Stefan Martin - the lone ruckman

Written by Tim D'Elia (@tdelia96) on 12 April 2017   

STEFAN Martin hasn't had the easiest of AFL careers.

Since being first drafted in 2007, initially by Melbourne, the ruckman has played 107 games out of a possible 198. That's nearly half of his career out of the side due to injury or form. He played just 57 games across six seasons with the Demons. After being traded to Brisbane at the end of 2012, he has played a further 50, struggling for a season and a half to cement his place.

However, when Martin actually gets out on the field, his form and impact on the game have been fantastic, as shown last year when he was awarded the joint-winner of the Merrett-Murray Medal.

His athletic ability allows him to run other big men all over the ground, effectively tiring them out while he picks up uncontested possessions at will, while also remaining a powerful player in tight.

Coming from a basketball background, Martin has superior strength and agility for someone his size, leading coaches and supporters to frequently believe that he could be used as a versatile player to cover holes in attack or defence. However, he has also clearly shown he is not suited to that. Martin is most damaging playing as a lone ruckman.

For comparison, in 2015 Martin played 20 games as a lone ruckman. He averaged 21.65 disposals, 4.8 clearances and 32.5 hit-outs a game. Martin was accompanied by another ruckman in five games during the 2016 season. He averaged 10.4 disposals, 2.25 clearances and 22.6 hit-outs. The comparison is startling. By playing another ruckman alongside Martin, his impact on the game is effectively halved. 

When resting forward, Martin has not shown signs of being a good target. Kicking 38 goals in 117 games is not a great hit rate for a big man tasked with creating an option in a young forward line. 

Martin was wiped-out by Gold Coast defender Steven May in round four 2016. After that heavy knock, he needed some time to get back to his best. The coach at the time, Justin Leppitsch, felt he needed support and implemented a two-pronged ruck attack. With the re-introduction of Trent West, Martin spent a lot of time up forward, and due to that, his numbers dwindled rapidly as expected.

Disposals, Hitouts, clearances and just general impact on the game all decreased in these games.

However, nearly all of Martin's stats increased against West Coast when he played as a lone ruckman - he gathered a career-high 51 hit-outs, as well as 17 disposals, five clearances and five inside-50m entries.

He just relishes the challenge.

Kicking accuracy requires almost as much mental proficiency as it does physically, and in the five games Martin played, even with decreased amount of disposals he averaged 2.8 clangers a game. Against West Coast the week, he had 100% disposal efficiency.

Another point to this is the output of both ruckmen. The idea was for these two to work as a team to improve the contested possession and hit-out count. Out of the five games, West played the Lions won the hit-outs and contested possessions twice. Against West Coast, the Lions won contested possessions by 13 and hit-outs by an astonishing 31.

Martin needs to be in the centre of the ground, playing as a single ruckman. He has premier endurance for his position, and he uses that to his advantage by getting to every contest while other ruckmen trail in his wake. His agility makes it easy for him to swoop down and get clearances out of packs which he can only do if he's rucking.

Another example of this in the Chris Fagan era. In round 3 of the JLT Community series, Martin played alongside another basketball convert in Archie Smith. The impact was as expected, eight disposals, one clearance and 31 hit-outs. Round four against the Crows playing without Smith. 19 disposals four clearances 41 hit-outs.

Martin is one of Brisbane's elite when he's in form, and anything that compromises his production should be taken out of the equation to make sure he is at his best.

Martin has already hit his stride this season, averaging 22.3 disposals, 39.7 hit-outs and seven clearances. Archie Smith may be the future for the Lions however he should not be playing alongside Stefan Martin at this point in time.

Martin is still in his prime and can be a game winner. If he wants to shoulder the ruck responsibilities and carry the Lions on his back, then they should continue to let him.

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