaning the Bulldogs have Will Minson and Will Minson. The retirement of Barry Hall and the ineptitude of Jarrad Grant should see Minson spend as much time on the ground, resting in the forward line, as any other ruckman. Is this the season he finally matures? Is he ready to take on the responsibility of the sole ruckman? Maybe. The week 11 bye he shares with premium rucks Cox, Jacobs, Goldstein and L-Berger as well mid-priced H-Mac hurts. The potential of big 100’s should alleviate some of the pain.

Ruckstars Duos


Todd Goldstein – $491,600 @ 99.4ppg
Hamish McIntosh – $273,500 @ 79.0ppg.


Paddy Ryder – $394,400 @79.7ppg
David Hille – $409,700 @82.8ppg

Are these duos a case of strength in numbers or an example of more is less?

Goldstein surprised everyone, including himself probably, with his jump to the number 2 overall ruck in Dreamteam. No H-Mac and the effectiveness of Petrie out of the goalsquare, saw Goldstein play as the sole ruck in a team that forces a lot of stoppages. Looking at history of Dreamteam ruck scoring, there is always one guy who jumps, quite literally, to the top of the list for a season or two before regressing to a mean (returning to normal). The return of Hamish McIntosh will be the key factor in that regression. There only game together saw neither break 80 points.

McIntosh has been a main stay of top 5 ruck scorers over the past few seasons. H-Mac has the skills to be a threat over the field. He missed all but 1 game last season due to Achilles injuries which is a major concern for a ruckman. Achilles play a major role in jumping ability. Expect to see Hamish play more time than Goldstein in the forward line. Week 11 bye hurts but the biggest concern is his injury history he a missed significant time in a number of seasons and while he has trained strongly and play well so far can he hold up for a half a season?

Ryder struggled to reproduce his form of 2010 due to 3 ruckman game plan. Splitting time with Bellchambers and Hille was definitely a case of more is less in terms of Dreamteam points. Ryder spent time in key defensive positions due to injuries while Hille spent more time in the forward line as he played himself back into fitness post knee reconstruction. Hirdy has said he will more likely play just two ruckman in 2012 with Ryder to take centre bounces and Hille to take the bulk of around the ground work then drifting forward. Both have scored well when the other is out of the side. Hille has been a consistent top 5 finisher in the ruck position and can go forward and kick goals. Ryder has the athleticism to play nearly any position but can drop in and out of games. The washout has hurt in determining their scoring potential in 2012 but what hurts more is the price. Both are priced somewhere between mid-priced and premium which makes taking them difficult. Better option seems to either pay the extra and get more guaranteed points or save money and get a similar/better points outcome.

Part Time Ruckstar

Jarryd Roughead – $414,600 @ 83.82

Last season with Hawks rucks stock reduced to the bionic man, Max Bailey and some other tall uncoordinated guys like David Hale, Alistair Clarkson was forced to find someone who could take centre bounces when Bailey went to the bench to rest his 80 year old knees. Roughead was the guy and he quickly proved to be the ultimate Leigh Brown type even more than the original Leigh Brown. In a 6 week stretch before a torn Achilles ended his season in Round 12, Jarryd Roughead was among the top ruck scorers. In these 6 games, his average went from 67.5 ppg to 99.8 ppg. He didn’t win many hit outs but Roughead’s ball skills added another dimension to stoppages as went the ball hit the ground he dominated less mobile opponents.  The high average was also due in part to his higher than average time spent on the ground, with Roughead spending 91% of games on the ground.  Originally expected to play to later in 2012 season, there have been rumblings that Roughead could play in Round 1. Clarkson has said that is unlikely but an early season return, Rounds 2-4, seems likely.

Achilles injuries are extremely rare, especially at Roughead’s age, just turned 25, with most other players suffering Achilles injuries being in their early 30’s. Many never recovered. Physios have  given him rave reviews. We can expect with the form of Bailey and David Hale, that Roughead will play more time down forward. The recruitment of Gunston, will hurt his forward scoring options. May be an interesting mid season trade down target due to his dpp status. Will need to see his role, place in the side and health early in the season first.

Season make or break ruckstars

Jon Giles  – Greater Western Sydney. $117,800

In all the discussion of potential MVP’s of Dreamteam, one man who will make or break the most number of seasons isn’t Dane Swan, Gary Ablett or Buddy it will most likely be Jon Giles. Yes, that Jon Giles who spent 4 years on Port’s list without playing a game. He will be in most teams and play most weeks. How well he plays will  determine the success of all three ruck strategies.

What can we expect from Giles in 2012? He will play because besides an ageing Dean Brogan, Jon Giles is the only other viable ruck option that GWS have. In Sheedy’s Best 22 Brogan was slated to be the number 1 ruck with Giles the understudy. However we can expect Giles to play the majority of game time and to take most of the centre bounces. Why? Brogan’s main strength was his centre bounce jumping ability. Brogan struggled last year with Achilles problems which have robbed him of his hops. Giles has matured and grown into his frame. He was the Giants B&F winner in the NEAFL last year. Unlike other Giant players he won’t be reliant on winning the ball for a majority of points.

Giles is likely to be in 25/33% of all teams as the number two ruck, we all want to know is can he score enough to make the 3 rookies strategy work. Simply, we don’t know. Giles has shown the ability to go forward and kick goals. We can expect the resting ruckman to take one forward pocket this year with Giles/Brogan used to protect younger player like Izzy, Cameron and Tomlinson has looked solid but raw.

With only NEAFL and ruck unfriendly, Brogan less NAB Cup numbers to go on taking Giles as your number 2 ruck will be case of faith and potential rather than other costlier proven choices.  Do you trust your gut or trust the numbers?

Jarrad Redden – Port @ $104,200

Thankful Redden proved this weekend that last weeks performance against Dean Cox wasn’t a fluke. It would have been tough to pick a guy based on one game that nobody who didn’t attend the game saw. The past two games has seen Redden emerge as the best rookie priced selection as well solidify his chances to make Ports Round 1 side. Why? He will be the only match fit ruckman Port has. Pre season number 1, Matthew Lobbe played alright last year and averaged 75 ppg in Dreamteam. Brent Renouf was brought in from Hawthorn to challenge for the number 1 ruck. Pre-season injuries to both has seen Redden by the virtue of being tall and healthy play significant minutes. Outpointed Dean Cox having 25 hitouts to Cox’s 13. The real standout has been his effort around the ground where he has laid 11 tackles in the past two weeks. Playing with Renouf against Fremantle this weekend, Redden was the dominant player and Primus should give Redden a chance to establish himself. Week 13 bye also gives owners the most time to earn money before upgrading.

Orren Stephenson – Geelong @ $98,700

Prior to NAB Cup, Stephenson know as the Big O was seen by Dreamteam owners as a Oh Yeah (Think the Cool Aid from Family Guy) to a Oh no to potentially Oh Stephenson isn’t picked for Week 1 and I have to change my whole team is 1 day.

A 29 year old, ruckman who was considered ready to play in the AFL now. Stephenson has been the dominate ruck in the VFL over the past few seasons. Geelong plan to play him this year, but it seem that he is a Mark Blake type, lots of hit outs and limited possessions. Has struggled when played down forward. With injuries and retirements we can still plan on seeing Stephenson play with Trent West for first few rounds.

The rules of the NAB limiting stoppages has hurt the Big O and his scoring should increase in regular season play. The expectations of Dreamteam owners of 60/65 points probably needs to be adjusted to 45/50. If you get 50 points from your 4th ruckman be happy. It only likely to be the bye week when he will be the second ruck for most teams, any issues will arise.

Sam Rowe – Carlton @ $98,700

In media comments, Rowe says he understands what he needs to do succeed in his second AFL chance.

After watching him struggle to get off the bench, you have to ask really Sam Rowe do you. Has value as a DPP player but really all we need is for him to play. Based on his SANFL stats of 13 disposals,15 hitouts and just under a goal a game last season average of 50 could be expected.

Seems that Rowe has been drafted solely as injury cover for Kreuzer and All Saints favourite patient, Robbie Warnock. Mr Megan Gale, Shaun Hampson looks the more likely forward/ruck for Carlton. After most of the preseason in our teams, I think after the NAB Cup, he’s a mid-season trade down target at best.

Tom Derickx – Richmond@ $104,200
John Ceglar – Collingwood@ $104,200
Josh Jenkins – Adelaide @$104,200

These guys are the best of the rest in terms of bench fillers. Will need injuries to get significant game time. All are number 2 ruckman on clubs list.

Didn’t get the Gig – Ruck Non Stars

Guys I didn’t cover were either

  • Not their teams Number 1 Ruck – Jon Griffin, Nic Nat, Seaby and Hudson
  • Won’t play in the Ruck this season – Stefan Martin and Zac Clarke
  • Wont average enough points, 80+, to be viable  –  West, Maric, Jolley, Brogan and Jamar

Three Strategies

Now we know the relative benefits of each ruck and this year’s key players, let’s look at the main relative positives and negatives of each of the three strategies with the most popular partnerships.

Set and Forget

The optimal Set and Forget strategy in 2012 would feature:

Start: Cox and McEvoy
Bench: Giles and Stephenson

Total Cost: $1,196,000 or 13.6% of your salary cap.
Starting rucks $979,500 or 11.1% of your salary cap.
Bench: $216,500

Expected points ppg: 200 on the ground. 120 on the bench.
Assumed points: Cox – 105/McEvoy – 95/Giles – 70/Stephenson – 50

Byes: Cox and Giles 11. McEvoy/Stephenson 12.

Expected Total Points for first 13 games – 2,520.
Point per dollar: 474.6


Under the 1 Premium, 1 Mid-Priced and 2 rookies the optimal strategy would be

Start: Cox and Kreuzer
Bench: Giles and Stephenson

Total Cost: $1,074,500 or 12.2% of your salary cap.
Starting rucks $858,000 or 9.8% of your salary cap.
Bench: $216,500

Expected points ppg: 190 on the ground. 120 on the bench.
Assumed points: Cox – 105/Kreuzer – 85/Giles – 70/Stephenson – 50

Byes: Cox and Giles 11. Stephenson 12. Kreuzer – 13.

Expected Total Points for first 13 games – 2,400.
Point per dollar: 447.7

Rookie Cash Cow Strategy

Here are two versions of the 1 Premium and 3 Rookies. The first is the optimal line up and the second saves even more cash.

Start: Cox and Giles
Bench: Redden and Stephenson

Total Cost: $852,700 or 9.7% of your salary cap.
Starting rucks $649,800 or 7.4% of your salary cap.
Bench: $202,900

Expected points ppg: 175 on the ground. 120 on the bench.
Assumed points: Cox – 105/Giles – 70/Redden – 60/Stephenson – 50

Byes: Cox and Giles 11. Stephenson 12. Redden – 13.

Expected Total Points for first 13 games – 2,210.
Point per dollar: 385.8

Start: McEvoy/Giles
Bench: Redden and Stephenson

Total Cost: $768,200 or 8.7% of your salary cap.
Starting rucks $565,300 or 6.4% of your salary cap.
Bench: $202,900

Expected points ppg: 175 on the ground. 120 on the bench.
Assumed points: McEvoy -95/Giles – 70/Redden – 60/Stephenson – 50

Byes: Giles 11. McEvoy/Stephenson 12. Redden – 13.

Expected Total Points for first 13 games – 2,100.
Point per dollar: 365.8

Key differences of each strategy

Middling saves $121,500/Rookie Cash Cow between $343,300/$427,800 but in terms of points Middling costs coaches 120 points while the Rookie Cash Cow will cost between 310/420 points.

Can you expect to make up the extra points, 300 to 400, in those Def/Forward spots to offset the week after week dominance of Set and Forget?

Trading Dean Cox in after the Round 11 bye will be a very popular move for teams that don’t select him in Round 1. Bring Cox in Round 12 will add 80 points to Rookie Cash Cow McEvoy version making the difference only 340 points.

Up to everyone to work out what works best for them. Based on price and performance, a majority of teams will have Cox, Giles and Redden. It will be who coaches choose as the 4th ruck and what role that ruckman will play that will be the only point of difference in the ruck positions.

Finally, Dean Cox, if healthy, is a must pick. Numbers show as long as you have the highest scoring ruck for the season then all strategies will work alright.





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