Stefan Martin (front) battles with Aaron Sandilands, and (inset) Tom Rockliff.
Stefan Martin (front) battles with Aaron Sandilands, and (inset) Tom Rockliff. Photos Aap Images

Letting Demons go was a big mistake

MELBOURNE supporters can handle seeing Colin Sylvia playing in the WAFL or Brent Moloney in the NEAFL or Kyle Cheney in the VFL.

But, watching Tom Rockliff and Stefan Martin running around the MCG on Sunday wearing Brisbane jumpers will really stick in their craw.

The pair has become the league's in form on-baller and ruckman, respectively, and top the list of quality players the Demons have allowed to get away over the years.

Every club could kick itself for overlooking the footballers' footballer that is Rockliff during the 2008 national draft, but the then-wooden spooners again decided against selecting him when they had the chance a month later - after he had spent two weeks training with them.

After they had settled on Jack Watts with the No.1 pick in the national draft, the Demons plumped for Liam Jurrah with the first pick in the barely used pre-season draft. The Lions ultimately pounced four spots later.

In fairness, Jurrah was highly promising, but in Rockliff they could very well have had their current captain and not just a lament of what might have been had the talented but troubled Jurrah not walked away from the AFL after just 37 games.

Martin, of course, did actually play for Melbourne - 57 games over five seasons, before being traded away to Brisbane at the end of 2012.

Again, in fairness, though he had shown glimpses, the 198cm/104kg big man had failed to ever really deliver in the role of back-up ruckman-forward that Brisbane eventually pencilled in for.

After gathering 47 disposals in the barnstorming win over Gold Coast last Saturday (breaking his own club record of 45 achieved four weeks earlier) Rockliff is now averaging 30.6 a game this season, second only to Gary Ablett (32.1) and ahead of Josh Kennedy (29.9).

With a total of 2533 throughout his 97 games, he is number one at the Lions for average disposals (26.1), ahead of Fitzroy greats John Murphy (25.2) and Gary Wilson (25.0), and Brisbane champion Simon Black (23.5).

By the time the 24-year-old cracks the 100-game milestone in a few weeks, only Greg Williams (2848), Chris McDermott (2654) and Mark Bairstow (2649) will have collected more touches at the same stage of their careers. In comparison, Robert Harvey and Joel Selwood had 2543 and 2531, respectively.

But, showing he works as hard when he doesn't have the ball, Rockliff is also averaging a league-high 9.2 tackles a game in 2014.

Martin, though, has been the real surprise, thriving after getting the chance to be a team's No.1 ruckman with injuries to Matthew Leuenberger and Trent West.

The 27-year-old is ranked ninth for average hitouts (30.7), but no other ruckman is averaging as many marks (5.0), disposals (19.4) and contested disposals (8.3) or forward-50m entries (3.0).

If he had played the entire season, it might be Martin in line for an All-Australian jumper and not Adelaide's Sam Jacobs (who, incidentally, is averaging 4.2 marks and 16.3 possessions).

Leuenberger might return next week, but may have to play second fiddle.



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