The discussion surrounding who coaches will select in the ruck positions this year has been by far the most interesting debate.
Never before in the history of the SuperCoach have two ruckmen been so dominant over the rest of the competition.
But by season’s end Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn weren’t just must-haves, they became regular captaincy options too.
And now teams need to work out if they want to fork out the cash and hope those two can back it up, or find some value elsewhere.
Grundy and Gawn still have years ahead of them but some coaches are eyeing off wiser heads like Todd Goldstein (30 years old), Stefan Martin (32) and Matthew Kreuzer (30) in order to save a bit of dough.
And that got me thinking – at what age does a ruckman peak?
We know that in general key position players generally take a bit longer than midfielders to hit their straps, but how old is too old for a big ruckman?
So, I gathered the data of 11 elite ruckmen of the near past and present: Dean Cox, Aaron Sandilands, Sam Jacobs, Nic Naitanui, Ben McEvoy, Ivan Maric, Darren Jolly, Goldstein, Kreuzer, Gawn and Grundy.
I was careful to only pick players who have been predominantly ruckmen their entire careers – for that reason I’ve left Martin out of this particular study and Nic Nat just sneaks in.
From there I allocated their season’s average to their age that year.
Unfortunately, the earliest averages I could find for Cox was when he was 23 (averaged 108), but it doesn’t effect the data too much.
It’s a bit of a mess, but what we can see some trends:
- Continuous growth from ages 20 and 22
- A peak somewhere between 26 and 29
- A plateau or drop off after 30.
Not exactly earth shattering stuff, but it is a little bit later than I thought the peak and drop offs might be.
It makes me wonder what’s in store for Grundy, whose green line is shooting up at a ridiculous rate.
The across-the-board average gave us a funny looking shape, partly due to the small sample size of the beyond-30s.
Longevity is important for ruckmen however, so I wanted to expand this research.
I decided to throw in some older and some more ‘average’ ruckmen in order to give this analysis a bit more meat.
So in came Ben Hudson, Shane Mumford, Brad Ottens, David Hille, Matthew Leuenberger, Will Minson, Mark Jamar, Dean Brogan and Troy Simmonds.
Apologies if I missed your favourite ruckman of the 2000s.
This took my overall sample size to 20 and included at least seven players in each age bracket (with the exception of 33).
Now we get a much more familiar bell-curve, as we might have expected.
However, our peak is a lot more obvious now. Before it was between 26 and 29, but here it looks like 26 or 27 is the sweet spot for ruckmen.
Who are the ruckmen entering this ‘goldilocks’ bracket then?
Well, Grundy turns 25 in April, so he’s not even there yet.
Gawn has just turned 27, so he’s a tick.
- Toby Nankervis is 24 until August.
- Billy Longer has his 26th birthday in May.
- Tom Hickey turns 28 in March.
- Jarrod Witts won’t be 27 until September, nor will Scott Lycett.
- Sam Naismith turns 27 in July.
Quite a few good options there and I’ll be paying particular close attention to Nankervis and Witts this pre-season.
But should the numbers above scare you off Goldstein or Martin? I say no.
The best ruckmen (Cox, Sandilands, Jolly, Ottens, Mumford and even Hudson) have proven that it’s very possible to score well past one’s 30th birthday.
You just have to decide if anyone will be able to score more than the two big Gs.
Let me know below which way you’re leaning in the ruck department and if you’d like to see something similar for other positions as well.