Mongrel of the Year 2019 – Round Nine

This year, we at the Mongrel Punt have established our own award to rival other media outlets. Each week, as contributors to the site write their reviews, they hand out votes on a 3-2-1 basis to the player they consider the most influential on the ground. What this means is that a ruckman is as likely to receive votes as any other midfielder, a back flanker can poll just as highly as a half forward, and a key back or a tagger might finally receive the recognition they deserve. However, it can also lead to some players being overlooked, especially in sides that have less success than others. This award isn’t designed to necessarily reflect the Brownlow, though. Instead, we’d rather see the most influential players on the best teams receive the plaudits. Here are the Mongrel votes from Round Nine:

West Coast v Melbourne

3 Elliot Yeo (West Coast)

2 Max Gawn (Melbourne)

1 Shannon Hurn (West Coast)

While other Eagles may have had more of the ball than Yeo, no player on the ground had more contested ball (18), and he led his team for both clearances (7) and inside 50’s (7). In addition, defensively, he added a season high 16 tackles, in what must be among strong consideration for one of the most complete midfield games of the season. The former Lion finished the night with 26 touches, as well as four score involvements to be the most influential player on the ground, standing up right when his team needed it. The only Eagle prior to this round to have had 15+ contested touches and 15+ tackles in the same game is Brownlow Medalist Matt Priddis, which is not bad company to keep for any player.

It’s probably not unreasonable to suggest that Max Gawn hasn’t lived up to his standards from last season so far in 2019, and while Brodie Grundy has produced a year that at this stage has him as a lock for All Australian honours, Gawn showed on Friday night that he shouldn’t be underestimated. The Bearded Menace gave the Eagles tandem of Vardy and Hickey an absolute bath, and despite being the stepladder for Liam Ryan’s mark of the year, he receives two votes for his enormous efforts in midfield which in large part kept his side in the game. Finished with an equal game-high seven clearances and four inside 50’s alongside a mammoth 56 hitouts, four tackles and 15 touches, 13 of which came in the contest. Harmes and Oliver were both prolific again in midfield, and Jayden Hunt looked dangerous whenever he went near the ball, but in a loss they were essentially out of consideration.

To borrow from Damian Barrett for just a moment: IF Shannon Hurn isn’t the All Australian captain THEN I’ll eat my hat. This is a man who received the nod as a backman in last year’s side before leading his side to glory and has now taken his game to another level in search of a successful premiership defence. In a backline that probably hasn’t been quite as stoic as it has been in year’s gone by, Hurn has been unbeatable both defensively and offensively, and had his best game for the year under Friday night lights against the Dees. The skipper took 13 marks, including three contested, had nine intercept possessions in amongst his 33 total at an astonishing 94% efficiency and added in a game high 590 metres gained alongside his seven rebound 50’s and six score involvements. Sheed and Gaff were both more than handy for the Eagles, but without Hurn and Yeo they almost certainly lose this game.

Collingwood v St Kilda

3 Steele Sidebottom (Collingwood)

2 Brodie Grundy (Collingwood)

1 Luke Dunstan (St Kilda)

I imagine it would fill Collingwood supporters with glee that their star-studded midfield is firing on all cylinders, even in the absence of chief provider of grunt, Taylor Adams. Of course, for that success to happen some players will inevitably have to accept their role changing, and one of the biggest ones this year across all clubs has been the shift of Sidebottom from the guts, where he was so damaging all through September last year, out to a wing, where he has finally begun to settle in. With five votes across his last two games, Sidebottom has been the difference, and on Saturday it was no different as he racked up 29 touches at 79% despite having just two clearances. In a number of ways the Magpie is becoming the best link up player in the competition, with 11 score involvements and two goals showing his importance in transitioning the ball forwards.

If any player has been rougher to not receive a vote than Grundy was against Carlton, I am not aware of them. Thankfully, this has been rectified with a two-vote performance against the Saints. Though Rowan Marshall competed very well and showed he is the future of the ruck division at Moorabbin, Grundy’s impact across the ground is incomparable. Finished the day with 24 touches, 18 of which were contested, alongside five score involvements and three contested marks out of four total. When you add in his dominance in the ruck, where he racked up 49 hitouts and an equal team high seven clearances, it’s not hard to see why he is the favourite to take out the All Australian ruck spot come September.

No player on the ground had more clearances than Luke Dunstan’s nine on Saturday. He was a huge factor in keeping his side in the game up until three quarter time, with 25 of his 30 touches coming in the first three quarters, and finished with 17 contested possessions, all while going at 70% efficiency. Add in two direct goal assists, six score involvements, five inside 50’s and five tackles and it becomes understandable as to how he beat out the likes of Ben Reid, Brody Mihocek and Adam Treloar to the final vote.

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Brisbane v Adelaide

3 Charlie Cameron (Brisbane)

2 Tom Lynch (Adelaide)

1 Lachie Neale (Brisbane)

The ability of the Lions to get Charlie Cameron on the park this season for an extended period of time has shown how much talent they lost last year, when he only played 11 games, as well as how exciting their forward line is becoming. He’s played every game so far this year, with 15.18 to be one goal behind Eric Hipwood as his side’s leading goalscorer, though that would obviously not be the case if he had managed to kick straight. On his profligacy in front of goal, it very nearly cost his new side the game against his old side, with a return of 3.5 from 16 touches demonstrating just how wasteful he was. Add in a direct goal assist and five marks and he was clearly the difference on the day, though.

For the second week in a row, Adelaide’s Tom Lynch as the second best player on the ground. When Lynch is in form, his class has a huge impact on his side, especially going forward, and he rarely is wasteful with ball in hand. This was certainly the case against the Lions, when he finished with 8 score involvements including a goal and two direct goal assists in amongst his 21 touches at 81% efficiency. In addition, he took an equal game high eight marks, and had six inside 50’s, to be his side’s best player, ahead of Brad Crouch, Brodie Smith and Rory Sloane.

There’s a sneaking suspicion amongst the footballing public that Lachie Neale might go alright as a footballer. Alongside a redhead in blue and white who will be mentioned later, Neale has clearly been the most impactful recruit of the season, and is a huge reason why his side sit in the top four after nine games. He had another day out against the Crows and will likely poll another three Brownlow votes for his 39 touches, including 22 contested, at an excellent 85% efficiency. Add in seven score involvements, 12 clearances and six tackles and it’s clear to see the former Docker’s season is going from strength to strength to poll a vote ahead of Zorko, McLuggage and Robinson.

Geelong v Western Bulldogs

3 Gary Rohan (Geelong)

2 Cam Guthrie (Geelong)

1 Mitch Duncan (Geelong)

Plenty of Cats were more than handy in their gritty win against the Dogs, but new recruit and contender for the recruit of the year title Gary Rohan was excellent, especially early on, kicking the first two goals of the match from two big contested marks. Ended the evening with 3.2 and a goal assist among an equal team high 11 score involvements, with four contested marks out of seven total to be the most consistently damaging forward on the ground. Rohan has been a revelation for the Cats this year, and even the most optimistic supporters likely wouldn’t have expected production of this level from the former Swan, but only twice has he kicked more goals in a season than he has in the first nine rounds of 2019.

It might seem strange that Cam Guthrie gets the nod as second best on ground for the Cats, given the performances of some of Geelong’s bigger names, but Guthrie’s pressure was excellent in a game that was fairly low in tackling. Guthrie had a team high seven tackles in amongst 30 pressure acts, and added in a classy goal and four score involvements from his 11 touches, as well as keeping Marcus Bontempelli quiet for three out of four quarters. He was one of the players the Cats might have expected to lose after last season for greater opportunities, but has grown well into his new role.

Mitch Duncan receives votes for the third week out of four as he continues to be another player growing into a new and important role for the ladder leaders. Playing on a wing, over the last month Duncan has averaged 26 touches, 11 marks, and just under eight score involvements per game, with this Saturday arguably being his biggest performance. Racked up 25 touches at an excellent 92%, with an equal game high 11 score involvements, three goals, 11 marks, six inside 50’s and a game-high 592 metres gained.

A number of Dogs were good in patches, like Toby McLean, while the Bont’s third quarter almost had him in the votes, but ultimately the Cats deserve the plaudits after running over the top of their opposition for the second straight week.

Essendon v Fremantle

3 Zach Merrett (Essendon)

2 Dylan Shiel (Essendon)

1 David Mundy (Fremantle)

Zach Merrett has copped plenty this season, especially given the way it started against GWS, but in fairness since Round 4 he has rediscovered some of his best form to keep the Bombers’ season alive, just. He was best on ground in their narrow win over the Dockers, with his 35 touches coming at 71% and including 13 contested possessions, a game high eight score involvements, and three inside 50’s. He also managed to work hard defensively in a tight game, with an equal team high six tackles.  Perhaps surprisingly, Merrett now sits in the top 5 of this award, but he has polled votes in three out of four of his side’s wins this year.

Dylan Shiel is another player who has been criticised tremendously amid a lacklustre start to the year, especially given the price Essendon paid to get him. After a horrific display in their bad loss to Sydney last week, Shiel was most definitely under the pump, but he responded exceedingly well when his side arguably needed it most desperately. It wasn’t just the 25 touches at 76%, including 13 contested, but even more importantly he finished with 2.0 in a game where the rest of his teammates kicked 6.12. While only playing around three quarters of game time, he was second for his side in metres gained (496), clearances (5) and equal third for inside 50’s to begin to repay the faith shown in him. Interestingly, Shiel and Merrett have polled in the same three games, all wins, showing how important they are to their side.

Not many players get even better after their 300th game, but David Mundy is bucking the trend. If Freo had have gotten up on Saturday night he likely would have received the nod for best on ground, with half of his 34 disposals coming from the contest while going at 88%. He also had nine clearances to lead the game alongside his skipper in Nat Fyfe, seven score involvements and six tackles. If the All Australian squad were being named today, Mundy would almost certainly be in there, a testament to a player who seems to be getting better and better with age.

North Melbourne v Sydney

3 George Hewett (Sydney)

2 Ryan Clarke (Sydney)

1 Jack Ziebell (North Melbourne)

It’s interesting that, in another Sydney win, the two players the Mongrel thought to be best on ground were their two negaters. Interestingly again, Hewett has been named best on ground twice in a row, in two tight wins for his side. On Saturday night, he managed to shut down North Melbourne’s best clearance player while also managing to have a large impact offensively. Cunnington finished the night with just 23 touches, with 12 contested and five clearances, all of which are well below his season averages, while Hewett managed a team high 29 touches, with 20 contested, a game-high nine clearances and six score involvements to be the most effective player on the ground.

While Clarke might not have been as proficient offensively as Hewett, his role in negating Shaun Higgins was arguably just as important in driving his side to victory. Clarke may have had just 18 touches, with five inside 50’s and four tackles, but he also managed to keep the classy All Australian Higgins to just 20 touches, by far his lowest total of the season, with eight of those coming in the last quarter. The Roo also only went at 65% efficiency, with just three score involvements, in what was certainly one of his worst performances for some time. While Parker, Papley and Florent were damaging offensively, Clarke and Hewett were critical in establishing the Swans’ midfield dominance.

With minimal midfield output from their two biggest names in Higgins and Cunnington, North Melbourne turned to their skipper, who has probably been under-utilised over the last few seasons in the middle. Ziebell was outstanding for his side, though, when his side needed him more than ever. He finished the night with 35 touches, by far his most for the year, alongside eight tackles, demonstrating his hardness. He also had seven inside 50’s, and 500 metres gained, both the second most for his side, as he almost managed to will his side home.

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Port Adelaide v Gold Coast

3 Travis Boak (Port Adelaide)

2 Brayden Fiorini (Gold Coast)

1 Sam Gray (Port Adelaide)

Between the end of last season and the start of this one Travis Boak stepped down as Port captain and all of a sudden rediscovered his best form. Whether the two are linked is for better judges to decide, but in the wet on Sunday Boak made sure his club would bank the four points. With the Suns ahead at half time, the former skipper came out determined in the second half, where 21 of his 36 touches came as the Power ran over the top of their opposition. Though the game was a bit scrappy, which hurt his efficiency numbers, he was a clear best on ground, with 22 contested touches, 501 metres gained, eight clearances, and seven score involvements. If he can keep this form up, he’ll most certainly be there or thereabouts in this award and others come season’s end.

Despite the Suns only kicking 1.2 after half time, as the rain began to come down in droves, Brayden Fiorini played what would have to be the absolute best game of his young career, and gets recognition for it. In subpar conditions he had 38 touches, including 13 contested and five clearances, with a goal and a goal assist in amongst his team-highs in score involvements (5), inside 50’s (9), and metres gained (674). Though it wasn’t a particularly excellent day for the Suns in any respect, the form of Fiorini this year has been a huge plus.

In the recent absence of his namesake, the unrelated Robbie, Sam Gray has become a huge part of Port’s forward line, and Sunday was no different. To be able to keep a player of his quality forward is a luxury, frankly. He managed 1.1 from 23 touches, with five score involvements, an equal game-high eight marks, including four inside 50, and seven tackles. While he may not have had the scoreboard reward of other forwards like Frampton and Farrell, he was a big contributor to an important, steadying win for his side.

Richmond v Hawthorn

3 Dustin Martin (Richmond)

2 Nick Vlastuin (Richmond)

1 Bachar Houli (Richmond)

It hasn’t exactly been a huge secret that Dusty has struggled over the last two seasons to replicate his outstanding 2017 form. While nothing could ever disingratiate (is that a word?) himself from the Tiger Army, Sunday went a long way to regaining the faith amongst the wider footballing public as he played his best game of the season by a fair margin. At times he looked genuinely unbeatable, and it makes such a difference to an honest but very hardworking Richmond side to have a gun like him running through the middle. Not only did he have the most touches on the ground, with 37, he also led or equal-led the game in the following statistics: contested possessions (17), score involvements (9), clearances (10), and metres gained (600). Factor in his 2.2 and three tackles and it was arguably as good a day Dusty has had since the Grand Final two years ago.

On the topic of honest, hard workers, there are few players in the league who fit that description better than Nick Vlastuin. Rarely if ever do you see him attempt to bite off more than he can chew, yet he’s evolving into one of his side’s most important players. Against Hawthorn he was deployed in a role further up the ground than his ordinary one as a defensive interceptor, and it paid off. Vlastuin finished with 24 touches at 79%, a goal and two goal assists in amongst seven score involvements, and four clearances, but arguably it was his game high nine tackles that was the most important factor in providing the defensive workrate that allowed Martin to create offensively.

With apologies to Brandon Ellis, who was hugely unlucky to miss out after a career best outing, Bachar Houli gets one vote for the second week in a row. He followed up his 30 disposal outing last week in Perth with 35 against the Hawks at 86% efficiency, and was largely allowed to roam free, with nine uncontested marks and just two contested possessions for the afternoon, adding in four rebounds from defensive 50. Interestingly, with Houli in the side the Tigers have lost just once, in a game where he had a season low 18 touches. He is becoming increasingly important to a side who are getting better with each passing week.

Though the Hawks were indeed gallant in defeat, the margin was simply too great to give considerations to the likes of Luke Breust, Jon Ceglar or Ricky Henderson.

GWS v Carlton

3 Tim Taranto (GWS)

2 Lachie Whitfield (GWS)

1 Matt de Boer (GWS)

I’ve said it before this season about the Giants, and I don’t doubt you could say it again: you could have thrown a blanket over almost the whole side on Sunday as to who deserved the votes. I thought it may have been easier to look at who didn’t deserve votes, but their lowest possession winner was Shane Mumford who dominated in the ruck. That’s what makes ranking these players such a difficult task. Taranto gets the nod as best on ground, in a call which is unbelievably harsh on Lachie Whitfield. Taranto was excellent in the first half, though, when the game was on the line, racking up 22 of his 38 touches. He also had six clearances, a goal, 11 score involvements, and seven inside 50’s across the game as he continues his evolution from future to current star.

Is it possible that, given Luke Hodge’s inevitable age-related decline, Lachie Whitfield is the best number one pick currently playing the game? Few players are as supremely talented, both in terms of skill and aerobic capacity, and his ability to play on a wing, on a back flank or as a half forward is like gold to Leon Cameron. On Sunday he was deployed closer to goal, which freed Toby Greene up to play more in the midfield, and it paid off in spades. Whitfield finished with 40 touches at 78%, with 3.1 amidst 14 score involvements, 18 marks, four tackles and 556 metres gained. At this stage he looks almost certain to repeat his All Australian honours of last year, and if he keeps this form up could even be in for higher honours.

It is almost inconceivable that Matt de Boer was ever delisted by Fremantle but all of a sudden he has evolved into the undisputed best tagger in the game. Having claimed some of the league’s biggest and best midfielders so far this year, on Sunday he went head to head with the player who is arguably the biggest and the best. It shouldn’t be a knock on Cripps, but Carlton looked completely devoid of leadership with him shut out of the game. De Boer had probably the best game of any tagger all year, as he kept the man with claims to the throne of the best player in the league to a measly 12 touches and one clearance, while racking up 27 touches, five clearances, and 10 score involvements himself. Carlton may have been not much chance even if Cripps had ha
ve had another blinder, but they were absolute snowball’s with the clamps applied.

LEADER BOARD

1. Travis Boak (11)

2. Tim Kelly (10)

2. Lachie Neale (10)

4. Alex Keath (8)

4. Zac Merrett (8)

4. Tim Taranto (8)

7. Gary Ablett (7)

7. Marcus Bontempelli (7)

7. Shannon Hurn (7)

7. Scott Pendlebury (7)

Change at the top again this week, as Travis Boak leapfrogs Kelly and Neale into first place for the first time this season, after his best on ground performance on Sunday. Kelly went voteless in a decent performance that was still well down on his last couple, while Neale received one vote for his role in his side’s thrilling one point victory over the Crows. Merrett and Taranto are the big movers, with their respective best on ground performances catapulting them from outside the top 10 into the top four. While Ablett, Pendlebury and Bontempelli all went voteless for their decent but not spectacular performances on the weekend, Eagles skipper Hurn moves up the leaderboard after his second standout game in a row.