Ex-Swan Nankervis making an impact at Richmond
AFL: Amid the hype of trades for Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy, another Richmond recruiting deal flew under the footy radar - but it could have the biggest impact on the Tigers this year.
The Tigers handed over a third-round draft pick to Sydney late in the October trade period for Tasmanian ruckman Toby Nankervis. The 22-year-old played 12 games in three years at Sydney including last year's semi-final against Adelaide, and was an emergency for the Grand Final.
But John Longmire's decision to back Sam Naismith could be Richmond's gain, with Nankervis in the box seat to become the Tigers' No.1 ruckman.
With Shaun Hampson battling back issues, Nankervis has impressed in two intra-club games and will lead the ruck division in Friday night's JLT Series clash against Adelaide.
Nankervis showed in 2016 he can get his hands on the ball at centre bounces - in seven matches, his hitout to advantage rate of 38 per cent was ranked No. 1 in the AFL - and he can be a weapon resting forward - he kicked six goals and took 11 marks in a NEAFL game against Canberra.
But it's another aspect of his game that has caught the attention of teammates and coaches, and could make him an instant favourite of the Tiger Army.
"He's a bull, big Toby," defender David Astbury said on RSN927 on Thursday morning.
"He's probably not the boom recruit of the footy club during the off-season, but he's really surprised a lot of people.
"He's got a lot of vigour. We all love playing with him and we can't wait to see that showcased."
Assistant coach Blake Caracella - another newcomer at Punt Rd - is also a big fan.
"Toby Nankervis has been a fantastic find for the Richmond football club," he said in a video on the club website. "His ability and willingness to compete for the ball and hit bodies and follow up and chase ... he really loves the contest."
Midfield coach Andrew McQualter was more blunt: "He's nearly put a couple of our players in hospital with his tackles, but he's had a real presence so far.
"He's a quiet, unassuming guy, but he works really hard and he's made a great impression."
In his brief exposure at AFL level, Nankervis has averaged five tackles per game - rated elite for a ruckman. That figure is higher than Richmond's top tackler last year Trent Cotchin (4.6) and will help a team ranked last in the AFL for that statistic.
Most fans will get their first look at Nankervis tomorrow night at Etihad Stadium, and they will also see a more aggressive playing style after Caracella took charge of the Tigers' ball movement.
"It probably hasn't changed enormously, it's just we've relaxed things a little bit, let players play their natural game and take the game on," Astbury said.
"I do expect the ball to move a bit quicker this year."