Hamish McIntosh made his long-awaited Geelong debut on Thursday night during the Cats’ 119-81 win over Adelaide. McIntosh, who has had a host of injuries that have restricted him to just eight games in the past three seasons, allowed Geelong to continue to employ a tactic that is becoming something of a trend in the AFL.
McIntosh and Dawson Simpson were the Cats’ two ruckman in their season opener. However, coach Chris Scott elected to have a third tall, with Mark Blicavs as the substitute. Scott used a similar ploy last year, often deploying Trent West or Nathan Vardy as the third ruckman. It’s a tactic that the Cats have identified that enables them to exploit a deficiency in their opposition’s defence when used correctly.
A number of other teams have also attempted to use the tactic over the past couple of years, and while there is the potential for some frustrating growing pains, it has the potential to be a game winning move.
The use of three talls, whether they’re all starting or one is used as substitute, has the ability to exploit smaller backlines. It can allow the midfield to instinctively kick long into their forward line with the knowledge that their key forwards have a height advantage, rather than nursing the ball around the field and trying to pinpoint a pass inside 50 with the potential of a turnover.
Geelong was only +4 in clearances on Thursday night. However, the workload was evenly distributed between their ruckmen: meanwhile, Ben Jacobs played 86% of the game with minimal support for the Crows. McIntosh and Simpson had 36 hit outs between them, whilst aside from Jacobs’ 26, no other Crow had more than 4.
An added bonus of playing multiple rucks is that they can drift behind the ball and play as a loose man, allowing them to halt the opposition’s push towards goal. While they may not be agile enough to play one on one with a key forward, their height has the presence to alter an attack inside 50.
With the recent evolution of many teams looking to have a ‘swingman’ between the key posts at both ends of the ground, having a ruckman sit behind the play can be very beneficial.
Furthermore, if one ruckman isn’t having as big an impact as first thought, a coach could easily make the change to provide something different for their opposition to contend with.
One negative to selecting three ruckman in your 22 would be if an injury to a midfielder or smaller player were to occur. Substituting a smaller player for a ruckman could leave a side a man short with their rotations, which has hurt teams in the past when running out games.
In 2012, Essendon attempted to use three ruckman quite often with James Hird using Patrick Ryder, Tom Bellchambers and David Hille with some effect. Last season, Joe Daniher was thrown into the mix to replace Hille, and as Daniher is naturally a key forward, it allowed the aforementioned two to play further down the ground.
Carlton and Sydney have also tried the tactic in recent years with less success. This experiment is an ongoing one, with clubs still trying to find the perfect balance along with executing the perfect substitute on a weekly basis.
A lot of a trial and error may occur before the coach hits the nail on the head, but like everything, when it works, the coach looks like a genius.