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Dons' new Big Fish

To ruck or not to ruck? That's one of the questions for Joe Daniher, who is already drawing comparisons with a Bomber great.

Paul Salmon sees it and, self-deprecatingly, says he is flattered. Simon Madden is struck by it and Kevin Sheedy smiles from afar at the deja vu.

Joe Daniher is a father-son to Essendon, but the similarities in his game better resemble a teammate of his dad's. Daniher strikingly resembles the man known as "Fish".

It is not only the similar height and build that puts those who witnessed Salmon's arrival at Essendon in mind of the resemblance. It is the way he moves, the way he leads and marks the ball at his highest point.

Already in the opening NAB Challenge games, Daniher has been not only the team's focal point but the player to whom every eye excitedly turns.

"I do see it, of course you see the similarity," Sheedy said.

Salmon is more sheepish and reluctant to intrude on or, perhaps, burden Daniher's emergence. "It's always dangerous to try and compare players, but in a broad sense I am happy, being an old teammate of Anthony's, his dad's, so from that perspective I am excited for Joe," Salmon said. "I am not sure it is flattering for him to get compared to me, but I understand why it happens."


Madden, the rucking master to Salmon apprentice, said the resemblance was uncanny.

"It is the height, of course [Daniher is 201 centimetres, Salmon was 206 centimetres] but it's the build – he is tall and slender like Paul, he is putting on weight in the gym of course, but he is not one of those heavy, tall players, he is a left-footer, Paul was a right, but he is a raking kick like Fish.

"Joe, even before he was drafted people knew he had the size, speed and leap and good hands, the way he grabs the ball and times his mark."

Salmon played 324 games – 100 of them at Hawthorn – across 19 seasons. He began as a forward due to Madden being there ahead of him. Madden was first ruck for the team, the state, and one of the best, if not the best, ruckmen to have played the game.

Salmon was leading the goalkicking when he wrecked his knee halfway through a season. When he returned he was less mobile and while he still rotated forward, he was increasingly in the ruck.

Which raises the question of where Daniher will be best played. The injury to Tom Bellchambers might draw him into the ruck more this season.

"He has a few weapons, he is good at ground level and you always like to see that with a big guy, and he will grow into his rucking with opportunities," Salmon said.

Sheedy said the issue was in striking the right balance for the individual and the team, and that flexibility was key, noting that he played Dustin Fletcher in the ruck in his first game before he made a career at full-back.

"Unfortunately for Paul, when he arrived we had the awkward situation of Simon Madden in the team, so that was always going to be a problem for him in the ruck," Sheedy said. "For Joe, will he be a ruckman at some stage? I don't know, but from his lead out at the ball, he looks like he is capable, so you would be hoping at some stage he does. 'Bomber' [Mark Thompson] is an experienced coach and a lot of it depends on Paddy [Ryder] and Bellchambers. He has seen that probably with Tom Hawkins, another father-son, and it probably took him to the fourth or fifth year to get it right."

Madden said that while he was the incumbent when Salmon arrived – though he said Salmon playing forward was more about his ability to kick goals than him being in his way in the ruck – he also began in the game as a forward and second ruck. "I had the luxury of being second ruck to Graham Moss, so I was sitting in a forward pocket in my early years, spending five or 10 minutes a quarter in the ruck, and you did an apprenticeship that way, which was lovely.

"If Tom [Bellchambers] was in the ruck, there would be less pressure on Joe to ruck. It's a funny one . . . the more you ruck, the better you will be at it, but the more you ruck, the more likely you are to get injured.

"At some stage he is going to ruck. He had a few stints last year, and our coaching group will know when the right time is for him to ruck and how much time he should take there. But if you are 6' 6", 6' 7", 6' 8", you are going to ruck at some stage."

Whether in the goal square or the centre square, Essendon has clearly landed another Big Fish.