PEOPLE’S TOP 50
FOOTY FANS ANSWER ROBBO
DOUG Hawkins vividly remembers his famous battles on the wing with Robert DiPierdomenico.
As Footscray great Hawkins said, he never knew what “Dipper” was going to do because the Hawks star had no idea himself.
“I loved it … I love those one-on-one contests, the last survivor, whoever is fittest and best on the day — Robbie Flower, Ricky Barham, Darren Millane, Dipper — you were in a contest every week,” he said.
It might be a touch premature to believe one of the results of Thursday’s AFL rule changes will be the resurrection of the wingman.
But for a club such as North Melbourne, which just secured Jared Polec and missed Andrew Gaff by an inch, it is a positive sign that could have been a game changer.
The new 6-6-6 starting positions at bounces, that push players back inside 50m, will mean that the wingmen have acres of room in which to move either side of the centre square.
They can charge into the centre square to shark a ruckman’s tap, bolt back into defence as the only extra man dropping behind the ball, or fight with their opponent for a quick kick that bounces into space over their heads.
The value of a ball-winning wingman who has the smarts to assess the situation has never been more important in a game where space is hard to find and congestion is king.
Gaff was ranked No.1 in disposals, contested and uncontested possessions and score involvements this year as a pure wingman. Polec was fifth in disposals, second in contested possessions, third in metres gained and sixth in score involvements.
In other words, there has never been a better time for Polec to arrive at a North Melbourne midfield bolstered by the arrival of himself, Aaron Hall, Dom Tyson and with Luke Davies-Uniacke playing a bigger role.
The AFL’s best wingmen this year, by Champion Data’s official player rankings, were Lachie Hunter (Western Bulldogs), Paul Seedsman (Adelaide), Gaff, Polec, Tom Phillips (Collingwood), Brett Deledio (Greater Western Sydney) and Isaac Smith (Hawthorn).
If Hawthorn could land Tom Scully to play on the other wing, Alastair Clarkson would again be ahead of AFL trends.
Hawkins can’t wait to see if the rule tweaks bring a meaningful change — or just more unintended consequences.
“People went to the footy to watch Peter Knights and Vander (Paul Vander Haar),” he said. “They went to see Dougie versus Dipper on a wing — they go to the footy to see those contests.”
DiPierdomenico hoped the wingman could again become a more attacking player.
“Unfortunately for the wingman he has been a more defensive player for many years,” he said.
“They have had to go back a lot more than in the past … so does the wingman now attack the centre square and run in and grab the ball or run to the back of the pack?
“Jared Polec has some pace, he is strong enough to get in and win it, the ruckman could punch it to a prearranged place for him to run on to.
“At least this rule gives ruckmen the opportunity to be more involved.”