Mabior Chol is unique, Luke Davies-Uniacke is building nicely and ruck observations

Yessir! FTP is back with another newsletter. In this week we discuss Gold Coast's acquisition of Mabior Chol, the stoppage craft of Luke Davies-Uniacke and AFL ruck observations

Lachie Neale, Jake Bowey

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Gold Coast’s acquisition of Mabior Chol

Have the Gold Coast Suns arrived? 

They've now beaten two top four contenders in Sydney and Fremantle in as many weeks. It can’t be understated how important these wins are - both from a quality of opponent standpoint and for belief. The inner belief for the Gold Coast Suns players and for what Dew is building.

One player who must be fascinated (or mildly terrified) with the consistent scrutiny and general juxtaposition of his current situation is Mabior Chol.

Chol moved from Richmond, arguably the most successful team in the modern era, to a team that has legitimately been urged to disband at times.

Regardless, Chol is an interesting discussion point and has been a great pick up for the Suns. Lets discuss what makes Chol so intriguing for the Suns:

First and foremost, it was a smart move by the Suns. Chol showed plenty of promise at the Tigers in a ruck/forward role and his position boosted a key area of deficiency for the Suns, given how much they struggled when Witts went down last year.

It’s a little win for the Suns management team that have made some incredibly poor decisions as of late... *cough cough* Will Brodie.

Chol has had an impressive season as a 2nd tall and back up ruck to Witts. He’s averaging two goals a game and has kicked a goal in every game so far this year.

It’s a good return for a player who only averages 2.4 marks a game, which is considered well below average for similar position players.

That pairing of statistics encapsulates the type of player Chol is and why he’s so unique. Chol’s play style is different to a common ruck/key forward. His strengths are odd for his position and size. It means as a key forward, he can stand out on rainy day. Yet, those strengths are also a byproduct of his weaknesses.

So what are these aforementioned unique strengths?

Against Fremantle, Chol was dominant kicking four goals. Yet, it was his method that was most eye catching. Chol kicked goals in a variety of ways - crumbing packs, flying in from the side of a contest for a contested mark and a classy goal in general play.

This is Chol’s biggest strength - his ability to impact at ground level. He’s incredibly clean for 200cm and rarely fumbles below his knees. He has a smooth kicking action and kicks through the ball - a skill that many ruckmen don't execute consistently. What this means is that Chol is generating shots on goal outside of normal avenues for key forwards, which makes him a tough match up.

Chol’s a wildcard and I’m not just saying that because of his hair. He plays like a silky, 180cm wingmen trapped inside a 200cm ruckmens body. He is rated elite for his kicking efficiency and it shows - Chol has the capability to be a damaging field kick when given time and space.

His agility as a big means he isn’t a negative when the ball hits the ground, unlike most rucks. He acts as a +1, which allows him to be effective at ground level and find space to kick goals in general play. This is an impressive finish in the wet.

Yet, for all of the intrigue in Chol as a 200cm ground ball threat, it can be outweighed by his inability to match that impact in the air.

Chol can often by noncompetitive in 1v1 contests. He gets out marked far too often and doesn’t bring the ball to ground consistently. The reason players like Hawkins, McKay and Lynch are considered the best key forwards in the AFL isn’t just because of the amount of goals they kick - it’s their consistency in giving their smalls an opportunity at ground level by vrarely getting out marked and almost always bringing the ball to ground.

When Chol is beaten to the spot by his defender, he concedes the dominant position. Too often he gives his back to his defender who takes advantage. This ball needs to come to ground.

In that sense, Chol is a bit of a prisoner of his own versatility. He’s more of a ruck than a forward but is behind Witts.

As a key forward, he struggles to get separation on a lead. He is rated below average for marks on the lead (0.2) and marks inside 50 (0.9) in 2022. When he’s unable to get space at ground level, the rest of his game as a key forward begins to dry up quickly. He has to become a more well rounded forward to improve on his leading patterns and strength in the air.

It isn't from a lack of talent. Chol has good hands and is strong enough to be a factor in the air - it seems to be a confidence thing. This is a tremendous mark.

Right now, the split as a forward and ruck is suiting Chol and Gold Coast. He and Witts are an underrated ruck pair, offering completely different things for the Suns.

At 25, Chol is about to enter his prime. It’s going to be fascinating to see what he becomes.

Luke Davies-Uniacke is building nicely

It’s really starting to come together for Luke Davies-Uniacke. He is becoming proficient with his stoppage craft and has that rare ability to find space playing at different speeds.

This what we mean by LDU playing at different speeds:

There’s the initial burst to gather the ball. Once gathered, he looks up and BAM, he’s completely changed gears with his next two steps. He is gone. He blows by Byrne Jones with ease. LDU’s step and acceleration to change gears is special.

The best way of describing LDU is he’s a fluid player. He’s always under control with his movement yet seems to make quicker decisions than most. He is becoming more confident in driving with his legs out of stoppage, he practically gallops away from everyone in the clip above.

Against Port, he had a game high 7 clearances, including 6 centre clearances. He was a key factor in North generating damaging clearances through the front of stoppage.

Here, the quick hands in traffic and the vision to identify that Stephenson as the second option is the better one creates a far better attacking result for North.

I wrote about LDU last year and gave a number of observations that are important to come back to in 2022:

Firstly, whilst I was impressed with his development, I implored for more of his special moments to become regular occurrences. Whilst his numbers are down this year across the board, those moments are starting to transform into consistent, weekly habits. The body work at stoppage to own the inside or outside of the contest, the quick hands to release a player into space, the habit to always be on the move at stoppage. It's starting to show week in week out.

Secondly, he is much more disciplined at applying himself without the ball.  He wasn’t capable nor wanting to provide this kind of defensive pressure last year.

The worry is his accumulation. His 20 disposal average needs to rise to 25+ because he makes good things happen with ball in hand.

Some may argue that he isn’t that type of player, fitting the mold of a burst player who only needs 20 disposals to do maximum damage. Personally, I don’t quite buy that.

The top, high impact midfielders of the last five years all hover closer to 25 than 20 disposals and are far more impactful from a goal scoring sense. If LDU is going to become elite with a low disposal count, he would have to develop as a goal kicker, something he hasn’t shown to date.

The other, more likely reason is the fact that LDU has played in a losing side since he was drafted. A side that is averaging 45 less disposals than the top team in the AFL this year with a losing margin of 58 points.

It goes without saying that North are a struggling side that are battling to find their offensive and defensive identity. It's not exactly an ideal environment for a young, developing mid.

LDU’s been a shining light. He was easily North’s best player on the weekend and is improving as an all round midfielder. He's taken a backseat at times to the logjam of North’s midfield mix of young talent and established midfielders. Yet, Noble has to back LDU in with significant midfield minutes. He’s too special of a talent at this age to not be getting the reps.

Let me know if you agree.

Ruck observations

There’s a bit of a ruckmen theme this week with the Mabior Chol analysis... but don't fret, it doesn’t stop there! Two ruck observations over the weekend. One good. One not so good.

Cripps in the ruck is a no no

Really? I mean, come on. Is Crazy Vossy returning? Patrick Cripps playing ruck minutes is hard to comprehend.

Carlton have the best clearance operator in the AFL and a player that is so hot right now, even Hansel would agree (poor I know). On the weekend, Carlton decided to give the pinch hit ruck minutes to Cripps. To be fair, in most instances, GWS played a midfielder (Green) as their second ruckmen as well. But do Carlton seriously want this?

That’s against Pruess, a literal human wrecking ball. Not only is it dangerous for Cripps, but it can result in easy scoring shots for a ruck like this.

I get the perceived benefit of it all. But even if Carlton have an extra midfielder around the ball and they think that's better than playing a back up ruck, why put your best player in there and clearly run the risk of an injury? Attempting to play the ruck position with little experience is asking for trouble.

If Carlton want an extra midfielder to ruck, play Silvagni as the second ruck. Don’t jeopardise a player with a history of bad injuries and who is literally the best player in the AFL right now. No more please Vossy.

Paddy Ryder's tap work is a joy to watch

Paddy Ryder at the ripe age of 34 is a joy to watch for St Kilda. Obviously, he's not the same around the ground player he used to be at Essendon and Port Adelaide. But every once in a while, an aged superstar can turn back the clock. That was Ryder on Saturday night:

3 goals, 22 hitouts (9 to advantage) and 10 coaches votes

Ryder's ruck craft was elite. A player can lose their athleticism or speed but they can’t lose their touch and feel with the Sherrin.

The timing and touch on this hit to Billings is superb. The best passers in the NBA (Doncic, Lebron etc.) are able to place the ball right into the shooting pocket of a teammate so there's no additional movement to get a shot up. There's some similarities here, as Ryder palms this ball into Billings lap. The only movement Billings has to make is guiding the ball down onto his foot. It happens in one motion because of Ryder's tap.

Some of these hit outs to advantage are spectacular. It really gives a visual display of how beneficial hit outs to advantage can be when a ruckmen and midfielder are on the same page.

St Kilda don't possess super dynamic midfielders, so having this kind of synergy with a ruck can be a complete game changer. St Kilda need Ryder to stay healthy because much like Chol with Witts (in a different way), Ryder provides something unique and different to Marshall.

That's it for this week. If you enjoyed the content, you know what to do... Subscribe to the newsletter of course!

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