Nic Naitanui – The numbers behind an undervalued season

Nic Naitanui's 2021 season has been undervalued by a lot of critics. (Image: West Coast Eagles)

The West Coast Eagles’ 2021 AFL campaign has been disappointing by their lofty standards, and fans are tired of their side underperforming.

Despite not being as high on the ladder as they would have anticipated, their campaign is not over yet. With two rounds remaining, the opportunity to play finals footy is firmly within their grasp.

West Coast fans would have expected more from a lot of their senior members, especially those that won the club a flag in 2018.

However, one senior member that was unlucky to not be part of the premiership winning line up and he is far from underperforming for the Eagles. Nic Naitanui is desperate to taste glory and the numbers back him up.

The 2021 All-Australian ruckman position is arguably as close as it has been in years, and a case could be made for several players. From Melbourne captain in the experienced Max Gawn, to this season’s standout improver in Fremantle’s Sean Darcy, a photo finish is on the cards.

At 31 years of age, Naitanui is having a remarkably undervalued season and should be highly considered to be named as the ruckman in the 2021 All-Australian side, backing up his impressive 2020 season.

Here are the numbers:

Hitouts

Let’s start off with the obvious when we look at the stats of a ruckman: the hit-outs.

Only six ruckmen have been able to win over 550 hit-outs this season to date according to AFL StatsPro. Naitanui (598) sits in second, above Collingwood’s Brodie Grundy (587), and below Max Gawn (640).

What’s really impressive though, is how Naitanui has managed to tap 23 more hit-outs to the advantage of his teammates than Gawn despite winning 42 less in total.

Of all ruckman in the competition, Naitanui has managed to tap 39.1% of his hit-outs to advantage. The only player outranking Naitanui is his teammate, Nathan Vardy (41.1%), who has played just seven games this season and won 73 hit-outs in total.

Nic Naitanui and Max Gawn in a ruck contest in Round 21. (Image: West Coast Eagles)

Clearances

After each ruck contest, Nic Naitanui wins far more clearances than any other ruckman in the competition.

With 140 clearances, the only other ruckman in the competition with over 100 clearances this season is Oscar McInerney (103). Naitanui ranks equal fourth for total clearances of any player.

Naitanui sits behind Darcy Parish (155), Clayton Oliver (154) and Tom Liberatore (149) for clearances. However, he ranks ahead of superstars such as Christian Petracca (125), Jack Steele (124) and Marcus Bontempelli (114).

Ground Ball Gets

Whilst Naitanui struggles to take as many marks as other ruckman, he makes up for it with his ‘below the knees’ efforts.

Naitanui ranks second in ground ball gets of any ruckman with 109, sitting behind Grundy with 121. However, he does rank first in ground ball gets in his teams forward 50.

Naitanui ranks second to Ben McEvoy in ‘pressure acts’ of any ruckman. Plus, his efforts up forward are improved by his ability to support his teammates, ranking first in goal assists.

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Time on Ground

The scariest stat of the bunch, Naitanui has achieved these numbers with an average of 67.5% time on ground. It’s the lowest time on ground percentage of any team’s first choice ruckman.

For perspective, Todd Goldstein and Gawn spend an average of over 90% of each game on the field. Grundy and Darcy spend an average of 81% time on ground. Even the aging 35-year-old Shane Mumford manages to pull together an average of 76.5% of game time on field.

This stat begs the question, what could Nic Naitanui do with an extra 20% average time on ground?

Player Rating and Coaches Votes

Naitanui reached new heights in 2021 when he passed Bontempelli to officially become the highest rated player in the game according to AFL Player Ratings after round 19.

Furthering his case even more, Naitanui sits just one vote behind Gawn as the leading ruckman in this season’s AFLCA Champion Player of the Year award.

If the Eagles hope to go deep into September, it’ll be on the big shoulders of Nic Naitanui. However, he can’t do it alone, and it will require the efforts of of his senior teammates to be lifted.

The Eagles take on the Dockers this Sunday in what has shaped up to be an epic Western Derby. Both sides are challenging for the remaining two spots in the top eight.

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