Toby Nankervis of the Tigers (left) and Jake Spencer of the Demons.
Toby Nankervis of the Tigers (left) and Jake Spencer of the Demons. JULIAN SMITH

Tigers ruckman thriving in new surroundings

AFL: Of the 800-plus AFL-listed players, none would be happier or more satisfied than Toby Nankervis after round five.

And his remarkable turnaround from back-up ruckman to an imposing workhorse continues to gather momentum.

After five rounds of the 2017 season, his former club Sydney sits on the bottom of the AFL ladder with a 0-5 record. But his current club Richmond is undefeated and sitting third on the ladder with, statistically, the best defence in the competition.

Individually, not only has Nankervis cemented his spot as the Tigers' No.1 ruckman - he only played 12 games in three seasons at the Swans - but he's also in the form of his life.

From Champion Data's perspective, he's third among ruckmen for ranking points - a standing that was significantly boosted by his outstanding performance against Melbourne on Anzac Day eve.

While Nankervis, 22, was quintessentially team-orientated during his post-match interview with Fox Footy, his beaming, Cheshire cat-like grin said it all.

"It was fantastic,” Nankervis said.

"We knew they were going to come because they are a heavy contested team. We knew it was going to be hot, especially early. We knew it was going to be a tough game but we were able to hang in there.

"We went into three-quarter time really confident, really positive. We knew we were fit enough and we just went out there and try to win the hard ball inside.”

While he might not get the Brownlow votes, Nankervis was the No.1 ranked player on the ground on Monday night, finishing with 16 disposals, seven tackles, a career-high 56 hit-outs (13 to advantage), six intercepts, four clearances and 127 ranking points.

Granted, a big reason behind his dominance was the injury to Melbourne's No.1 ruck for the game, Jake Spencer, which left Jack Watts and Sam Frost to shoulder the burden in the second half.

But it's one thing to know you have the upper hand. It's another to make the most of your advantage.

And Nankervis undoubtedly delivered in arguably Richmond's most important win of the year to date.

"It was pretty greasy and pretty slippery, so all the tight hits weren't working for us,” Nankervis said.

"We spoke about gaining territory, so getting it forward, getting it on the outside and surge it forward.”

That attitude helped the Tigers get on top around the stoppages, winning the final clearance count 47-39.

While Nankervis's 56 hit-outs against the Demons was an insanely large number, he doesn't tend to win a lot of taps during a game. But that's where his unique assets come in handy.

He tackles, he sends the ball inside 50 and he actually wins genuine clearances. But what he also does is drop back to help out his defenders, averaging four intercepts (rated elite for a ruckman) and just under two rebounds a game.

According to Tigers teammate Shaun Grigg, Nankervis is more than just a ruckman.

"He's been really good, he just brings that real competitive edge,” Grigg told foxfooty.com.au.

"He crashes in - it's like having an extra midfielder around, he's great.”

Ben Waterworth and Anna Harrington

News Corp Australia


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