Date: May 06 2012
TRAVIS Cloke is the most wanted man in football. Every club would love to have him and the Collingwood hierarchy won't sleep soundly until he signs on the dotted line.
Greater Western Sydney and the Fremantle Dockers will make multimillion dollar offers to sign Cloke as he is the modern-day forward prototype. If I was to build my side around one player in the competition it would be Travis Cloke. Playing in the forward line is harder than ever at AFL level and the power forward is the game's most valued commodity.
Heading into last year's finals series, Geelong coach Chris Scott had a major selection dilemma. Did he persist with the struggling Tom Hawkins or go back to veteran Cameron Mooney who was battling with injury for most of the year. Something within him kept pushing him towards Hawkins and a month later he had repaid the faith.
Hawkins was Geelong's most influential finals player, destroying Hawk Ryan Schoenmakers in the first final on his way to taking a record seven contested marks opposed to Ben Reid in the grand final. Hawkins has gone to another level this season and is leading the AFL goal-kicking with 18 goals after five rounds.
Big bags of goals are rare now; the days of double figures are gone as only three players have kicked six or more in a match so far this season. Josh Kennedy of the Eagles, Hawkins in wet conditions in Brisbane last week and Taylor Walker against the Power last weekend. With huge numbers getting back defensively and rolling scrums around the ball all over the ground, players who can take the strong contested mark in the forward half of the ground have become the most important players in the competition.
That is why Cloke is the game's hottest commodity and Jeremy Cameron from the Giants is the game's best youngster. There weren't too many highlights in the game between the Western Bulldogs and the Giants in Canberra last weekend but he was the shining light. He plays beyond his years, bringing the ball to ground by crashing packs and timing his leads from the goal square like he's a 10-year player.
While Cloke, Cameron and Hawkins are continuing to have an impact on games, I fear that champions like Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Pavlich may never dominate the forward 50 arcs again. The game continues to evolve but while we are in this phase, Riewoldt and Pavlich, who are more suited to leading up the ground and using their fitness to burn off opponents, just aren't having as much impact as they were three years ago.
Pavlich has kicked more than 60 goals in a season on five occasions, the last in 2010 and a big forward is what Fremantle needs. Pavlich has taken just three contested marks for the year and looks to be playing an uncontested style of game, which isn't helping his side. Ross Lyon must roll the dice and send his captain back to the forward line permanently to straighten his side up.
Riewoldt kicked 78 goals in 2009 on the way to his fifth best and fairest award. Nick's biggest challenge now is whether he can put fear into the opposition defenders and coaches inside his team's forward 50, not on the wings where opposition coaches like seeing him. Nick's a professional, a proud man, but he faces his biggest challenge right now. Can he be a colossus of the game again?
Lance Franklin would be picked by most ahead of Travis Cloke as the No. 1 forward in the game as he has more natural ability than Cloke, but I would take Cloke over Franklin, because he is so dependable and provides such a strong presence to his team. Franklin has kicked 11 goals and 18 behinds this year, going at a 37 per cent accuracy rate. Franklin will be famous for his goals from the boundary line, but a big part of the reason he gets his shots from there is that he doesn't have the contested marking capabilities of Cloke to get easier shots at goal. Franklin has just eight contested marks for the year while Cloke has 16, which has resulted in a return of 13 goals eight. Come finals time, the get-out kick long to the top of the square to a Cloke or Hawkins is so important to the psyche of a side. Jarryd Roughead becomes that vital ingredient for Hawthorn.
Others struggling to cope due to a lack of strength and competitiveness in the forward 50 are Melbourne's Jack Watts, Richmond's Tyrone Vickery and Fremantle's Jack Anthony. After being subbed off against Carlton, Anthony has been dropped this weekend and may have played his last game for Fremantle, and Melbourne and Richmond are compromising their team structure by having to take Vickery and Watts out of the forward line and invent other roles for them as they have been non-competitive when forward. Watts has also been dropped this weekend and will be in the VFL for a sustained period until he can improve his physical aspects.
Former VFL players James Podsiadly, Aaron Edwards and Stewart Crameri, who are in the top seven goal scorers in the AFL, have shown that your time will eventually come and you won't be continually overlooked if you can compete in the air, mark strongly and kick goals. Some things will never change in football.
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