"LEAVE KURTLY ALONE!!!" A defence of Kurt Tippett

As a Swans fan, one thing which strikes me when I read the comments on the Sydney Swans Facebook page is the negativity which surrounds Kurt Tippett. This article is intended to serve as the devil's advocate. Note that I don't necessarily 100% agree with what is written below, but the argument can easily be made. Alright, here goes:

The Story so far

It was a time of heady euphoria. The Swans had defied the odds and beaten Hawthorn to win the 2012 flag. The tight-knit group of players had pulled through, the champion team overcoming the team of champions in Hodge, Roughead, and that Buddy guy.

Meanwhile, the Adelaide Crows were in trouble. In 2009 the Crows signed Tippett to a new three year deal, staving off the fledgling Gold Coast Suns. His pay increased from $400,000 in 2010 to a sizeable $700,000 in 2011 and 2012. This included independent payments, emails containing "please delete this email" at the end, and money from third parties which wasn't declared to the AFL. Definitely shifty business.

The key part of this contract was a so called "exit clause", which stipulated that if Tippett wished to leave the club at the end of the 2012 season, then the Crows would allow him to leave, for the minimum of a second round pick. Then Adelaide chief executive Steven Trigg claimed that the clause was voided by both parties, although this definitely wasn't confirmed. This is draft tampering, and shouldn't be done, kids!

At the conclusion of this contract, Tippett announced his intentions to leave. However, his preferred destination wasn't Gold Coast, as was expected, but reigning premiers Sydney.

After some pretty fierce negotiating, and presumably with the "exit clause" in mind, the Crows blinked first, unofficially accepting Jesse White and the Swans' second round draft pick (at that point pick 23) for the young star, who was Adelaide's highest paid player at the time. This raised the eyebrows of salary cap watchdog Ken Wood.

After investigation, the Crows were found guilty of breaching the salary cap and with draft tampering, were fined $300,000, lost their first two picks in the 2012 and 2013 drafts, and the trade with the Swans was blocked, allowing them to pick up Tippett in the pre-season draft for nothing. He signed a four year contract worth $3.55 million dollars, which kept other teams from pushing in at the pre-season draft.

What he's delivered

Another sanction in the Tippett trade saga was that Tippett would be suspended for the first 11 games of the 2013 season. Upon his return against Port Adelaide in round 13, he kicked the first goal of the match and finished with two. Despite missing half a season, he won the Swans' goalkicking award for that year averaging just under three goals per game.

His output in the following two years was similar, kicking 34 and 44 goals, whilst steadily increasing his hitout stats. In 2015 his average hitout count rose from 5.4 per game to over 17. This increased again in 2016 to 24.6.

Unfortunately his time with Sydney has been marred by injury. This isn't really new, with Tippett suffering three concussions in his last season with Adelaide before moving.

In 2014 Tippett tore the meniscus in his right knee, restricting him to only 11 games for the year. In 2016, his knee problems resurfaced again, keeping him to 14 games.

2017 season so far

In 2017 Tippett has played four games, kicking three goals, and averaging 14 hitouts per match. This isn't ideal, however he is coming back from various injuries through the preseason and early season.

His most recent game against Hawthorn was pretty impressive. He had 12 disposals, four marks, and 28 hitouts, combining relatively well with Sinclair without setting the world on fire. As the season goes on and he gets more confidence in his knee, Tippett should improve on these numbers.

Who can we compare him to?

In terms of true ruck/forward hybrids, there aren't really that many these days in the AFL. As will be explained below, unfortunately Callum Sinclair falls in this category. Mason Cox from Collingwood springs to mind, as does Scott Lycett when Nic Naitanui is playing. Tom Boyd plays that role too, but has only really played one good game (pity it was in the Grand Final!). Players like Tom Bellchambers and Patrick Ryder have progressed to being sole rucks, and most other teams who play two ruckmen are mostly ruck specialists, rather than being dangerous forwards in their own right. This is where Kurt Tippett shines.

In his Adelaide days, and his early days at the Swans, Tippett was best suited as a classic full forward in the mould of Lockett or Dunstall, using his tank-like body to bullock through packs and clunk contested marks.

However with the departure of Shane Mumford in 2013, Tippett was needed to help out Mike Pyke in the ruck further up the ground. This he did reasonably well, increasing his endurance around the ground. He has continued to take more responsibility in 2017, with injury problems to Sam Naismith.

His partnership with Callum Sinclair is not ideal at all, as they are both ruck forwards, and don't have the specialisation to really dominate around the ground. 2016 draftee Darcy Cameron is in the same mould. When he was with us, Toby Nankervis also played the same role, although he has done very well as the main ruckman since his move to Richmond. Not since Shane Mumford have we had a true specialist ruckman who we could be confident in giving our midfielders first use of the ball.

Final Verdict

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe that Kurt Tippett is the Messiah. He certainly isn't value for money when you take into account his injuries over the years. However, when it comes to true ruck forwards, there aren't too many better than Tippett in his prime. He has averaged two goals per game with us, as well as 14 hitouts. Whilst this isn't up to scratch for a player on just under a million dollars per year, this isn't Tippett's own fault.

In an ideal universe where we win all our Grand Finals and Tippett isn't injured and playing his ideal role, those numbers would foreseeably rise to over three goals per game and nearing 20 hitouts. Alas, it's not to be, and no one would be more disappointed about that than Tippett himself. So maybe consider cutting him some slack when you next feel like a rant.

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