Today, the AFL have a number of talented, superstar-calibre ruckmen roaming the grounds. Names such as Todd Goldstein, Max Gawn, Nic Naitanui, Aaron Sandilands and Shane Mumford come to mind. This quintet of gun ruckmen have combined for seven All-Australians, four club best and fairest awards and a premiership medallion, but there is one player on the Western Bulldogs who could be just as good as those forementioned, perhaps even better.
I'm talking about young 19-year old West Australian country boy Tim English. I don't throw the term 'Superstar' around loosely like a few people in the media would, but I genuinely think he's got what it takes to become the next superstar ruck in this competition.
It sounds very crazy to make such a bold prediction given that the club only drafted him a few months ago and he's yet to play a game in the red, white and blue, but English already has the tools to succeed in AFL level. His mobility allows him to cover the ground with ease, and for someone incredibly tall, has got exceptional foot skills and has unbelievably good skills below his knees. It's virtually like he's another midfielder - just one that stands over two metres.
Why is this the case? Not many ruckman have had the capacity or the capabilities to do these things in years gone by, but as the AFL continues to evolve year-by-year, mobility and the ability to use the footy effectively in the ruck position have become as crucial as their tap skills.
As far as English's development went, he wasn't always a ruckman. Early on in his teenage years, he was playing as a running midfielder, but as time went by, his height grew and grew over time, once he was big enough, he went from midfielder to a key-position player, and when he eventually hit over the two-metre mark, he was back in the centre square to become the ruckman that would eventually give him the title of 'Top-10 Draft Prospect'.
Last year, before English was drafted, the Pingelly native played his footy for South Fremantle in the WAFL where he impressed with his skills. So much so, that South Fremantle talent manager Jason Pedulla has drawn comparisons to former West Coast ruckman Dean Cox, who is arguably one of the Eagles' best ruckmen since the club's inception. A six-time All-Australian, a club best and fairest winner and a premiership ruckman at the Eagles and it's hard to argue otherwise.
His performances in under-18 level translated into games in the reserves and eventually the seniors. He averaged 22 hitouts, 15 disposals and five marks a game in 9 outings for the South Fremantle under-18s before moving up into the reserves, where his averages continued to rise. His numbers in six reserves games showed averages of 24 hitouts, 17 disposals, five marks and three tackles a game.
Combine those performances with a very solid national under-18 championships, where he averaged 10 disposals a game and dominated the ruck in four matches - he was one of two WA players named in the under-18s All-Australian team (the other being Carlton draftee Zac Fisher), and he was given his WAFL senior debut in the final round of the WAFL home and away season against Perth Despite the fact he was soundly beaten by former Adelaide and Richmond player Angus Graham in the ruck, the experience he would've gained from the match would be invaluable as he prepared himself for life in the AFL.
Which comes to my next point, and it's perhaps the biggest flaw in Tim English's game, but it's a flaw that shouldn't be considered as a big deal - I'll tell you why shortly - and that is his frame. Because his growth spurt shot up as he got older, he became this lanky, athletic ruckman with little weight on him whatsoever. As a result of this, his ability to take contested marks and win contested possessions has been identified as a key weakness.
It's because of this very reason, he has slid down from a top 10 prospect to the 19th overall pick in the 2016 AFL draft, where the Bulldogs, fresh off their first premiership since 1954, were delighted to take him. It draws similar comparisons to Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy in the 2012 draft, who was tipped at one point to go as the number one overall selection, but in the end was selected by the Pies with the 18th overall pick. But since then has flourished into becoming one of the competition's best young ruckmen. Most ruckmen take their time to develop which was why Grundy and - in this instance - English were taken later than predicted and why most recruiters back away when they have a top-10 selection.
The reason why it shouldn't become a big deal is because that English himself, had already identified this problem and had already begun to work tirelessly in the gym to get his body up to the standard of AFL footy, before he was even drafted and since that draft day, he's been working as hard as ever in the gym in a bid to get his body in line for a debut as soon as he can. He was just under 80 kilos when the 2016 season began and 12 months later he's verging on 90. What does it tell you? This tells you that this young man is willing to put in the time and the effort to make it in the AFL and with his skills already at an acceptable standard, it's only a matter of time before he makes his debut in season 2017.
The Western Bulldogs coaches have been impressed with the way he's been conducting himself throughout the pre-season. His skills by foot have been particularly impressive since his arrival at Whitten Oval, and has been working on his contested marking ability, as he aspires to be like Greater Western Sydney's Rory Lobb. An unorthadox player to base your game on one might suggest, but Lobb is amongst one of the best contested markers in the AFL today and like English, he originates from Western Australia.
Thursday night's pre-season encounter with the Brisbane Lions in the JLT Community Series is set to be English's first match in the AFL, and what an opportunity it is, as he will more than likely match up with a seasoned, yet dangerous veteran in Stefan Martin, and with Jordan Roughead and Tom Campbell - arguably the Bulldogs' top two ruckmen within the club going down with unfortunate injury setbacks, the time for this young ruckman from Pingelly to make a statement in this star-studded Bulldogs line-up is now.