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Naitanui gets the jump on his rivals

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ON THE day when the AFL introduced a rule that banned contact between ruckmen until the ball had left the umpire's hand, a former senior coach reached the same conclusion as many others: He called it ''the Nic Naitanui rule''.

By that, he believes the the rule will be highly advantageous to West Coast's athletic ruckman, who can jump 205-centimetre opponents in a single bound.

''The new rule will go down as the Nic Naitanui rule,'' he said, recalling the advent of a small centre circle had conspired against another ruckman who relied on his leap, Melbourne's Jeff White, who no longer had the long run-up he needed for lift-off at centre bounces.

Naitanui's leap is so imposing that opponents have devised a range of tactics to prevent him from having a clear jump at the ball in centre bounces and ball-ups around the ground this year. Sydney's Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke used a physical approach to successfully stymie his jump in round 16 that prompted Naitanui to complain that he was being illegally impeded.

But the new rule, in theory, should make it easier for Naitanui to jump, since his opponents cannot make contact until the umpire has released the ball. (And he will throw it up now in general play.) Centre bounces should change less, since ruckmen are not supposed to cross the line until the ball is bounced.

''It's going to favour taller ruckmen who can jump,'' said Carlton football operations head, Andrew McKay, who worked as the AFL's game analyst last year and was the conduit with the clubs and players on the rules.


''It's going to favour Naitanui and a [Robert] Warnock type who is taller and can jump a little bit.''

McKay reckons the motivation for the change is to improve the spectacle of ruck contests, since the AFL does not want excessive wrestling. ''The spectacle will be better … the new rule is purely aesthetics.''

If Naitanui will be harder to combat, as many believe, the corollary is that the wrasslin' rucks, such as Mumford and Darren Jolly, might need to revise their methods.

Jolly made it plain in February that he did not like the new rule when it was tested in the NAB Cup. ''I hope they don't bring in the stupid rule that they're trying to bring in now … because that's just a joke,'' he said, acknowledging the rule worked against physical ruckmen of his ilk.

Brad Ottens, like Jolly, was a consummate ''power'' ruckman who deployed his strength and considerable weight to overwhelm opponents in three premierships for the Cats. Ottens, who is a part-time ruck coach with the Cats, said the rule would probably favour the leapers like Naitanui and ''agile'' rucks generally, but the burly followers such as Jolly and Mumford were good enough to adapt.

''I think ball-ups are where it's going to affect things the most,'' he said.

Not everyone reckons the rule is made for Naitanui. One Victorian official said the key would be getting ''pole position'' for ball-ups and throw-ins.

''Whoever gets there first has a huge advantage,'' he said.

This wouldn't necessarily hand the jumper such a huge edge. But getting to position first meant the ruckmen had to move quickly. ''Ruckmen who can't run are in trouble,'' the official said.

There isn't a rule, trend or game style, mind you, that helps any player who struggles to run. The question is whether this one is devised for the ruck guys who can jump.