Hale reigns as ruckman

David Hale (right) with (from left) Jack Gunston, Shaun Burgoyne and Brad Sewell. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoThe most obvious change to David Hale since his last days at North Melbourne is, as long-time teammate Josh Gibson teases, his lack of hair. But it is a more subtle change, regarding his ability to assume more ruck responsibility, that has made him such a valuable player in Hawthorn’s flag tilt.

In Hale’s final years at the Kangaroos he was rarely deployed in the ruck, with Hamish McIntosh, Todd Goldstein and even Drew Petrie used more regularly.

When he was signed by the Hawks in late 2010, for only the first-round pick they received as compensation for Campbell Brown’s move to Gold Coast and a late-pick upgrade with the Kangaroos, it was with the specific intention he would be used both for taps and up forward.

That the balance between those positions has skewed towards the ruck at Hawthorn is reflected in about 70 per cent of his possessions being gathered out of the attacking 50-metre arc, compared with just over half at the Kangaroos. His average taps have also surged, from 7.6 at the Kangaroos to 18.1 at the Hawks.

The benefit for Hawthorn is that the greater reliance on him to ruck has not affected his potency as a forward, maintaining his average at North of just under a goal a game.

Gibson, who spent his first three years alongside Hale at North and then switched to the Hawks a year before him, argued the 29-year-old had ”taken his game to another level” since joining his second club.

”He’s fitted in really well. I think we’ve seen his best football since he’s come to Hawthorn. It’s a credit to the program here and a credit to him,” Gibson said.

Hale has proved a resilient player at Hawthorn, missing only two of the club’s past 63 matches. He reckoned one of the areas in which he had improved was endurance.

”Fitness hasn’t been my strong point … but it’s definitely improved since I got here,” he said.

While the Hawks’ primary ruckman is the hulking Max Bailey, their confidence in Hale’s ability to run out games strongly has been crucial in their deciding to substitute Bailey for smaller, faster players in just over a third of his matches: a league-high six times this year.

Gibson believes what Hale lacks in bulk compared with many rivals at other clubs – recent opponents Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke of Sydney are conspicuously larger – he makes up for in tenacity.

”He’s a competitive beast, even though he’s quite quiet, and he doesn’t like getting beaten. That’s probably the formula to make a good footballer,”Gibson said.

Hale said he was happy to float between the Hawks’ forward line, where he can be a dangerous fourth tall option behind Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston, and the ruck.

He also played down the significance of his being of slighter stature than his rivals.

”It doesn’t really matter, physical stature,” Hale said. ”Mumford obviously looks big, but you can still compete with him. It’s just how much you want to get the job done. That’s something I can focus on, obviously, when Max goes off.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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