Herald Sun - - NEWS - JON RALPH

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.”

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