Adelaide’s Reilly O’Brien concedes that his number one ruck mantle won’t be a given this season, after injury kept him sidelined to end 2021.
O’Brien hyperextended his right knee in the first quarter of the second Showdown of the season, after which he missed the last two games of the season.
While he avoided surgery, it wasn’t the ideal way for the big man to end his year after a breakout 2019 saw him surge into conversation as one of the league’s top rucks.
But he’s now got a challenge ahead, with teammate Kieran Strachan snapping at his heels.
“I think he’s really improved since he’s been here, he was pretty raw when he got the club and he’s already shown he is at the level in the couple of games he played last year,” O’Brien told media on Monday afternoon.
“He obviously finished last year while I was out, it’s been really good for me in terms of spurring me on and giving me that necessity to really fight for my spot in the team.
“Certainly felt that pressure last year, he’s been better every year so it’s just built up.”
When Strachan was picked up in the 2018 AFL Rookie Draft, the Crows saw him as a project player.
The ruckman was very raw, but had innate talent as a big man winning back to back best and fairest awards before being picked up.
He replaced O’Brien for the last few games of 2021 and proved that he is well-equipped to play at AFL level, O’Brien admitting, “we certainly push each other to be better”.
Strachan averaged 29 match ups across those two matches, no easy task against the likes of Max Gawn and Todd Goldstein.
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O’Brien conceded that the building pressure has pushed him to become fitter, tougher and more skilled.
Finishing the year out of the starting side, even if through injury means that he feels like the spot is Strachan’s for him to unsettle.
O’Brien has found a new drive through his late season adversity, aiming higher than ever in 2022.
“I have pretty high aspirations for myself, I want to be the number one ruck in the competition,” he said.
“The blokes standing out at the moment are Max Gawn and Nic Naitanui, they have some pretty unique strengths and skills which aren’t necessarily the same as mine. In terms of my strengths, I can be the best in terms of my marking and my ability to get around the ground.”
“I’ve done a lot of work on my centre bounce attendance, fixed up a couple of injuries and done a lot in terms of my jumping.”
In the 2021 season, although down on overall form, O’Brien averagde 14.7 disposals, 9.6 of which on average were contested. He had 3.9 clearances and nearly broke even, winning 41.8 per cent of hit-outs with 8.2% to advantage.
Showing his work rate to get around the ground, he also averaged nearly four score involvements a game.
One trademark of his game was his marking, which was down on his 2020 season, although he still averaged 3.6 a game with most being intercept marks (2.3 average).
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