Mongrel of the Year 2019 – Round 6

We’re about a quarter of the way through the home and away season now and, while we’ve definitely learnt a lot about every team, there remains plenty to find out. One of those things that remains to be discovered is who wins football’s most… recent award, the Mongrel of the Year, an honour decided by those of us who cover matches for this site. After each round, players are awarded votes on a 3-2-1 basis, and while this is the same voting scheme as the Brownlow, this is not meant to be reflective of who we think would be leading that award. Instead, votes are awarded to role players just as much as they are superstars. Here are this round’s Mongrel votes:

Richmond v Melbourne

3 Nick Vlastuin (Richmond)

2 Bachar Houli (Richmond)

1 Dion Prestia (Richmond)

I don’t know about you but Wednesday night feels like an eternity ago. It’s not hard to remember, though, that the Tigers’ half backs were simply superb, with the somehow-still-underrated Nick Vlastuin and the evergreen, should-have-been Norm Smith Medalist Bachar Houli dominant in setting up the win for the yellow and black.

While Melbourne’s ball use going inside 50 was, admittedly, miles below par, these two managed to mop up pretty much everything, with the former tallying 14 intercept possessions and the latter 11, while both of them also managed to run at a disposal efficiency higher than 80%. Vlastuin just gets the nod ahead of Houli though, with 11 contested touches out of 28, and 13 marks, with an equal game-high three contested. Don’t be too surprised if we see him getting an All-Australian nod on a half-back flank.

Houli, on the other hand, notched up 32 touches, with 670 metres gained, five tackles, and eight rebound 50’s. Ultimately, it’s a bit like splitting hairs, and I don’t think Richmond fans will mind too much as their team returns to some semblance of their form of the last two years.

Prestia receives a vote for the second consecutive week after monitoring Melbourne’s midfield. He had just two touches in the first quarter, when the Dees looked switched on, but lifted afterwards, finishing with 30 touches, 18 of which were contested. 10 clearances, six tackles and 480 metres gained make for good reading for the former Sun, who has definitely improved in the absence of Trent Cotchin. If the Tigers are to go deep into September, you’d think Prestia will have a big role to play.

 

Essendon v Collingwood

3 Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood)

2 Jeremy Howe (Collingwood)

1 Brodie Grundy (Collingwood)

I’m pretty sure no one will have any qualms with these votes, right? Taking my tongue out of my cheek though, Scott Pendlebury was absolutely best on ground on ANZAC Day, and richly deserved a record-equalling third Medal. 38 touches, with 16 contested, and 566 metres gained at a disposal efficiency of 74%, is a truly outstanding day out for an outstanding individual in our game.

Whether he is booed, or not, is irrelevant. Pendlebury is clearly a big game player, as his three ANZAC Medals and Norm Smith would attest, and while there might be other midfielders in black and white who play flashier games, I don’t reckon there are too many you’d rather want the ball in the hands of.

Jeremy Howe continues to rule the airways at the MCG. He has become a brilliant defender, since transitioning from the high-flying Demons forward he used to be, and while he hasn’t lost that aspect of his game, with half of his 10 marks being contested, he’s more rounded now as a Collingwood player, with four tackles and four score involvements in the back half.

What is there to say about Brodie Grundy that hasn’t already been said? If he woke up tomorrow and completely forgot how to ruck, I think Buckley would still have to pick him as a midfielder. Racked up 24 touches (15 contested), with three clearances and six tackles. Those are decent numbers, but throw in his dominance in the ruck contest, with 39 hitouts to Tom Bellchambers’ 18, and you have a player destined to be the All-Australian ruckman, again.

Probably can’t sign off on this one without a few honourable mentions. Dylan Shiel’s troubles with disposal have been well noted, and despite having 34 touches, a disposal efficiency of 59% really let him, and his side, down. Having said that, he wasn’t alone, as eight of his teammates went at 64% or lower.

One of them, Joe Daniher, was probably the Bomber closest to receiving votes, but while  he managed to impact the scoreboard, with four goals, his direct opponent in Darcy Moore was arguably just as important for his side, and they effectively cancelled each other out. No matter though, I’m sure Essendon supporters will take being snubbed relatively well.

Port Adelaide v North Melbourne

3 Travis Boak (Port Adelaide)

2 Sam Gray (Port Adelaide)

1 Tom Clurey (Port Adelaide)

If Travis Boak isn’t on the podium for the Brownlow at this point of the season… well, it wouldn’t be the first time umpires had gotten something wrong. In any event, since relinquishing the captaincy Boak has gone to a new level, and he reached an even greater height on Friday night, with arguably his best game for the season to take his side to victory. How’s this for a statline: 38
touches (15 contested) at 82%, 11 clearances, nine inside 50’s, seven score involvements, four tackles and 618 metres gained. That’s almost the complete performance, whichever way you spin it. It’s hard to believe he was wasted for the last couple of years forward of centre when he’s shown this year how good he is in the guts, and with back-to-back best on ground performances, he’s jumped well up the leaderboard.

A Gray for Port Adelaide kicks 4.2 from 28 touches in a brilliant display under Friday night lights and you’re telling me it wasn’t Robbie? Jokes aside, Sam Gray is growing into a better than just handy forward for the Power, averaging 20 touches and 2.3 goals a game this season. Against North, he turned in his best performance so far, and with five tackles in addition to his aforementioned stats on offence, he was unlucky to be pipped for best on ground.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the relative anonymity of some of the names they have down there, the Power’s backline is one of the best in the league, having conceded 99 points or more just twice, and while co-captain Tom Jonas was a late omission for this one, Clurey stepped up into the role, keeping Ben Brown to nine touches, four marks and, most importantly, no goals. While Brown has certainly been down so far this year, to restrict him to such low impact both around the ground and in front of the sticks deserves plenty of credit.

Ben Cunnington was maybe a little unlucky not to be considered here but despite the game being closer than Port probably would have liked, North were never really in the game.

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Gold Coast v Brisbane

3 Lachie Neale (Brisbane)

2 Mitch Robinson (Brisbane)

1 Ben Ainsworth (Gold Coast)

With his third best on ground performance in five weeks for his new side, Lachie Neale looks to be every bit worth the price tag the Lions paid for him. It may not have been his most prolific game in terms of raw numbers, but his impact on the game cannot be understated, as his 28 touches, half of which came in the contest, included five clearances, five inside 50’s, five score involvements and a goal, and he went at 82% on the afternoon. Neale will certainly have better games this year, and he has already played better games so far, but as he continues to rack up touches, he will deservingly continue to firm into Brownlow favouritism.

No one should ever question Mitch Robinson’s ferocity or devotion to the contest, and a first Marcus Ashcroft Medal is a deserved award. He has added a bit of class to his game so far this year, and with 3.1 from 26 touches, a further five score involvements and 478 metres gained added to his five tackles, it’s not hard to see why he was just pipped for best on ground honours by this site.

For the Suns, while they were in the game for about two and a half quarters, it was another game that they just ran out of legs in, which may or may not concern Stuart Dew. In saying this, while the Suns were in the game, Ainsworth was arguably best on ground, especially in the first half. Though he tailed away late, he worked hard for his team in an encouraging display tinged with more than a hint of class, finishing with 21 touches at 80% and six inside 50’s. Jarryd Lyons was unlucky to miss out on votes against his former side, as was Brayden Fiorini, who is quietly putting together a decent season.

St Kilda v Adelaide

3 Alex Keath (Adelaide)

2 Rory Laird (Adelaide)

1 Elliott Himmelberg (Adelaide)

All-Australian Full Back Alex Keath has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Oh, and by the way, did you know he used to play cricket? Up there with “Scott Pendlebury used to play basketball” for inane mutterings. In any case though, Keath has improved vastly this season in the absence of Tom Doedee, and kept Tim Membrey to two goals after his best on ground performance last week against the Dees. Offensively, he had 14 marks, 21 touches at 90% and 401 metres gained. An impressive all round (oops) performance from a man who has polled votes three weeks in a row now, and has jumped well up the leaderboard.

The return of Brodie Smith to the Crows lineup has seen a bit of a drop off in numbers from Laird, and while he certainly has the capacity to rack up cheap touches down back, against the Saints he managed to combine defensive effort with offensive drive off half back, and Adelaide looked all the better for it. Finished the day with 33 touches at 81%, with five score involvements and four inside 50’s, as part of a defensive unit that restricted the Saints to their second-lowest score this year. Though he hasn’t been the player he has been in recent years so far in 2019, if Adelaide can get similar performances from Laird, it will go a long way to saving a season that at one point looked a little lost.

Beating out the Crouch brothers on one side, and Shane Savage on the other, for votes, Elliott Himmelberg may be an interesting choice, but in a game so early in his career, he looked every bit an improvement on Josh Jenkins as a key forward. Kicked 2.2 from 12 touches and five marks, and though Taylor Walker was arguably more dominant, Himmelberg’s ability to provide a more than adequate chop out to Reilly O’Brien in the ruck sees him go home with the one vote.

 

Sydney v GWS

3 Tim Taranto (GWS)

2 Stephen Coniglio (GWS)

1 Zac Williams (GWS)

Regular visitors to this column will know I’m fond of the metaphorical vote-giving dartboard, where you could pick from any number of players to give votes to. For the Giants, in the Battle of the Bridge, this was certainly the case as, without either of their two co-captains, they belted their older brother. Tim Taranto took home the Brett Kirk Medal, deservedly, and so gets the nod for the three votes from us. Taranto has gone from a future star of the competition to a current star of the competition rapidly, and managed to combine offence with defence on Saturday night, with 30 touches (17 contested) and a goal in tandem with 10 tackles. Also had six clearances and nine score involvements and rightly joins the conversation of just who is the Giants’ best player.

In the opinion of this writer, the answer to that previous question is Stephen Coniglio, and while GWS may not have the salary cap space to fit him in come season’s end, he’s due for a huge pay rise wherever he ends up. Filling in as captain, Coniglio kicked 4.0 from 24 touches in a reminder to the competition of just how good he can be, and in adding five clearances he managed to damage Sydney greatly forward of centre. It’s scary to think that they’re only just starting to fire on all cylinders.

Zac Williams gets the one vote, and though he undoubtedly earned it with his display, it could have gone to any one of Mumford, Greene, Cameron, Kelly or Hopper in what turned out to be a superb team display. Williams, though, had a great day out against the Swans, with 30 touches (13 contested), 12 intercepts, 10 score involvements and 676 metres gained from the back half. For the Swans, Josh Kennedy tried his heart out for his team but, in a side lacking genuine pace, they were run all over by the exciting Giants.

Fremantle v Western Bulldogs

3 Joel Hamling (Fremantle)

2 Brad Hill (Fremantle)

1 Nathan Wilson (Fremantle)

Joel Hamling is a premiership defender and yet still manages to fly under the radar. On Saturday night against his old side, he managed to put Aaron Naughton to the slaughter in a display that, in tandem with Alex Pearce, should send shivers down the spines of opposition key forwards across the competition. Naughton finished the night with 12 touches and five marks, some of which came when he was moved down back in the second half, while Hamling managed 16 touches, two contested marks out of six total and five rebound 50’s. With Adelaide to come next week, you’d expect Hamling to match up on Himmelberg, and, if this week is any indication, you’d put your house on the Docker.

I’m not sure there’s much to say about Brad Hill that hasn’t already been said. He’s a truly wonderful player, and would be in the conversation with David Mundy and probably Brandon Matera as to who has been Freo’s third best player this year. The battle between Hill and Lachie Hunter on Saturday was an enthralling one, with both players tallying 30 touches or more, but while Hill may have butchered the ball a little bit, he gets the points, with six inside 50’s and 586 metres gained. That said though, Hunter was excellent for the Dogs, and if the Dogs had managed to get up he’d likely have gone home with a few votes.

If any player was likely to benefit from the rule changes pertaining to kick ins, it was former Giant Wilson, who carved the Dogs to pieces from the back line. Finished the night with 25 touches, including six intercepts, 10 rebound 50’s and a mammoth 754 metres gained at 88% accuracy, meaning while he was getting the ball well up the field, he was hitting targets too.

Freo looked a pretty good side on Saturday, and Wilson’s run and carry was a big part of why. Plenty of other Dockers could have received votes too, with David Mundy looking youthful and even exuberant in game 300, Brandon Matera kicking five and Alex Pearce blanketing Billy Gowers.

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Hawthorn v Carlton

3 Daniel Howe (Hawthorn)

2 Jaeger O’Meara (Hawthorn)

1 Caleb Marchbank (Carlton)

Tagging seems to have become a big part of the agenda this AFL season but, if a coach is going to tag, then they absolutely have to tag Patrick Cripps. Though the emergence of Sam Petrevski-Seton in recent weeks as well as the continued evolution of Zac Fisher have mitigated somewhat Carlton’s reliance on their co-captain, he remains the most crucial player to his team’s fortunes in the AFL. So when Clarko sent Daniel Howe to him, it’s probably fair to say that the match up loomed as critical. In saying all this, Carlton looked pretty good in the first half despite minimal impact from Cripps, but in the second half, when the Blues needed someone to steady the ship, their leader couldn’t have the sort of impact he regularly would. Howe managed to hurt on offence too, with 19 touches at 78% and with four clearances of his own, while restricting his opponent to a below par 28 at 65%.

If Howe won the Hawks this game defensively, then O’Meara won it for them offensively. He was arguably the only man in brown and gold able to walk off the ground at half time with any semblance of dignity as he battled manfully against the Blues midfield. Finished the day with Cripps-like numbers, with 42 touches (23 contested), nine clearances, 10 score involvements and a goal. It’s almost hard to believe he’s only the second best midfielder on his team’s list.

For Caleb Marchbank, Sunday represented a change of role, from a key back to a run-with midfielder, tasked with shutting down one of the competition’s best runners in Isaac Smith. It’s been said by those at the Mongrel that Smith can be a little too easy to tag out of the game, but Marchbank did it well, keeping the Hawk to just 20 touches at 70% and no scoreboard impact. Points to Marchbank for this one, who also managed 13 touches himself.

Plenty of players from both sides could have been considered for votes here, but these three seemed the most important to their sides’ results.

 

Geelong v West Coast

3 Gary Ablett (Geelong)

2 Mitch Duncan (Geelong)

1 Mark Blicavs (Geelong)

Gee I reckon this Ablett bloke can play footy a bit. The clock might be permanently wound back at this point, with Gaz Jr playing some unbelievably good footy at the moment. He’s definitely had games where he’s been more damaging, but in terms of bringing his teammates into the game this might have been his peak, with a career high five direct goal assists, including four in the first quarter when the Cats essentially won the game. Also managed five clearances in amongst 28 touches (12 contested), eight inside 50’s and two goals to be best on ground by the length of the straight. Geelong’s rejuvenated forward line owes a huge debt to Ablett, who as I said last week looks almost certain at this stage to be honoured with All-Australian selection as a forward pocket.

The rest of the votes in this game could almost have been raffled off by the entire Geelong side. Tom Stewart has backed up his All-Australian selection by taking his game to another level; Patrick Dangerfield continues to do Patrick Dangerfield things (though this was certainly not his best performance of the season); Gary Rohan is unlucky to be only the second best Gary in the AFL; while Gryan Miers, in game number six, looks to be another Stephen Wells special, taken at pick 57. In saying that though, Mitch Duncan played his best game for the season. Geelong’s shift in game style has probably impacted him and Sam Menegola the most, but he was tried in a new role on Sunday, matched up with Dom Sheed, and managed to impact offensively with 28 touches at 85% while restricting Sheed to just 20, adding in five tackles. Since 2016 he’s been the George Harrison, and now the Ringo Starr of this side, but he just keeps on keeping on.

Any one of the Geelong back six could have received votes for their games on the weekend, but the plaudits go to Blicavs. I may have gone early in calling Keath the All Australian Full Back, because I think Blicavs may well have had a claim to that last year, and he hasn’t gone backwards this year, slaughtering contests and beating opposition key forwards. As a matter of note, the biggest bag kicked against Geelong this year has been three goals, and they are yet to concede 100 points, being the side who has conceded the fewest points so far in 2019. Tom Hickey was comfortably the Eagle’s best, in an enthralling match up with Rhys Stanley, but, given the magnitude of defeat wasn’t considered

 

Leaderboard

 

1. Lachie Neale (9)

2. Travis Boak (8)

3. Patrick Dangerfield (6)

3. Josh P. Kennedy (6)

5. Gary Ablett (5)

5. Marcus Bontempelli (5)

5. Stephen Coniglio (5)

5. Shaun Higgins (5)

5. Brad Hill (5)

5. Alex Keath (5)

5. Zac Merrett (5)

5. Brody Mihocek (5)

5. Jaeger O’Meara (5)

5. Tim Taranto (5)

 

Some movement at the top, finally, as Lachie Neale’s third best on ground performance in five weeks takes him to the top of the heap. Travis Boak, meanwhile, leapfrogs into 2nd after recording three votes in each of his last two games. Gary Ablett’s five votes in the last two weeks take him into equal 5th, while Alex Keath has managed to poll votes in each of the last three games and joins him there. Giants teammates Taranto and Coniglio have also jumped into the top 10 with their excellent performances against the Swans, and former Hawk Hill and former Sun O’Meara round out the new additions to the leaderboard.

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