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Footyology’s draft rankings – No. 16: Sam Hayes

Eyes on the prize: Eastern Ranges ruckman Sam Hayes in action during a TAC Cup clash this season against Bendigo Pioneers. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Footyology’s draft rankings – No. 16: Sam Hayes

Bede Briscomb    

No. 16 – SAM HAYES
Victoria (Eastern Ranges)

Born: 26/17/1999
Height: 203cm
Weight: 92kg

Kicks: 8.6
Handballs: 7.4
Kicking efficiency: 60%
Handball efficiency: 74%
Tackles: 1.9
Marks: 4.6
Goals: 1.1
One elite attribute: Hit outs to advantage. Smart tap ruckman who has the skills to be a fourth midfielder around the ground but not the tank.
Best-case comparison: Todd Goldstein


Clean for his size: You’re not going to shudder when this ruckman gets the ball. Hayes and his father are both students of the game and they often discuss things like link-ups and centre clearances.

Precision tapping: Hayes is excellent at tapping the ball in every possible direction, but the best thing is the softness and timing he possesses. He benefited from weak ruck competition this year, so you’re not going to see this at the next level right away.


Tank: Performed poorly in the endurance tests at the combine which means he’ll have to play predominately forward in the first one to two years, a shame because he won’t get to showcase his impressive ball skills.


Sam Hayes marks for Eastern Ranges against Dandenong Stingrays in the TAC Cup finals. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Sam Hayes fits the prototype for what a modern day ruckman should be. He’s tall and lanky but moves well and has no issues taking a big grab deep in the forward line. Hayes isn’t content with tapping balls to his midfielder’s advantage – he likes to be a presence at ground level and get involved in link ups across the ground. Footyology spoke to him about translating that style of play into the AFL.

What do you think is the hardest position to play in footy and why?

It’s got to be midfield. It’s brutal. Midfielders are the fittest blokes in the game so I think that would be the hardest. Even ruck would be hard because you’ve got to run to every stoppage and then run and jump and take plenty of hits.

Do you think ruckmen are the sorest players post-game?

Definitely. There’s been a good rule this year where they’ve taken third man up away so a lot of ruckman have benefitted from that. They’ve copped less bruises and smashes in the ribs. That was a good rule [laughs] but yeah, they definitely come off the sorest.

How do you assess your own performance after a game? Do you look at the stat sheet and have set KPIs you want to meet or is it something else?

I try not to worry about my individual stats but I love getting the footy. I’ll try and go for five or six possessions a quarter – that’s usually my goal – but I don’t really worry about it to be honest. I also speak to the coaches and watch vision and debrief, and I also get heaps of feedback from dad; I talk to dad a lot and he’s good because he gives me a good mixture of positive and negative feedback.

Did your dad play footy?

No. He’s from the UK so he has a soccer background. He sees the game really well, though.

If you had to grade your season what mark would you give it?

I’ve been really happy with my year. Statistically, compared to last year, it’s been pretty good. If I had to say out of ten, I’d probably say an eight or a nine.

Apart from your height, what’s the one thing you think you’re elite at?

My tap work, tapping balls to advantage. And I like to get involved around the ground. I pushed my number of possessions up this year, so becoming an extra midfielder. I think most ruckmen today do that – you can’t just lumber around any more.

You touched on your ball-winning ability. In your mind, what do you have to do to make sure that skill translates to the pros and you don’t just become another tap ruck who can’t do anything else?

The important thing is staying connected with the football. The five seconds after a ruck contest you need to be involved at ground level. Following up the footy is really important. Getting tackles and paving the way for midfielders. The other thing is always being an option down the line and always wanting to get the footy.

What AFL player do you look at now and think: “That’s the player I want to be at my absolute best”?

There’s not really one that I want to play like. I want to create my own type of play. I want to be a ruckman that gets involved around the ground and be able to go forward.

There’s this notion in footy that ruckman take two to four years to be valuable. Is that something you subscribe to and will you allow yourself that amount of time to get consistent games?

Well, if you look at someone like Sean Darcy, he had a massive body, so that really would have helped me right away. But for me, I want to play as early as possible and I’m going to work as hard as possible to make that a reality. If it doesn’t happen in my first year, then I’m going to work hard to make it happen in my second year. It does take longer for ruckmen to develop, so I definitely need to put on some size, but if I stick at it I can make it happen.

If you don’t play at all next season will you be frustrated?

I’m pretty patient and I understand that if AFL was easy everyone would be doing it. You’ve got to realise that it’s a tough and brutal industry. I wouldn’t get frustrated, but it would definitely make me hungrier.

Do you have a number in mind in terms of where you’d like to be drafted?

Top 10 would be nice but even anywhere in the first round.

How would you react if you slipped outside the first round?

It wouldn’t matter to me. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted, you’ve still been given an opportunity to prove yourself so it doesn’t matter.

Is there an AFL team out there that you think you’d fit into especially well?

I guess a club where there’s only one ruckman and they need a young developing ruckman to come through. It’s hard to say.

What’s the one criticism about your game that you keep hearing that you don’t actually agree with?

I don’t think there is one. All the criticism I get is pretty honest and there’s nothing I disagree with. Sometimes coaches can be harsh but I don’t disagree with what they say.

What’s your biggest concern going into the AFL?

I wouldn’t say it’s a concern, but going up against the giants of the game is going to be challenging and tough, but that’s something you have to embrace.

Let’s say you’re playing AFL and you start to hear some negative things toward you from social media trolls or get taunted at a game, how do you think you’ll react?

I’d find it funny. It wouldn’t faze me.

Flip it around. Let’s say you’re playing really good footy and everyone in the media is saying you’re worth big money, how would you react?

I don’t know. It would be a nice compliment. I’ve always been humble though so I wouldn’t let it get to me or anything.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had this year?

Stay level-headed and work as hard as you can.

Do you think you could contribute in an AFL grand final as the player you are today?

I could definitely compete. It would be a challenge and it would be tough, I wouldn’t go in and tear it up but I feel as though I could hold my own.

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