They’re the biggest and some of the toughest, but who’s currently the best? We select the AFL’s 10 best ruckmen for season 2024.
We’ve seen players such as Nic Naitanui, Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy dominate the ruck position over the past decade.
But as all three start to slowly descend into retirement, it’s time for a new giant to call the position their own.
With the game continuing to change, expectations are shifting as well for what the best ruckmen in the AFL can do. It needs to be more than just hitouts, despit that remaining crucially important. There’s also now a want for ruckmen to impact the scoreboard, have elite marking abilities, and be stronger around the contest at ground level.
Debate surrounding who the best rucks in the AFL will always an interesting one. Some fans prioritise traditional hitout stats as the metric to follow, while others hold other aspects of the game to a higher level and see that as the basis to determine who the best is.
Whatever top 10 we settle on, we’re aware debate will rage. But please acknowledge we’re determined to build a more balanced and logical list than what you’ll find on other click-hungry publications.
The 10 best ruckmen in the AFL heading into the 2024 season
So here’s out top 10 ruckmen in the AFL list as we enter the new season.
Again note that we’ve considered 2023 form generously, along with what we know they’re capable of, based on previous output and the occasional expected decline.
1. Tim English
Tipping off our 10 best ruckmen in the AFL heading into the 2024 season list is none other than Western Bulldogs star, and now All-Australian, Tim English.
The 2023 season was a career-best for the 26-year-old, averaging nearly 20 disposals a game, kicking 16 goals across the season, and making the second most tackles out of any ruckman.
In the conventional ruck-statistics (hitouts), English averaged in the top five for both hitouts a game at 31.2, and hitouts to advantage at 10.5.
But ultimately, what separates Tim English from the other best ruckmen in the AFL is his overall work rate around the ground, with an incredible appetite for the ball like no other ruckman.
2. Rowan Marshall
Clipping at English’s heels for the title as the best ruckmen in the AFL is St Kilda’s Rowan Marshall — selected in the 2023 All-Australian squad for the first time in his career.
Marshall has turned into an all-round dominant ruckman, averaging a position high of 20.5 disposals a match, 115 total tackles (1st amongst ruckman), and just like English, an elite marking ability (total of 126 – 2nd).
It seems Marshall is the perfect modern-day ruckman who has expended his game outside of the conventional ways, and will be pivotal to the Saints success going forward.
3. Jarrod Witts
Gold Coast Suns ruckman Jarrod Witts had another fantastic year up north and could be set for an even better one in 2024, with three-time premiership winning coach Damien Hardwick starting his tenure at the club — the coach that shaped Toby Nankervis into who he is today.
Witts is your typical conventional ruckman, leading the position in hitouts at 39.2 and hitouts to advantage at a whopping 12.4.
If Hardwick can mould him into the exact ruckman that can lead a side to a premiership like he did with Nankervis, then the Suns stacked midfield can expect even more ball than before.
4. Luke Jackson
Making the decision to move out of the shadow of Max Gawn at Melbourne and head home to Fremantle seems like a move that has paid off for Luke Jackson after his first season with the Dockers.
Jackson is the first real ruck-forward to feature on our list, with the 22-year-old bagging 22 goals (the most for anyone in the ruck position), taking 78 marks, and was top 10 for disposals efficiency – second amongst this list of players – in disposal efficiency as well.
The only issue fronting Jackson at the moment is where he’s best suited in a Fremantle team that also has another one of our best ruckmen in the AFL candidates in Sean Darcy, and finding the right balance between the two.
5. Sean Darcy
Well, it’s only fitting that following Jackson on this list is that exact teammate, Sean Darcy.
After a strong couple of seasons before Luke Jackson joined the team, Darcy was great, and somehow even with a shared role with the new recruit, he was still able to have an immense impact on Freo games.
Unlike Jackson, Darcy dominates the match in the more conventional ways — 39 hitouts per match (second amongst players on this list), and third in average hitouts (11.1).
6. Kieren Briggs
A lot of attention on the Giants goes towards one of the best small forwards in league Toby Greene, or at times on young gun midfielder Tom Green. But more appreciation needs to be placed on what Kieren Briggs brought to this side in 2023.
People have argued that Briggs was one of the most improved players last season and that without his incredible disposal and clearance work, GWS might not have reached a preliminary finals appearance.
At only 24 years of age, there’s plenty of time for Briggs to continue to develop before he reaches the prime age for elite level athletes — scary times ahead for the rest of the league.
7. Max Gawn
Maybe just 12-months ago you could’ve easily said that Max Gawn was the best ruckmen in the AFL, but after a strange season where he shared the role with Brodie Grundy and had a slight decline, Gawn ends up at seventh on our list.
It could be a criminal take, as once Grundy was dropped to the VFL, Gawn went straight back to his old dominant ways — incase you didn’t know, Grundy has left the Demons so Gawn could be great again for a full season now, only time will tell.
8. Reilly O’Brien
Adelaide Crows ruckman Reilly O’Brien is another one of your typical conventional ruckmen who is incredibly dominant at the bounce and brilliant over head.
O’Brien had an average of 38.6 hitouts a game in 2023 and had an impressive knack of tipping it to his star midfielders advanatge, with an average ‘hitouts to advantage’ of 11.3.
One area that he could really improve to help the Crows is with his contested footy, only having just over 12 disposals a game, and lacking in clearance (2.9).
9. Toby Nankervis
There are two other premiership ruckmen on our best ruckmen in the AFL list, both of which played in the 2021 Melbourne Demons flag. However, Nankervis beats them combined and some, with three premiership under his belt.
Toby Nankervis has flourished at Richmond since join them in 2017, so much so that he’s entering his third season as captain of the club.
He’s reliable across the board, 16.7 disposals a game, 4.3 clearances, 32.5 hitouts, and 82 tackles across the 2023 season.
10. Oscar McInerney
He’s not the household name, but Oscar McInerney is still a top 10 best ruckmen in the AFL according to us.
McInerney was first in total clearances for ruckmen in 2023 and was impressive in hitouts, averaging 33.8 a game and 9.4 to his teammates’ advantage.
Having now played in a Grand Final, we can expect McInerney to have plenty of confidence entering the year, and hopefully for Brisbane Lions fans’ sake, they can go one win better — definitely their 2024 AFL New Years resolution.