WHEN you're an undersized ruckman, you naturally have to find an alternative to bashing the ball out of stoppages to make an impact. 

At 199cm, that's exactly what Richmond's Toby Nankervis has done this year to become a weapon in the centre square. 

The former Swan is ranked 11th in the competition for winning the first possession from the centre bounce. 

What makes that feat more remarkable is the fact he's the best-ranked ruckman in that lot, with midfielders Tom Mitchell, Nat Fyfe, Patrick Cripps, Dustin Martin, Josh Kennedy (Sydney), Ben Cunnington, Lachie Neale, Bryce Gibbs, Luke Parker and Nathan Jones ahead of him. 

"I don't think it's something I've consciously worked on," Nankervis told AFL.com.au this week. 

"I have to have a few more tricks than blokes that are a bit taller and can jump a bit more.

"I've got to use a few of my tricks in the centre bounce."

From this year's best-performing ruckmen, Nankervis is the same height as Stef Martin; the rest of the field measure above them. 

Aaron Sandilands (211cm), Jarrod Witts (209cm), Max Gawn (208cm) and Brodie Grundy (203cm) are among those with a significant height advantage. 

It's why Nankervis has identified the need to specialise in what he can do around the ground rather than focus solely on what happens when in a one-on-one tussle with a fellow big man. 

This season, he's winning more possessions (his average from last year is up from 14.7 per game to 17.7) and he's taking more contested marks. 

"That's a massive part of the way we want to play at Richmond," he said. 

"I think it's just a bit of confidence that I've got from last year, playing some senior footy, and some natural improvement I think."

But with more involvement comes the natural risk of giving away more free kicks. 

Nankervis has given away the most free kicks in the competition this season, with a total of 31, ahead of Cripps (29) and Ben Jacobs (27). 

He said he was working on why he gets penalised so much for holding the man, with his other prolific crime holding on to a player too long after laying a tackle.

"'Dimma' has mentioned it a couple of times," he said. 

"It's not something I'm proud of but something I have to obviously manage.

"It is frustrating at times and something I have to continually work on every week."

Nankervis said he loves the challenge of being the Tigers' lone ruckman in the current side but enjoys the assistance his pinch-hitting support act of Shaun Grigg and Josh Caddy can offer. 

He says youngster Ivan Soldo is more than ready to come in and replace him if required, and with an eye to working on his own forward craft, says there's no reason they can't play in the same side this year. 

After playing all but one game last season (he missed round seven with a one-game suspension), the 23-year-old isn't planning on needing a scheduled rest outside of the Tigers' round 14 bye. 

"I think everyone is a bit tired and sore at this point of the year," he said.

"I've had some massive help from the fitness staff. They've really helped me out through the pre-season and even in the season have managed my loads a bit.

"Touch wood I feel really fit and healthy at the moment so hopefully I can keep that going.

"I managed to get through a season last year … hopefully I can get through this year."