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Ultimate Footy: The new number one

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Before a ball had been kicked this season, we at Footy Prophet had discussed at length our player watchlists. Having spent the entire off season pouring over stats and trends, we each had compiled lists of our top Ultimate Footy draft picks. One player in particular was a firm favourite with many of us, and with myself being one of the most fervent spruikers of his talents, I must admit to more than a shade of smugness to see Tom Rockliff leading the fantasy ratings.

The thing is, Rockliff isn't only topping the leader-board, he's head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to fantasy points. His average as we approach the season’s midpoint is sitting at a huge 127.4 points per game; 10.1 points more than Dayne Beams in second place.  What's more is that he is averaging 147 over the last five, and an unfathomable 153 in his last three games.

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To many coaches this impressive spike in scoring may have come as a bit of a shock, but the signs pointing to this breakout were there for all to see.

Rockliff came to our attention in 2011 when he averaged 112 for the year through the Brisbane midfield. He had the eighth most disposals in the AFL, and his elite kicking and hard running had him firmly stamped as a fantasy star. His 2012 season was a different story however. Rockliff, much to the distress of fantasy coaches around the country, was used more and more as a forward – a move that saw his average drop to 93.

The drop in 2012 saw him fall off many coaches’ radars, and despite earning Forward eligibility, his draft value was on the slide going into last season. Despite the doubts, 2013 saw a good increase in his fantasy figures, even though again he spent a large chunk of his time in the forward line. Finishing the season with a very handy average of 103, Rockliff was one of the top ranked forwards in Ultimate Footy, and would have been high on many draft wishlists. With the 2014 season approaching, however, it was announced that he would lose forward eligibility - leading many to again underestimate his value, seeing him slip as late as round three in many drafts.

Those who looked a little more closely at the stats, however, will have noticed a very interesting sign that was a precursor to this year’s hike in numbers. Rockliff played the majority of the 2013 season through the midfield, and was only used as a forward in a stretch of games between rounds 8 and 15. With these rounds ignored, his average would have been 114, putting him in the elite category of fantasy midfielders. Add to this the retirement of Lions star midfielder Simon Black, the progression of forwards such as Josh Green and Marco Paparone, and his instalment as vice-captain, it was highly likely that a permanent midfield role this season was on the cards. We could finally see the end of Rockliff the forward.

We’re now halfway through the season and it certainly looks to be the case. Rockliff has played almost exclusively  through the midfield, and with four 140+ scores to his name already this year, including two over 150, he has even possibly exceeded our lofty expectations. His ability to rack up huge scores is second to none at the moment, despite Brisbane's struggles, and with the apparent fading of fantasy stars such as Dane Swan, we could be seeing the emergence of our new number one man.

The future is looking very bright indeed, and hopefully you took our pre-season advice and bagged yourself a true fantasy game winner in your Ultimate Footy draft.  If not, there is always next year - although I very much doubt he'll slide as far as pick three, let alone round three.

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