With their thin ruck stocks exposed in 2021, the Gold Coast Suns have secured the services of 24-year-old ruck/forward Mabior Chol.
Chol was free to sign elsewhere after 31 games with the Tigers, out of contract and seemingly not offered another.
It’s the most recent in a number of deals between the two clubs. Brandon and Corey Ellis, Oleg Markov, and now Chol have all made the switch up to Queensland, while Tom Lynch and Dion Prestia have come the other way.
Opportunity was limited for the athletic 200cm tall, with Toby Nankervis and Ivan Soldo occupying the ruck spots handily ahead of him.
Gold Coast’s hand was forced when first choice ruck and co-captain Jarrod Witts went down after just three games with an ACL injury. With Zac Smith still unavailable, a makeshift mix of Chris Burgess and Caleb Graham shouldered the ball-up duties.
The Suns were the worst hitout team of 2021, ranked dead last with an average of just 26 per game.
While Chol will likely be viewed as a backup ruck option, a spot in the forward line is also up for grabs. Known for his strong aerial presence, he could become the contested partner that complements Ben King’s strong leading game.
Ruck, or forward?
Though he can be a handy chop-out in the ruck contest, Chol’s numbers as a ruck don’t jump off the page.
He averages a touch over eight hitouts a game across his career, his best effort coming in 2021 over his 10 appearances, where he averaged 12.3. Two and a half tackles and two clearances round out what might appear as an average presence in the middle.
With Witts back at full fitness next season, there likely won’t be much asked of Chol other than to compete and win a few taps in short stints.
Stuart Dew wouldn’t be amiss to consider Ned Moyle for a debut come the first round of the 2022. In his VFL games both with Collingwood and Gold Coast, he averaged 19 hitouts and 11 disposals.
Moyle appears likely to be played as a traditional ruck option. Still young and inexperienced, he can get around the ground like the modern-day ruck, averaging four marks, but doesn’t find the scoreboard like Chol can.
In five VFL games in 2021, Chol kicked eight goals. Further, in his 10 AFL games, he kicked seven.
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The Brisbane Lions seemed to understand the wrath of Chol all too well, both at AFL and VFL level.
It was something about the Queensland air, playing in his home state. Chol kicked three goals, took seven marks, had 22 disposals, and 24 hitouts in the VFL match up between the Tigers and Lions.
He then took it up to the big time, with a career best four goals complemented by four clearances and four marks in a late season upset over the top four finishers.
It showed what the tall can do at his best. Chol seemed nearly unstoppable, kicking them off the ground, outside 50, and from strong contested work to earn pack marks.
What Dew will hoping to see from Chol to start season 2022 is an increased focus on his work out of the middle. He has all the attributes to be a ruckman that can win his own ball, and may be expected to share the load with Witts as he regains fitness and confidence.
How do the Suns structure up forward?
The other part of the move that Dew and his coaching panel will need to consider is the structure of the forward line.
With a top 10 finish in the Coleman Medal, Ben King is officially the spearhead of the Suns. Entering just his fourth season, there’s no earthly chance he doesn’t begin to attract the opposition’s number one defender.
The re-signing of Sam Day could prove vital, recovery pending. Playing just six games in 2021 and hampered by knee and foot injuries, whether he can return to his best at 28-years-old remains to be seen.
Gold Coast could look to build around a similar structure to the Brisbane Lions, with three talls each playing consistent and specific roles.
At its best, the Brisbane forward line looked like:
|FF:||Eric Hipwood||Dan McStay||Charlie Cameron|
|HF:||Zac Bailey/Callum Ah Chee||Joe Daniher||Lincoln McCarthy|
Daniher would play as a true centre half forward, leading out of the 50 metre arc and taking marks up the wing. He would create inside 50s more than the other two talls, with McStay sitting deeper and drawing a contest while Hipwood could lead strong and shake off his man.
Bailey and Ah Chee provided and speed and class by foot, McCarthy would cause a headache match-up with his unique high-flying skillset as a small, while Cameron would crumb at ground level with the help of his rolling midfielders.
If the Suns were to adopt something similar, it could look like:
|FF:||Ben King||Mabior Chol||Izak Rankine|
|HF:||Alex Sexton||Sam Day||Josh Corbett/Joel Jeffrey|
Day will help to break defensive structures, drawing the most powerful one-on-one player away from his deeper forwards.
King is then given the opportunity to put on leads across the 50. With his accuracy, kicking 47.25 across the season, Dew would back him in to take low percentage shots at goal that not many other forwards could.
Though they have a bit of height on someone like McCarthy, Corbett and Jeffrey have the dynamic side to their game to help out-run and out-mark smaller defenders.
If the forward line is considered a bit too tall, someone like a Darcy Macpherson or Malcolm Rosas Jr could take one of the flanks instead.
Chol playing deeper and rotating through the ruck gives Witts and Moyle an easier time – Day is drawing the best one-on-one option, and they can use their height closer to goal.
Other options include Jack Lukosius, who’s been utilised along the half forward line across the season. This has the potential to make the forward line too top heavy however, with not enough ground level options.
Wil Powell has also spent time up forward, but his brilliant ball use by foot seems better suited to the half back line.
Regardless of which line of the ground Chol is utilised within, he provides an option desperately needed for the Suns, and will come in handy should the injury bell ring again.
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