This year, we at the Mongrel Punt have decided to create our own award, to celebrate football the way we see it. As much as we love watching the best midfielders in the game go about their business, we enjoy watching a key defender locking down a big forward, a half forward giving silver service inside 50 or a half back providing drive off half back at high efficiency.

Each week, Mongrel contributors give votes on a 3-2-1 basis, but these are not based on raw stats as much as they are on influence on the game. Our goal isn’t to replicate the Brownlow, but to determine who can best be described as the year’s biggest Mongrel. I know, what a prestigious and well-named award.

Collingwood v Port Adelaide

3 Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood)

2 Darcy Moore (Collingwood)

1 Brayden Maynard (Collingwood)

Across Rounds 2 and 3, Lachie Neale had 86 touches. He’s probably the only player to have a better two game patch of form this year than Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury over the last two weeks. Against Port, he added 36 touches, of which 14 were contested, with 529 metres gained, five clearances and 11 inside 50’s. Perhaps even more impressively, he was credited with 31 pressure acts, showing that his off ball work is every bit as good as his skill with ball in hand. Pendlebury is a lot like a fine wine, getting better and better with age, and on Friday night he took his team to a victory every bit as clinical and impressive as any other they’ve had this year.

For a player drafted as a forward, Darcy Moore looks an excellent backman. That’s not meant to be a sledge, either, as on Friday night he managed to quell Port Adelaide’s talented, if a little undersized, forward line, and repel a number of entries, finishing the night with 12 intercept possessions out of 21 total, at 81% efficiency. With the absence of Alex Rance for the year, and subsequently from the All Australian team, no player looks more well suited to take over his spot than Moore, who may well provide the difference the Magpies need to go one better in season 2019.

Collingwood’s backline is shaping up to be one of the most formidable this season, being exceptionally difficult to score against, having only conceded more than 72 points once this season. While Moore is a key plank of that, Brayden Maynard, in conjunction with Jack Crisp, have been equally influential in locking down the smaller forwards and providing drive off half back. Against the Power, Maynard managed to lock Brad Ebert out of the game before the latter went off after a head knock, and then ended the night with 27 touches for 541 metres gained at 78% efficiency. Combine that with 8 intercepts and it’s not hard to see why Port found it so difficult to score. Plenty of other Magpies could have received votes, and Jaidyn Stephenson was desperately unlucky to miss out, but for Port only Travis Boak could walk off the ground with his head held high in game 250.

Melbourne v Hawthorn

3 James Harmes (Melbourne)

2 Jack Gunston (Hawthorn)

1 Christian Salem (Melbourne)

If someone at Carlton had have been sent to Jaeger O’Meara at quarter time last week, they almost certainly would have won. As it stood, James Harmes performed that role for Melbourne on the weekend, after O’Meara racked up 11 touches and a goal in the first quarter, and he performed that role to perfection, managing to damage the Hawks not just defensively, but on offence too. The former Sun was restricted to just 19 touches on the day, being effectively locked out of the game, while Harmes was the leading ball winner on the ground, with 31 touches (15 contested), 10 score involvements, eight inside 50’s, six clearances and five tackles. The run-with role seems to be the job Harmes is most suited to, especially after his heroics in the elimination final against Geelong last year, and it’s interesting that Simon Goodwin has not sent him to the opposition’s best midfielder every week this year. I imagine it will be the case from now on, though.

It’s a wonder that Jack Gunston never managed to win a Norm Smith Medal, but as an All Australian forward last year his inability to hit the scoreboard so far this year has been quite significantly to the Hawk’s detriment. In part, this is due to his versatility in being able to play at either end of the ground, but against the Demons he managed to work up the ground whilst also impacting the scoreboard. He finished the day with three goals in amongst his 20 touches, alongside eight marks, six inside 50’s and 516 metres gained, to remind the footballing world of his class. He was far from the reason Hawthorn lost this game.

For a player who is such a good distributor of the ball, Christian Salem has an unfortunate tendency to, at times, butcher it, but he was clean enough against the Hawks to receive a vote. With 26 touches off half back at 73%, Salem managed five score involvements and 438 metres gained to be an effective driving force. When he’s on, Salem oozes class, and he did so on Saturday, being the calm head Melbourne needed at times.

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GWS v St Kilda

3 Nick Haynes (GWS)

2 Zac Williams (GWS)

1 Jeremy Cameron (GWS)

Has Nick Haynes ever been beaten? I certainly can’t remember seeing it happen, and it certainly wasn’t a time for firsts on Saturday in the nation’s capital, as Haynes rolled off his direct opponents with ease to tally 14 intercepts among his 26 touches. Had three contested marks in amongst his nine grabs for the day as well, while also totalling 667 metres gained and 10 rebound 50’s for his team. This was a remarkable outing from a chronically underrated player who simply doesn’t get the plaudits his more high profile teammates do.

For the second week in a row, Zac Williams is in the votes after an outstanding display of running off half back. While St Kilda frankly dominated the inside 50 count, winning that stat by 20, Haynes, Williams and Sam Reid managed to dominate in the backline just as much, with 30 intercept possessions between them. It was on offence though, that Williams managed to earn his votes, with 30 touches of his own at 80% efficiency and with a game high 685 metres gained. While Geelong and Collingwood’s backlines tend to get more notice, the Giants’ defenders are just as effective, and to restrict St Kilda to just 20 scores from 62 inside 50’s is proof of that.

Strangely enough, while the backmen have had all the recognition so far, at the other end of the ground, Jeremy Cameron managed to kick a bag by anyone’s standards. With a return of 6.1 and 11 marks (six contested), it’s hard to believe this was only the Giant’s second best game for the season, and somehow only the second best game by a key forward on Saturday (more on that later). In any event though, Cameron is now by far the favourite to win the Coleman, leading the goal kicking tally by 13 goals which, in the modern game, is close to unsurpassable.

For the Saints, Jack Steele could hold his head high, with 24 touches at 83% efficiency, while Sam Reid was a little unlucky to miss out on votes, shutting down Jade Gresham in addition to his previously mentioned stats, while Tim Taranto got a lot of the ball but went at only 57%.

Brisbane v Sydney

3 Hugh McLuggage (Brisbane)

2 Tom Papley (Sydney)

1 Mitch Robinson (Brisbane)

Hugh McLuggage is quietly putting together an excellent season, despite playing in the shadow of Brownlow favourite Lachie Neale and All Australian and captain Dayne Zorko, and Saturday was no exception, as he torched the Swans with his class in the wet. He had 24 touches on the night, with 13 contested, while also kicking two goals alongside eight score involvements, six tackles, nine inside 50’s in a remarkable display from a player in only his 47th game. Given the conditions, this was as classy a performance as McLuggage has delivered in his young, highly promising career.

In spite of their, in large part, average performances this season, Tom Papley has been more than decent for the Swans so far this year, and against the Lions he was essentially the difference between getting thumped and being competitive enough. Sydney probably would have needed two Papley’s on the night for them to have gotten up, with his midfield grunt obviously missing as he spent majority of the night forward and was the best small forward on the park, with 4.3 from 18 touches and four tackles. Although George Hewett was good in locking Lachie Neale down while damaging offensively, and Josh Kennedy defying the years to continue his so far excellent season, Papley was most certainly the most influential man in red and white.

Arguably no player better represents the Lion’s rise so far in season 2019 than Mitch Robinson, and after winning the Marcus Ashcroft Medal last week he was again a winner against the Swans. The conditions definitely suited him, with the game descending into a bit of a slog, and while “class” probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind with Robinson, “grunt” almost definitely is. Ended the night with 22 touches, 12 of which were contested, with 7 score involvements and a goal for himself in addition to nine tackles. There were a few Lions unlucky to miss out though. Dayne Zorko might not have had his best season so far but he was prolific with 29 touches, 11 tackles and a game-high 762 metres gained, Lachie Neale continues to find the ball at will, and Daniel Rich is evolving into a genuine weapon off half back.

Western Bulldogs v Richmond

3 Aaron Naughton (Western Bulldogs)

2 Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)

1 Jackson Trengove (Western Bulldogs)

When the end of the season comes, and talk turns to which player had the biggest game, it’s going to be hard to split Aaron Naughton’s game on Saturday night and Jeremy Cameron’s 7.5 against Richmond, as well, in Round Three. The points probably go to Cameron on that one, but the fact that the 19 year old Naughton is even in the same breath is a massive credit to him. To take nine contested marks in a game is a truly remarkable feat, and 14 marks for the game is a great return in addition to 5.3, with a goal assist and another two score involvements to boot. He also managed to tear apart a fairly decent defence, which might give even more credit to Joel Hamling after managing to shut him down last week.

In any other game, Marcus Bontempelli would have been the runaway best on ground in an important, season reviving win. As it was, he has to settle for second fiddle to Naughton, but his performance shouldn’t be glossed over. While he may have had more prolific games in terms of goals and possessions, and will continue to, to finish with 27 touches and three goals is an outstanding return, combined with eight score involvements, seven clearances and four inside 50’s. The Bont may have been slammed, somewhat justifiably, over the last couple of weeks, after performances against Carlton and Fremantle that were well below his lofty standards, but there are few players better to watch in full flight than him, and his game against the Tigers was definitely a return to form.

Tom Lynch has definitely not been as good as the footballing community knows he can be so far for Richmond, and yet he sat second in the Coleman race heading into Saturday night’s game. Admittedly it was a fair jump between him and Jeremy Cameron, but heading into a game against the team that let Harry McKay take five contested marks two weeks ago, Lynch probably would have backed himself to make up some of that gap. Enter Jackson Trengove, who didn’t play against Carlton but on the evidence of this weekend absolutely should have, who kept Lynch to five touches and 0.1. Make no mistake, as much as Naughton and Bont won the Dogs this game going forward, Trengove was just as important down back, wearing Richmond’s key for
ward like a snug glove.

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West Coast v Gold Coast

3 Elliot Yeo (West Coast)

2 Jack Martin (Gold Coast)

1 Jack Redden (West Coast)

The Eagles won on Saturday night in a game that probably flattered them a little bit, and while others had more touches than Elliot Yeo, and kicked more goals, none had greater influence when the game was up for grabs. Yeo’s season has been a bit reflective of the Eagles’ as a whole, with him being solid but not at the spectacular heights of last year, but on Saturday night he looked to be getting back to somewhere near his best, with 28 touches (13 contested), eight clearances, seven inside 50’s, and a goal. Just as importantly, he managed 12 tackles, showing he was willing to work both ways in a game the Eagles looked particularly uninspired in.

Jack Martin has had a strange year. By no measure has he been disgraceful, but splitting time between midfield and the forward line, he’s averaged 21 touches with a scoreboard return of 2.9 in seven games. He was excellent in their wins against Fremantle and the Bulldogs, but had been a fair sight short of spectacular in the three games preceding this one. Against the Eagles though, he had what looks to be a breakout game, with 29 touches, 13 of which came from the contest, and an impressive 10 tackles. Martin isn’t the kind of player a football club can be built around, but if the Suns can keep him and find a few bigger midfield bodies so that he can play predominantly forward, he’ll be a weapon for the club.

Jack Redden was another player willing to crack into the contest. Despite finishing with just 21 touches, he ran at 76% efficiency and added a game-high 13 tackles, to go with a goal assist and four total score involvements. As mentioned, other Eagles were more prolific, but definitely less impactful as the former Lion stood up in the last to get his team home. As much as I don’t want to sound like I’m taking potshots at West Coast players, too few of them were willing to work hard enough in the second half, and while they won the four points, it’s probably fair to say that we’re none the wiser as to how well their premiership defence is going.

North Melbourne v Carlton

3 Robbie Tarrant (North Melbourne)

2 Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne)

1 Cameron Zurhaar (North Melbourne)

On Saturday night, at the same stadium as this game, a young key forward had himself a night, clunking everything that came his way against an undersized, undermanned defence. On Sunday, a second young key forward, who happens to be the league leader in contested marks, didn’t even take a mark and had 3 touches against a backline missing one of their two key planks in Scott Thompson. Robbie Tarrant was absolutely excellent on Sunday, a perfect example of how a key defender can be by far and away the best player on the ground despite having just 10 touches himself. North supporters would probably argue that Robbie Tarrant doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but at the Mongrel we loved his performance and are keen to see more.

Ben Cunnington would have to go close to being the player we name this award after, following his eventual retirement. It’s probably out of him and Joel Selwood as to who best embodies the qualities we love to see, of contested ball winning, tackling, and willingness to put their head over the ball and their body on the line. It may not have been his best game, probably not by a long way, but he ended the day with 27 touches, 16 of which came from the contest, and a remarkable 10 clearances. A few notes on Cunnington: firstly, there would be few players so unassuming and yet so bullish; and secondly, how many midfield 1-2 punches are better than he and Shaun Higgins? North don’t bat especially deep in that area, admittedly, but these two would slot into a number of bottom 10 sides, and maybe a few top eight ones too.

At quarter time of this game you’d have been forgiven for giving the three votes to Ben Brown, turning the TV off and going off to do whatever it is that regular people do on a Sunday (as a footy tragic I wouldn’t know). After giving Liam Jones a bath, though, Brown’s influence diminished after half time, although his four tackles inside 50 could be construed as a big message to those who have called him one-dimensional. However, it was Cam Zurhaar who managed to dominate the entirety of the game in the forward half for North Melbourne, finishing with five goals, two posters and four tackles to have a real breakout game. He looks to be the answer to the question that’s been dogging the Kangaroos over recent weeks, being: who is the next Jarrad Waite? Who can play second fiddle to Brown? Zurhaar allows Ziebell to go into midfield, which makes North look a far more complete side, and his bag on Sunday would likely allow Brad Scott to rest a little easier at night.

Geelong v Essendon

3 Tim Kelly (Geelong)

2 Tom Stewart (Geelong)

1 Gary Ablett (Geelong)

The last time Geelong beat Essendon, none of these three players were on Geelong’s list. That was in 2016, when it was practically bordering on insanity to suggest that Joel Selwood could be absent, Patrick Dangerfield would have 8 touches and the Cats would still win by 5 goals. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday though, as Geelong’s second string players vanquished what has come to be their bogey side over recent years. Admittedly, to call any of these three players a second stringer is very harsh. Tim Kelly started the season like a house on fire before going off the boil in recent weeks, but with the majority of the midfield load left to him he shone, adding dollars to his price tag come season’s end. 30 touches at 73% with 14 contested, 2 goals, a game-high 567 metres gained and 10 clearances would be close to the West Australian’s best game in the AFL so far, and to suggest that he’ll be a Brownlow Medalist come his career’s end is no stretch of the imagination.

Tom Stewart is not going to win a Brownlow. He’s an unfashionable footballer who would absolutely not look out of place in the ’80’s. Irrespective of that, he and Mark Blicavs have become as good a defensive pairing as there is in the AFL, with Geelong conceding the fewest points of any side so far this year, and both were outstanding on Sunday. Stewart had 9 intercepts in among his 25 touches, went at 80% with 21 kicks, and rebounded from defensive 50 8 times to win the Tom Wills Medal for best on ground. He was an All Australian last year, and if he keeps this form up he’ll be repeating that again this year.

Plenty questioned Geelong’s ability to thrive this season with their Holy Trinity in the middle of the ground. Against the Bombers, with no Joel Selwood, neither Ablett nor Dangerfield recorded a centre clearance, as Tim Kelly, Cam Guthrie and others picked up the slack. Non
etheless, Gary Ablett’s form this year has absolutely justified his return to Kardinia Park over the last month, with 9 goals and an average of around 23 touches a game. He was outstanding against the Dons, despite his errant elbow, with 26 touches at 81%, 2 goals, 6 score involvements and 5 tackles as he reminded the footballing world, yet again, of his outstanding footballing ability. A number of other Cats could have received votes, including Gryan Miers, Mitch Duncan and Blicavs, while for Essendon Jake Stringer was probably their best player, ahead of Dylan Shiel.

Adelaide v Fremantle

3 Matt Crouch (Adelaide)

2 Luke Ryan (Fremantle)

1 Kyle Hartigan (Adelaide)

With no disrespect intended to either side, if votes could be given to no one, then this game would be perfectly apt for that honour. Matt Crouch had an absolute mountain of the ball though, with 39 touches, which included 4 clearances and 13 contested possessions. It may have been forgotten how talented a footballer he is, but he was a driving force behind their Grand Final appearance in 2017, being an All Australian and winning The Age’s Player of the Year Award. He was a big driving force in getting his side over the line in a scrappy, ugly but fierce contest.

Luke Ryan was enormous down back for Fremantle, mopping up countless Adelaide forward forays. He managed 34 touches at 88% with 10 intercept possessions, being prolific in defence and providing excellent drive with 544 metres gained off half back. Also managed to keep Eddie Betts to just one freakish goal in the last quarter and should have won a holding the ball decision against the mercurial Crow at a critical stage in the third quarter. David Mundy was again prolific, the week after his 300th celebrations, while Nat Fyfe was a class above and Nathan Wilson gained an excellent 607 metres gained from just 22 touches.

Much has been made, and rightly, of Alex Keath’s work down back for Adelaide so far this year, while Daniel Talia is a two time All Australian, and performed quite well in shutting down Matt Taberner. However, it was the work of Hartigan which deserves the most recognition against Fremantle, with 8 intercepts out of 16 touches, and 6 rebound 50’s while being a key plank in a defence that kept Fremantle to just 5 goals and 9 scores from 50 inside 50’s. Reilly O’Brien was also more than handy in the ruck, with 44 hitouts and 22 touches to comfortably beat Rory Lobb, while Elliott Himmelberg was arguably the best forward on the ground in a game that all watching would probably like to forget fairly soon.

LEADERBOARD

1. Lachie Neale (9)

2. Travis Boak (8)

3. Tim Kelly (7)

3. Scott Pendlebury (7)

3. Marcus Bontempelli (7)

6. Gary Ablett (6)

6. Patrick Dangerfield (6)

6. Josh Kennedy (6)

The top two stays unchanged this week, though both Lachie Neale (29 touches, 7 clearances) and Travis Boak (32 touches, 1 goal, 6 tackles) were far from disgraced in their side’s performances and wouldn’t have been far from votes. The real movers are the next rung down though, with three new players jumping into equal-third place. After being equal leader after two rounds, Tim Kelly had a relatively quiet month or so but torched Essendon’s midfield and received 3 votes, while Scott Pendlebury has had back-to-back best on ground performances to rocket up the leaderboard. Meanwhile, the Bont has been a consistent vote getter and leaps to near the top of the pile. While Dangerfield and Kennedy haven’t polled votes since Round 3, Gary Ablett has polled votes in each of his last 3 games, and makes the leaderboard pretty happy reading for Cats fans. 11 players are on 5 votes, with Hugh McLuggage, Jack Martin and Luke Ryan joining the lengthy list from last week.

So there we have it. Did we get it right? Which players have we missed out on? Let us know in the comments.

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