GEELONG Falcons ruck, Toby Conway is a prospect on the rise having recently been added to the AFL Academy squad ahead of their clash with Geelong VFL. The 204cm bigman has returned a promising start to the season, averaging a tick under 16 disposals and 28 hitouts across three NAB League outings, making him one of the leading ruck options in this year’s draft pool.
After injury threatened to derail his 2020 campaign, before the pandemic eventually did so, Conway is enjoying being back out on the park and has some key improvements in his sights. During preseason, he outlined ground coverage, forward craft, and marking as areas of growth – all of which were observed in his latest outing, against Bendigo Pioneers.
Conway is the prospect under our Player Focus microscope this week; we run you through his game quarter-by-quarter, and bring you the key stats out of his Round 3 showing.
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country
DOB: April 24, 2003
2021 averages*: 15.7 disposals | 6.7 kicks | 9.0 handballs | 3.3 marks | 2.7 tackles | 2.3 inside 50s | 1.7 rebound 50s | 27.7 hitouts | 0.3 goals
* – from first three games.
2021 NAB League, Round 3
Bendigo Pioneers 9.10 (64) def. Geelong Falcons 7.8 (50)
Stats: 17 disposals | 8 kicks | 9 handballs | 3 marks | 4 tackles | 2 inside 50s | 3 rebound 50s | 29 hitouts | 1 goal
In his usual post as Geelong’s primary ruck, Conway started brightly. He was poised against quite a raw tall in Bendigo’s Jed Brereton, who he would compete with throughout the contest. Some of Conway’s first acts saw him dropping back into the defensive half to help relieve pressure, while also setting up shrewdly behind the ball to intercept aerially – both were early ticks for his improving fitness and ground coverage. He also proved too big and strong in stoppage situations, using strength and bodywork to move into prime position and win a good amount of hitouts. From there, he directed the ball down well with a few double-handed taps and his pure height/reach advantage loomed as a worrying factor for the Bendigo engine room. Later in the opening term, Conway was sighted taking a mark on the lead up forward.
Speaking of the forwardline, Conway seemed to spend more time resting inside attacking 50 than in previous weeks, where he would instead be heavily rotated to the bench out of the ruck. He managed to take toll during the second term as he found space to mark uncontested, before duly converting a set shot goal from about 35 metres out. It was the first goal of the quarter and extended the Falcons’ lead to nine points at the 10-minute mark. While his height and reach were again troublesome for the undersized Bendigo defenders, Conway would revert back to his ruck duties and showcase even more craft in that area. His directional taps at the centre bounces meant midfielders like Mitch Knevitt could get first use of the ball where it mattered.
Picking up from where he left off, Conway was dominant in the ruck stakes to start the third period of play. He also looked to be gaining confidence at the contest, imposing himself by following up his aerial work and actively looking to take the ball out of the ruck more often. One solid bit of ground level play saw Conway lay a smother to help his side turn the ball over, before kicking the Falcons back inside attacking 50 on the run. While not overly aggressive, the bigman was able to stay involved at the coalface and even won some of his own ball to register those clearance and inside 50 stats. His seeming lift in urgency matched Geelong’s need for any form of momentum as the Pioneers began to hit back, and eventually snuck ahead.
Conway looked a little worse for wear after contesting the first centre bounce, but got back up and lumbered on. He is not always the most continually active ruck, but was able to work when called upon after taking some moments to recoup. His knack of taking the ball out of the ruck continued and while some of his hand-offs were to midfielders under immediate pressure, the idea and intent were good. The Falcons tall again rested forward and even got a go against some of Bendigo’s second-string rucks late in the piece. He showed some more ruck craft with directional taps, not just thumping the ball forward or hitting with his momentum on the rise. Overall, it was a solid outing for Conway despite his side going down, finishing as the dominant ruckman afield.
On a pure squad-needs basis, it was no great surprise to see Conway added to the AFL Academy mix alongside fellow tall Ned Moyle. While he has shown some active improvement in his areas of growth, the Geelong Falcons prospect can still strive for betterment throughout 2021. Conway’s work around the ground and ability to impact up forward will be key to his development, as his ruck craft is already quite sound. Given his ability to do so in the ruck, utilising his size and building on that strength will help translate to some solid contested marking. Endurance also comes into the fold there, and Conway will inevitably spend less time with hands on head or hip with better match fitness throughout the year. In terms of his own strengths though, Conway delivers and has done so across three promising games this this season.