It’s a fairly subtle change to the way ruckmen contest the game but it may just have enough ramifications to change the ruckmen themselves, after the AFL released the latest rule changes.
It’s standard procedure nowadays to tweak certain aspects of a game that almost certainly need not be tweaked, but nonetheless it’s a tweak to be implemented in 2013.
The rule, one of three changes for the upcoming season, essentially states that ruckmen are prohibited from making contact prior to a throw-in or ball-up.
That excludes the bounce outside of the centre circle following a goal, which has also been removed around the ground, in an effort to again speed up the game.
The change becomes the first tweak to rucking since the introduction of the revised centre circle in 2004, including a designated zone in which only ruckmen could compete within and not outside of.
While this new addition isn’t of the same severity, it’s quite clear that it changed the way ruckmen approach contests.
With the limiting of the zone in the centre circle, it allowed less room for a run up and much more for a physical contest.
It was the perfect negator for a ruckman such as Jeff White or Luke Darcy, who relied on an immense athleticism to counter their relative lacks of height and strength, in comparison to their opponents.
It also certainly proved to be a huge asset for the physical combatants, with Aaron Sandilands and Dean Cox big winners as a result.
However, it may not be Cox so much who reaps the rewards, rather his teammate Nic Naitanui, as the prototypical beneficiary of the latest revision.
With any contact before a ball-up now deemed illegal, the standard wrestle for balance and height will transform into who delivers the strongest bump or just who manages to jump the highest.
This is because a ball-up, versus a bounce, gains considerably less height, reducing potential time for the contest in an attempt to make the game as quick as possible.
Without dwelling on the entertainment push from the rules committee in speeding up the congestion, every implementation reduces any time for the aerial combat.
That’s if they can still make it to a contest as efficiently as before; more frequent ball-ups and throw-ins lead to more fatigued ruckmen as they spend further petrol tickets to make it to each contest, testing their endurance to new levels.
That, in fact, may just increase the importance of the second mobile ruckman, who generally has a capable tank to follow a contest throughout the midfield.
However, it’s an overall change that’ll likely see the more athletic and aerobic big men hold an advantage versus the strong and overwhelming.
One that comes to mind is Shane Mumford, whose physicality hands him a literal strength in the ruck, which impacts so positively on Sydney’s midfield, and it’s a physicality that receives an impact more negatively.
Players such as Sandilands, Robert Warnock or Zac Smith – the men who already have the on-field advantage through height as arguably their most dominant asset – should look to find the new circumstances suiting them well.
However, it’s your Naitanuis, your Matthew Kreuzers and your Patrick Ryders who rely less on jostling and more so on leaping who will likely prove to receive the greater advantage.
It’s also in this mould that second ruckmen are generally seen – think Jarryd Roughead, Stefan Martin and Josh Jenkins. These players have suddenly increased in importance for their team as players who fit right into the newfangled structure.
The last rule change undoubtedly forced a change to the way ruckmen play. It’ll be interesting to see the extent that this latest one does.