Melbourne Cup day is often referred to as the race that stops the nation. In 2006, many members of the AFL nation stopped and waited for the results of the 2006 match between Carlton and Essendon, dubbed by many as the Bryce Gibbs Cup.
The match itself resulted in a draw, though Carlton still finished out the season with the wooden spoon, and drafted the young South Australian with its first pick in the 2006 National Draft.
Gibbs has always shown phenomenal talent; he captained the South Australia Under-16s side and in 2005, at age 16, he began playing in the SANFL for Glenelg. Despite the age and weight difference, he excelled against his mature age competitors, eventually coming third in Glenelg’s best and fairest. Gibbs’ future as an elite AFL player seemed all but assured.
His entry into the Carlton Football Club continued in much the same vein as his junior form; he was nominated to the leadership group in 2007 before the commencement of the season and when he debuted against Richmond, he kicked a goal with his first kick. In his first year, after a stellar game against Jason Akermanis, during which his disposal efficiency sat at 100%, he was nominated for the NAB Rising Star.
After a stellar 2011, in which he played 23 games, kicked 21 goals, and was ranked second in the AFL for marks, both per game and total, Gibbs’ performance in 2012, while solid, wasn’t outstanding. This is perhaps due more to the position he was played in than any lack of talent or desire.
Gibbs was utilised as a tagger and played more predominantly across half-back than in the midfield by Brett Ratten, but new coach Mick Malthouse has signalled his intentions to push the undeniably talented footballer, who will only be 24 next year and recently signed a two-year contract extension, into the midfield.
With his disposal efficiency for 2012 sitting at 76.1%, Gibbs is undeniably a devastating user of the football, though there are arguments that the majority of his ball use is uncontested with his possessions of the uncontested ball nearly tripling his contested possessions.
Gibbs has shown that he’s more than capable of performing a shutdown role, so if Malthouse follows through on his plan of having Gibbs spend at least 20 minutes a quarter throughout the midfield, he’ll have his chance to shine.
If Carlton is to better its performance in 2012, Bryce Gibbs looms as one of its most important players; moving into the midfield, he’ll have more exposure to contested footy. He has the capability to provide inside support to Chris Judd, Marc Murphy and the surprise package of the 2012 season in Brock McLean.
In arguably his best year in 2011, Gibbs managed to contribute 21.18 for the year, so with his devastating boot directing the ball with accuracy inside the forward 50, Gibbs could well be the missing link to propel Carlton not only back into the top eight, but to a successful finals campaign.