Almanac Footy: The Geelong Ruck Crisis



In the last decade since Geelong won the 2011 Grand Final, the question has always been, who will be the next ruckman? Brad Ottens set such a high standard, making it difficult for Geelong to find anyone close to him since his retirement in 2011. Every Geelong fan remembers leading into the 2011 Grand Final, Darren Jolly was carrying an injury. Ottens ran straight through him in the first ruck contest of the game, getting the tap for the first goal while physically imposing Jolly, who never found any momentum after that. It was a minor play, but significant.


Another example of Ottens’ brilliance was during the 2007 Preliminary final against Collingwood (sorry, Collingwood fans, I am not trying to pick on you); Ottens tapped the ball into open space, moving it into the corridor, which lead to the famous Gary Ablett Jnr goal and call from Dennis Cometti’s famous line, ‘Cometh the moment, cometh the man — the son of the man!’ The ability of Ottens to make critical plays by using correct bodywork, having good chemistry with the midfielders placing the ball into the running path giving Geelong’s great midfield first use. Again, this raised the performance ceiling of the 2007-2011 teams to all-time great.


Geelong would not have had this ruck problem, in my opinion, if they decided to play Shane Mumford over Mark Blake in the 2009 Grand Final. This led to Mumford’s frustration and decision to leave the club and go to Sydney. Geelong has tried various combinations. The long list of ruckman Geelong has tried since 2011 is crazy. Trent West, Dawson Simpson, Hamish Mcintosh, Mitch Clark, Mark Blicavs, Rhys Stanley, Nathan Vardy, Josh Walker, Zac Smith, Ryan Abbott, and Esava Ratugolea have all had attempts to fill the void.


In this 2021 season, Geelong has utilised Rhys Stanley, Esava Ratugolea, Mark Blicavs and Tom Hawkins as options. Ratugolea has been serviceable and competitive in the ruck. Even though he is young and still learning the game, his sheer athleticism makes up his lack of understanding of the position, which he needs more time to learn—Blicavs, a rare utility player that can be used in multiple positions can ruck against certain opponents. When going against rucks like Max Gawn, Oscar McInerney or Brodie Grundy, he can’t compete due to his physical stature. Rhys Stanley (who makes me feel most frustrated when watching him) has the physical ability and talent, but his ability to be consistent is an issue.


An example of this was against West Coast; Stanley dominated Nic Naitanui with his physical gifts across the ground and in the ruck. As your faith increases in him, he disappears against Tom Hickey, who dominated him with an apparent knee injury. Finally, Hawkins is another player who has been utilised this year in the ruck. He can play the role down forward well, but cannot expect him to be doing the ruck role full-time. Hawkins already has a significant role as a key forward; placing ruck duties to him would be ludicrous.


If we choose from the current list, Geelong’s hope in the ruck relies on one of two options. Firstly, the injury-plagued, inconsistent play of Rhys Stanley, who is the most talented ruckman. He can provide elite athleticism and strong ruck play. When Stanley plays at his best, it allows Blicavs to go down back, embrace his role as the top key defender, giving more stability to a strong defence. Stanley is likely the best option Geelong has, but not the ideal choice.


The second option is Ratugolea. He appears to get tired very quickly, limiting his ability to cover the ground consistently throughout the four quarters. I do see Ratugolea as the ruckman in the future, just not for this year. Ratugolea and Blicavs can also be a good combination together with teams that do not have strong ruckman. However, to win a premiership, this combination is not the answer.


Geelong has many essential pieces in place, ready to win the premiership this year. The midfield talent and depth are there, the backline is solid, and the forward line has structure now with Cameron and Hawkins. However, with the ruck crisis being the biggest problem, Geelong must make an important decision and choose either Stanley or Ratugolea and for the final third of the season leading into the finals. This decision will be a significant factor in Geelong winning a premiership or not; with whatever decision they make, they must embrace it fully to make the most of it.



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  1. george smith says

    We have several excess ruckmen here at Collingwood. Time to talk turkey…

  2. G’day Chris,

    Ruck is a hard job, and full time in ruck brings a lot of workload.

    Stanley has not played much at St Kilda and developed at Geelong. But I was unaware of his inconsistency.

    My Saints are doing well when both Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall are in action. We were so bad when both were unavailable at the beginning of the season. Even we lost to Crows when Ro was injured.

    Having two reliable ruckmen brings more wins for any club, I reckon.



  3. This intrigues me Chris. Wells is an excellent recruiter and has a proven track record. But his record with ruckmen is very ordinary. Or perhaps the coach doesn’t rate ruckmen?

    We can’t win the flag without one.

  4. chris_mangos says

    Hi Dips,

    Thanks for the comment. It’s fascinating to see as the last strong ruck Wells found was Mumford, who was picked late in the 2007 Rookie Draft. They maybe had sights on others who didn’t want to go to Geelong. It might be the style that Scott wants with having most players having a capacity to help either offensively or defensively, but all the great teams in history get first use to their midfielders which I’m sure Scott and Wells are aware of. Luck comes into this also, with so many recruited since 2011 who played well at other clubs that didn’t succeed at Geelong due to health or other reasons.

  5. “Every ruckman must go. Make us an offer. Have a Nathan Vardy only driven around the block 25 times in the last 7 years, but honestly it’s in prime condition. Had a bit of work done on the shockers, but the mechanics guarantee the suspension is now mint.
    Good for one excellent finals series, but we can only extend the warranty so far. No reasonable offer refused. (Returns not accepted).”

  6. chris_mangos says

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the comment. I can’t put it any better than that.

  7. Peter Flynn says

    The Cats could do no worse than redraft Leo King or Ramsay Bogunovich!

  8. My Eagles need to redraft Brian Cook. No club – Richmond, Hawthorn, Brisbane, Port, Sydney – has been such a long term serious contender as Geelong.
    We could offer you Nathan Vardy as a trade.

  9. Leo King: Ramsay Bogunovich ?!

    Have you forgotten Warwick Yates, and Tim Bourke?


  10. Rulebook says

    Chris you absolutely nailed it re the non selection of Mumford it has cost the cats dearly as a outsider who I admit no longer watches afl closely I would opt for Ratugolea physicality

  11. CITRUS BOB says

    Are Tom Morrow and Russell Renfrey still available as for Ottens he cost us the 2008 GF when he didn’t handball in the first 5 minutes!
    Interesting points in regard to Steven Wells recruiting of ruckmen. There are plenty out there but tied to few clubs. Why didn’t we chase Sam Jacobs when Crows said goodbye? Could have given us a couple of years.
    Seeing Scotty likes “old guys” should have picked up Sandilands for this year. He could have sat alongside the other injured “oldies” in the dugout.

  12. chris_mangos says

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree 100% with Jacobs; I still can’t comprehend the decision not to go for him. Spot on, I was expecting Geelong to make a run at him.

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