Ask any supporter about whether St Kilda should field one ruck or two in the starting 22, the general consensus is that the dual-ruck approach bears the best results.
Rowan Marshall wholeheartedly agrees that the Saints look a completely different line-up with both he and Paddy Ryder rucking in tandem, but his past fortnight has again proven he can more than hold his own when flying solo.
Marshall, who in June signed a five-year contract extension, pieced together one of his most dominant displays against the Hawks, snaring his second Silk-Miller Memorial Medal following a best-on-ground performance which has kept the Saints in September calculations.
A quick glance at his numbers from the weekend could easily be mistaken for those of an inside midfielder or a dynamic half-back, but the fan-favourite Saint managed to roll both roles into a single display, together with his ruck duties.
Marshall collected a career-best 30 disposals, 35 hit-outs, seven clearances, seven tackles and 10 intercepts by the final siren, with all metrics pivotal in the final result.
St Kilda dominated clearances 39-24 courtesy of Marshall’s ascendancy, but also generated 10 shots on goal off the back of his 465 metres gained: the third-highest tally of any ruckman this season.
Offensively, Marshall has delivered in spades over the past fortnight, but hasn’t let his defensive output slip in the process. His 62 pressure points were equal with match-leader Jack Steele on the day, while 10 intercepts from Hawthorn chains of possessions had a profound influence given the final two-goal margin.
Although not as striking on the stats sheet compared to this week just gone, Marshall pulled down a career-best 49 hit-outs against West Coast to get St Kilda’s engine room humming.
The Saints scored six goals from stoppage in the first half at Optus Stadium – the club’s best start for the season from that source – off the back of Marshall’s authority in the middle, laying the foundations for a 16-point half-time lead and eventual win.
Four final-quarter tackles with the game in the balance were also worth their weight in gold.
Even so, the on-field impact when Ryder and Marshall are operating together can’t be diminished.
The 34-year-old Ryder has rejuvenated his career in his three seasons at St Kilda and given Marshall a crucial leg-up in his development, while “the big sponge” Marshall has conversely given his veteran counterpart the energy to play some of his best football.
Whether two rucks are better than one will be up for discussion for a long time yet. But there’s no denying that when given the keys, Marshall is more than capable.
Centre bounce split, 2022: Ryder and Marshall
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Marshall (centre bounces)
Ryder (centre bounces)
Marshall (percentage at centre bounce)
Ryder (percentage at centre bounce)
*Adjusted to account for time where Marshall or Ryder is on the bench. Does not include Round 18 where Ryder was injured.