Two of the competition’s most prolific ruckmen will lock horns for just the sixth time as heavyweights Rowan Marshall and Tim English prepare for another fierce duel at Marvel Stadium.

The pair were close to inseparable in terms of influence on their respective sides last season, with both earning maiden All-Australian squad berths before English got the nod for the final team.

Marshall’s pursuit of an inaugural All-Australian blazer has begun in a similar vein to last year’s campaign, which netted him a second podium finish at the club’s Trevor Barker Award.

Averaging 27 hit-outs, 20 disposals and five clearances per game in 2023, the 28-year-old was the fulcrum in St Kilda’s surge towards September with a series of tide-turning performances.

Marshall’s opening month to 2024 has yielded near-identical numbers, with midfield coach Brendon Goddard – although not directly responsible for Marshall (that duty belongs to ruck and stoppage specialist Chris McKay) – witnessing first-hand the ruckman’s rise.

“Rowan’s terrific. He’s a little undersized in terms of actual size, weight and height, but what he lacks there he makes up with his mobility, particularly at ground level,” Goddard said.

“He’s essentially another midfielder and that’s his strength. You have guys that are good time-trial runners, but his game day running is elite for a big man.

Big moments don’t require anything special individually, it just needs extraordinary effort and that’s what Rowan has. He’s like Phar Lap. He’s got a great big heart that never gives up.

- Brendon Goddard on Rowan Marshall

Last time they met in Round 2 of last year, Marshall and English were again close to evenly matched in every metric on the stats sheet.

Marshall’s ascendancy around clearances (9-5) was the eventual separator in a masterful performance at Marvel Stadium, which paved the way for a 51-point win and a Brownlow vote-winning trio comprised of Jack Steele (three), Jack Sinclair (two) and Brad Crouch (one).

But English remained an ever-present threat with 26 hit-outs, 21 touches and a goal of his own, with another salivating contest likely on the cards for tonight’s encounter under the roof.

“They’re similar in a lot of ways in terms of their strengths. Their ability to get around the ground, ball in hand… it is the two best mobile ruckmen in the game coming up against one another,” Goddard said.

“There’s something there for everyone. As coaches it will cause a few headaches, but for non-St Kilda or Bulldogs supporters it’s going to be a great spectacle of two great mobile ruckmen.”

Read this piece in this week's special edition of the AFL Record, available at Marvel Stadium on Thursday night!