Of all the awards in football, this is almost certainly the most recent, if nothing else, and yet I can’t imagine any player who doesn’t run out on the weekends with the thought of being named the year’s best Mongrel in the back of their minds. That may be hyperbole. In any event, this season we at the Mongrel Punt have established this award in order to recognise the players who might not necessarily get the nod as best on ground, but are significant and influential in their side’s performances.
Each week, the contributor who reports on each given game gives votes on a 3-2-1 basis, but again, this is not meant to represent the best player necessarily, but the player with the biggest impact on the contest. That’s why back flankers, key forwards and ruckmen can poll just as well as midfielders. So here are the Mongrel Votes from Sir Doug Nicholls Round:
Sydney v Collingwood
3 Levi Greenwood (Collingwood)
2 Sam Reid (Sydney)
1 Brodie Grundy (Collingwood)
Levi Greenwood’s success in prior years has come predominantly as a tagger. On Friday night, against the Swans though, he played mostly a kick behind the ball with great success, being given the nod as best on ground. In amongst his 21 touches, he took a game high 11 marks, including two contested, and had 11 intercept possessions as he repelled Sydney’s forward forays and provided drive out of the backline, with 435 metres gained. While other midfielders had more of the ball, Greenwood was resolute down back and receives the nod as Friday night’s most impactful.
Had the Swans got up against the Pies, it would have been in large part thanks to an extraordinary display of contested marking by Sam Reid. In a forward line that welcomed back Buddy Franklin for the first time in a month, Reid managed to be the most important key forward on the ground. He ended the night with 6.0 from his 15 touches, alongside nine marks, six of which were contested, in a career best display that almost dragged his side over the line. The criticism of the Swans has often been that their forward line is too Franklin-centric, but even with the four-time Coleman medalist back, Reid went a long way on Friday night to answering the long standing question of where the Swans could look for a second avenue to goal.
It’s possible that Brodie Grundy hasn’t gotten enough respect in this award. In a manner similar to Patrick Cripps, his obvious talent and high standards have meant that other players often receive the plaudits here despite their heroics. While Friday night wasn’t Grundy’s most prolific in terms of disposals, he had a career high 64 hitouts; an enormous number, as his side dominated the clearances 49-38. Around the ground, he had six score involvements, five marks, seven clearances and eight tackles as he again extended his very strong lead in the All Australian ruck stakes.
Hawthorn v Port Adelaide
3 Jack Gunston (Hawthorn)
2 Ricky Henderson (Hawthorn)
1 Matthew Broadbent (Port Adelaide)
Jack Gunston was an All-Australian forward last year after kicking 51 goals, but in the first nine games of this season had managed only 10. In part this has been due to Alastair Clarkson placing him behind the ball at times, but on Saturday against Port he kicked an equal career high six goals, finishing as his side’s only multiple goal kicker. He also raked in nine marks, alongside a massive 14 score involvements from 21 touches, highlighting how damaging he was with ball in hand. In a win that vaulted Hawthorn into the top 8 for about 24 hours, Gunston was clearly the most important, and most damaging, player on the ground.
On the subject of brown and gold All Australians, Ricky Henderson has firmed from a roughy, into a smoky, into arguably now a starting wingman. His season has been absolutely outstanding, topping 30 disposals four times in 10 rounds after doing so just three times in 130 games beforehand. On Saturday against Port it was a career best game, with 37 disposals coming at 70% and including 11 marks, 10 inside 50’s and an enormous 810 metres gained. Henderson leads the votes for the Hawks this season, in what is a genuine surprise, but his talent has certainly come to the fore so far this year.
For the Power, despite their abysmal start and poor kicking for goal, forgotten defender Matthew Broadbent was a selling influence across a half back line that had to withstand a number of entries. He finished with 28 touches, 10 of which came from intercepts, and only Jarrod Lienert had more than his 458 metres gained for his side. After missing around two years with injury, Broadbent’s return has been a bright spot for an inconsistent Port side.
Western Bulldogs v North Melbourne
3 Caleb Daniel (Western Bulldogs)
2 Nick Larkey (North Melbourne)
1 Bailey Smith (Western Bulldogs)
Though North won the game, and other players had more of the ball than him, Caleb Daniel was best on ground in the opinion of our contributor. Despite his obvious height disadvantage, Daniel had nine intercept marks in amongst 11 intercept possessions against the Roos as he battled manfully while the North Melbourne midfield, led by Cunnington, Higgins and Goldstein, won the inside 50 count. The Bulldog also managed seven score involvements off half back from his 29 disposals, while going at 79% and with seven rebounds from defensive 50 to cap off an excellent outing.
North’s big men were largely the difference between the two sides, as has been the case often with the Dogs this season. Ben Brown, Mason Wood and Nick Larkey managed nine goals between them, but it was the young Larkey who gets the votes for his performance not just in front of goal but around the forward line as well. Though he managed just seven touches, five of those resulted in a score for his side, and he added in four tackles in what was an impressive performance so early in his career. In providing a contest up forward, Larkey showed that he is likely to be the next long term full forward for the Kangaroos.
Some have declared the Rising Star race close to over already, with Connor Rozee and Sam Walsh considered to be the only two players with any chance of taking home the Ron Evans Medal. If any player can challenge that duopoly though, at this stage it looks like being Bailey Smith, who has slotted seamlessly into the Dogs midfield and has played every game. After keeping Ben Cunnington quiet in the first quarter, Smith ran out the afternoon with 21 touches, with a goal, five score involvements, five marks and five tackles in three quarters of game time. While it may be controversial to ignore the aforementioned North midfielders, it was felt that these three players had a greater impact on the game than any other.
Adelaide v West Coast
3 Luke Shuey (West Coast)
2 Brad Sheppard (West Coast)
1 Elliott Yeo (West Coast)
Luke Shuey has been enormous in big games for the Eagles, and this hasn’t been better evidenced than his Grand Final performance, and before that his match winning set shot in an elimination final against Port. However, in what was almost certainly West Coast’s most important game since last September, Shuey was again tremendous, especially in the last quarter. He racked up 33 touches, with 12 coming in the 4th as his side scraped over the line. 16 of those touches came in the contest, with six score involvements, 10 clearances, 767 metres gained, 10 tackles and six inside 50’s rounding out a comprehensive and very impressive stat sheet.
Brad Sheppard has had much bigger games offensively this season for the Eagles, but arguably hasn’t had as good a game defensively as this one. Opposed to Eddie Betts at times, he also managed to cover Shannon Hurn while adding in eight intercepts in his 16 touches for the game. He was hugely influential in the first half in restricting Adelaide’s lead from what could have been enough to close out the game, and had five rebound 50’s and 422 metres gained to again be among the best players on the ground for the third time this year as he more than almost any other player provides the hunger the Eagles look like they will need to go back to back.
Elliot Yeo has had 64 tackles across the last six weeks of football as he adds the necessary grunt to West Coast’s midfield to complement the outside class of Gaff and Shuey. Against the Crows, he had 15 tackles to go alongside 27 touches (17 contested), eight score involvements, and nine clearances to just get the nod over the excellent Dom Sheed, as well as Brad Crouch, who was also very good in defeat.
Geelong v Gold Coast
3 Tim Kelly (Geelong)
2 David Swallow (Gold Coast)
1 Mitch Duncan (Geelong)
For the fifth time in ten weeks of footy, Tim Kelly is amongst the two best players on the ground, and leads all comers as the Mongrel of the Year so far. Against the Suns he was arguably the difference between victory and defeat for his ladder leading side, with 35 touches including game highs in score involvements (10) and metres gained (670), as well as team highs in clearances (8) and contested possessions (16). There is every chance that Kelly, in just his second season of footy at the top level, would be leading the Brownlow, which is no mean feat in a side that includes previous winners in Ablett and Dangerfield and a perennial top 10 finisher in Selwood.
Though Kelly won his side the game, David Swallow went exceedingly close to getting his side over the line. Swallow has stepped seamlessly into the Suns leadership this season, having replaced the departed Lynch and May, and has looked a natural from day dot. On Saturday night, he had probably his best game, as he combined with his co-captain in Jarrod Witts out of midfield, with a huge 13 clearances out of his 29 possessions, alongside a game high in 19 contested, with four tackles, 463 metres gained and four score involvements.
Of all the positional changes Geelong’s midfielders have experienced this season, the shift of Mitch Duncan to a more outside role has been almost the most successful. He’s kicked nine goals in the last four weeks, with another three against the Gold Coast, in addition to seven score involvements from his 27 disposals. Saturday night was his fourth week in the votes out of the last five as his form has kept Geelong a game clear on top of the ladder. He just gets the nod ahead of Hawkins, whose inaccuracy cost him a big bag, and Fiorini and Weller for the opposition, who have both also had excellent seasons for the plucky Suns.
Richmond v Essendon
3 Bachar Houli (Richmond)
2 Dion Prestia (Richmond)
1 Kyle Langford (Essendon)
Just like Duncan, Bachar Houli has been in the votes for four weeks out of the last five, after racking up 30 or more touches in each of those vote winning games. In the annual Dreamtime game, he won the Yiooken Award as best on ground, and was clearly the most influential player in the wet. It was a career high 37 disposals that got him this recognition, alongside a game high 13 intercept possessions as his half back partner Nick Vlastuin has been shifted into the middle of the ground. He also had a game high 814 metres gained, wi
th five tackles, four score involvements, six marks and 10 rebound 50’s as he pushes his case for an inaugural All Australian gong.
Though Dustin Martin was important with his 35 touches, Dion Prestia just continued his quietly consistent season. In what was a scrappy game devoid of many highlights, Prestia’s understated grunt in the midfield, with 11 contested out of his 25, was seen as critical in his side’s performance. Add in a goal among six score involvements, four clearances, a game high 10 inside 50’s and 499 metres gained and the former Sun gets the nod as the second best player on the ground.
Though he, like many of his teammates, was quiet for the first three quarters of the game, Kyle Langford’s last quarter was essentially the only shining light for his side. Seven of his 22 touches came in the last, as he added three of Essendon’s four goals for the term when the Bombers were looking to get back into the game. Darcy Parish was also excellent, but in a losing effort it was hard to give consideration to the lacklustre Dons.
Melbourne v GWS
3 Josh Kelly (GWS)
2 Matt de Boer (GWS)
1 Nick Haynes (GWS)
It’s almost said every week about the Giants, but any one of a great number of their players could have received votes for the obliteration of the Demons as they ended their apparent MCG hoodoo. While Coniglio, Taranto and Whitfield have all received recognition so far this year in this column for their efforts, the impact Josh Kelly provides should not be forgotten. This was a player who many touted as a certain Brownlow Medalist and a million dollar man before injuries cut him down marginally over the last two seasons. Against the Dees, he was back to his best, with 31 touches coming at 74% efficiency and including a goal, nine score involvements, and game highs in 10 tackles, seven inside 50’s and 609 metres gained.
Discussion within the Mongrel writers group chat this weekend centered at one point on whether or not a tagger could be considered for an All Australian spot. It’s clearly a controversial point, but on the basis of his scalps this year, Matt de Boer is almost a certainty for an inaugural gong this season. While he may not have had the same offensive impact this week as last, with just 12 touches including five score involvements, he was arguably just as good defensively in both shutting down and clearly frustrating Clayton Oliver. The Dee had just 11 touches to three quarter time, adding six when the game was over in the last quarter, while going at just 47% and giving away four free kicks. De Boer is fast becoming as important as any other midfielder in black and orange this season.
I’ve asked the question before but it begs asking again. How many times has Nick Haynes actually been beaten? He certainly wasn’t on Sunday, He was outstanding in the first half, when the game was actually on the line, before quietening down when the game was over. His 20 touches went at 85% and included 10 rebounds from defensive 50 as well as five intercept possessions, while also keeping the dangerous, though out of form, Petracca quiet whenever they were opposed to one another, and so gets the nod ahead of a number of other Giants, as well as Max Gawn, who was by far and away Melbourne’s best player.
St Kilda v Carlton
3 Jade Gresham (St Kilda)
2 Jack Steele (St Kilda)
1 Sam Walsh (Carlton)
The question over whether Jade Gresham is better suited to the midfield or the forward line at St Kilda is no closer to being answered after his exceptional performance in the centre against the Blues on Sunday. In a tight game, Gresham was almost certainly the difference, with a career high 29 touches including 12 contested, with his seven score involvements including three direct goal assists in a game the Saints won by 13 points. Add in six clearances and six inside 50’s and it’s clear that he was the most important player on the ground in his side’s gritty and critical victory.
Almost equally important in the Saints’ win was Jack Steele, who performed admirably in his role on Patrick Cripps while also being one of his side’s best midfielders offensively. While Cripps was certainly influential, Steele was an ever-present force whenever the Carlton captain went near the ball. Steele matched his direct opponent for disposals, with 28, but also gathered nine score involvements of his own, along with 10 tackles to highlight his defensive work rate. Cripps is again probably a victim of his own high standards here in not featuring in the votes.
Sam Walsh in his 10th game looked about as composed and assured with ball in hand as anyone else on the ground, and gets his first Mongrel vote in what was almost certainly his best performance so far this year. He racked up 28 touches, with 11 contested, going at 79%, while adding five clearances, a goal assist and three inside 50’s. It’s truly scary to contemplate what Carlton’s midfield will be like once Walsh matures fully, in tandem with Cripps who is fast becoming the best player in the competition.
Fremantle v Brisbane
3 Brad Hill (Fremantle)
2 Harris Andrews (Brisbane)
1 Rory Lobb (Fremantle)
In a game in which Freo got home at the last gasp, it should almost come as no surprise that Brad Hill was best on ground. Few players in the competition are as classy and can provide as much run off a wing as the former Hawk, and with 31 touches on Sunday evening at 81%, he continued his excellent season which sees him in the top five for this award. Amazingly, he only had one contested possession, as he essentially did as he liked on the outside, with eight score involvements, 757 metres gained and four inside 50’s. Nine of his touches came in the last, when the game was at his hottest and his team needed him the most. When he and Nathan Wilson can rack up metres gained like they did against the Lions, Freo look to be an actual, decent side.
If one player kept the Lions in the game it was Harris Andrews, who continues to fly under the Victorian radar and yet looks set to replace Alex Rance as the generational full back in the not too distant future. Opposed to Jesse Hogan, Andrews had 11 intercept possessions, a team high, and 10 marks, including four contested, both game highs, in among his 15 disposals, along with 10 one percenters, while his direct opponent managed eight disposals without a kick and no score. Hogan has had his issues this season but at times he’s looked to be getting back to his best form, and to keep him that quiet is a huge win for Andrews in a game his team went desperately close to winning.
A critical factor in Freo’s win was their clearance dominance, especially from stoppages, a stat they won 32-18. In large part that was due to Rory Lobb, who had the most hitouts of any ruckman on the ground with 27 while also managing seven intercept possessions out of his 10 total. He also raked in seven marks, four of which were contested, and kicked a goal in amongst four score involvements as he managed to make a big impact forward of centre, while adding in 13 one percenters and three tackles in what was almost certainly his best game for his new club.
1. Tim Kelly (13)
2. Travis Boak (11)
3. Lachie Neale (10)
4. Brad Hill (8)
4. Alex Keath (8)
4. Zach Merrett (8)
4. Tim Taranto (8)
8. Gary Ablett (7)
8. Marcus Bontempelli (7)
8. Brodie Grundy (7)
8. Bachar Houli (7)
8. Shannon Hurn (7)
8. Scott Pendlebury (7)
8. Elliot Yeo (7)
Tim Kelly jumps back into top spot on the leaderboard after getting the nod as best on ground for the third time in four weeks, as he has quickly become the most important midfielder in the best team in the competition so far.
Boak and Neale both miss out on votes after their team’s losses over the weekend, as did Keath and Merrett. While Tim Taranto was exceptional against the Dees on Sunday, there were unfortunately too many players just ahead of him to get votes. Brad Hill jumps into the top five on the back of his best on ground performance against the Lions.
Houli has received all seven of his votes in the last five weeks following his return from injury, while all of Yeo’s votes have come in the last month as the Eagles have kicked their premiership defence into gear. Meanwhile, Grundy and Pendlebury sit on the same number of votes after 10 rounds.