Mongrel of the Year 2019 – Round 13


It’s the second of three bye rounds and, with two of the top three in this award having a week off, there’s still been a surprising amount of movement both at the top and in and around the top 10. We saw some outstanding defensive work, some creative half forward/midfielder types run amok and some tall forwards tear games to shreds over the course of Round 13.

That is a fairly wide spread, and these are the kind of performances we are trying to recognise with this award, the inaugural Mongrel of the Year, which sees contributors to the website give votes on a 3-2-1 basis on games on which they write the report. Here are the Mongrel votes from this weekend of footy:

Adelaide v Richmond

3 Reilly O’Brien (Adelaide)

2 Brad Crouch (Adelaide)

1 Rory Laird (Adelaide)

For the second week in a row, young Crows big man O’Brien gets the nod as best on ground as he endeavours to keep his spot in the side with the return of veteran Sam Jacobs. It would appear the former Blue will have at least another week in the SANFL, however, with O’Brien becoming a dominant force in the middle of the ground for the now-top four Adelaide outfit. Rucking against the inexperienced pair of Mabior Chol and Noah Balta, the Crow put in a clinic, with 22 of his massive 54 hitouts going to his team’s advantage.

He was a huge factor in his side’s enormous 48-24 clearance dominance, and they also won the inside 50 count 61-48 as they managed to eventually overrun a gallant Richmond. It wasn’t just in the ruck that O’Brien was dominant, though, with his 19 possessions including 10 contested and coming at 90%, alongside nine score involvements, six clearances of his own, seven inside 50’s and seven tackles in a truly phenomenal display.

Interestingly enough, with O’Brien polling three votes for the second week in a row, Brad Crouch again polls two votes, after doing so each of the last two weeks. This was arguably Crouch’s finest performance, though, of a comeback season that has reminded Adelaide fans of just what they missed last year as he missed the entirety of the season. He’s been a huge factor in their climb back into the top four, and was hugely influential against Richmond, with a career high 43 disposals including 17 contested, with 10 score involvements, 10 clearances, and 555 metres gained, as he reaped the benefits of O’Brien’s aerial dominance. He also managed to send the ball inside 50 six times while rebounding it from defensive 50 four times, as he provided a strong presence all over the ground.

While Rory Atkins led the game for metres gained, and Rory Sloane kicked two goals from 28 touches, it was Rory Laird who received the final vote in Adelaide’s big win. The two-time All-Australian was again outstanding, in a year in which he probably hasn’t been as dominant as he has been in seasons previous, in large part due to the return of Brodie Smith and the presence of Keath and Seedsman as rebounding defenders. Nonetheless, Laird was an important cog on Thursday night, racking up 32 touches, which included eight intercept possessions, eight rebounds, three inside 50’s, eight marks, four tackles and 365 metres gained. Richmond can be a nightmare for running half backs, with their small forward brigade, but Laird was a critical feature in restricting the opposition’s scoring while creating drive himself. While Dustin Martin was excellent in his captaincy debut, the magnitude of defeat meant no Tigers could be considered.

Essendon v Hawthorn

3 Michael Hurley (Essendon)

2 Dylan Clarke (Essendon)

1 Conor McKenna (Essendon)

Michael Hurley is another two-time All-Australian and, with the absence of Alex Rance so far this year, would have to be close to another berth in the side. Against the Hawks on Friday night he was simply superb, with his 26 touches including five intercepts, an equal game high nine rebounds from defensive 50, 12 marks, and 383 metres gained, all while going at 81% disposal efficiency.

Hurley is close to as good a defensive marshall as there is in the AFL. He truly leads the Essendon backline, which deserves a lot of credit for being the stingiest in the competition since Round 4, just ahead of the ladder leading Cats. With Hawthorn winning the inside 50 count 55-50, and yet only scoring 11 goals, Hurley was a clear best on ground in a team wide excellent display of defence.

There wouldn’t be too many players who poll five Mongrel votes across their first three games. Part of this is a factor of this award having existed for a grand total of 13 weeks, but nevertheless it was another excellent display from young gun Dylan Clarke, who was apparently close to being dropped in the lead up to this game, despite laying the clamps on Carlton superstar Patrick Cripps in his last start. It’s conceivable that Essendon would have lost this game without Clarke though, who could well be the second best tagger playing regular football at the moment, behind de Boer. Playing on Jaeger O’Meara, he kept the former Sun to just 14 touches to three quarter time, and though he finished the night with 24, he went at a well below par 54% disposal efficiency. The Bomber, on the other hand, had 23 touches at 83%, with five clearances, as he made himself close to indispensable to John Worsfold’s plans.

It was essentially a toss-up for the final vote between Adam Saad and McKenna, and though plenty of Hawks were also handy, they were flattered by the final scoreline and didn’t get the plaudits here. Ultimately, the Irishman gets the vote, as he combined attack and defence outstandingly. 10 of his 25 possessions came from intercepts, while he also went at 80% efficiency. He had an equal game high nine rebounds, while sending the ball inside 50 twice and gaining a game high 622 metres gained. Just as much as Hurley deserves credit for the defence’s showing on Friday night, so too do McKenna and Saad, and Bombers fans would love seeing the ball in their hands.

Gold Coast v St Kilda

3 Jack Billings (St Kilda)

2 Anthony Miles (Gold Coast)

1 Tim Membrey (St Kilda)

It’s been a career best year for Jack Billings and, though he has gone missing at times, he was critical in the Saints’ second narrow victory over the Suns for the season, and their third consecutive win against this opposition by less than a goal. After a poor two weeks by his increasingly loftier standards, Billings hit back and was clearly the difference in a game that St Kilda simply had to win to have any chance of September action. He was everywhere in Townsville on Saturday, racking up 33 touches, with six intercepts, six score involvements including two important goals, five inside 50’s and 3 rebounds alongside a team high 493 metres gained. More impressive than all of that, though, were his career-high 11 tackles, as he worked hard across the ground.

In a game which provided a genuine opportunity for an elusive fourth 2019 win for the Suns, Anthony Miles gets the nod as their best player, just ahead of skipper David Swallow and Lachie Weller. The former Tiger and reigning VFL player of the year was hugely influential through midfield for the inexperienced Gold Coast outfit, and had them remarkably close to winning. He had 27 touches at 70% efficiency, with a late goal to get his side within a kick in amongst five score involvements, seven marks, 498 metres gained and six tackles as he did just about everything he could to get his side over the line.

The Saints, in the end, managed to use their bigger bodies to their advantage, with Tim Membrey dominating the second half as his side ran over the top of their more inexperienced opposition. After having just six touches and no score to half time, Membrey’s third quarter was enormously influential in the context of the game, with six touches and two goals as his side reeled in a 31 point deficit. He ultimately ended up kicking the goal that put the Saints in the lead in the last quarter, with a goal assist, 10 score involvements and 10 marks capping off what was in the end a fairly good day for the key forward.

Fremantle v Port Adelaide

3 Michael Walters (Fremantle)

2 Nathan Fyfe (Fremantle)

1 Travis Boak (Port Adelaide)

Garry Lyon suggested Michael Walters is the most in-form player in the game right now and, after Saturday evening, that’s a hard statement to argue with. Fremantle’s reigning leading goal kicker leads them again in that metric this season, but may have gone past his captain in his ability to have a massive influence over games across the ground. After kicking the match winning score in each of the Dockers’ last two games, he was the game winner again in their 21 point win over Port, with an equal career-high six goals from 25 touches, while he also had an equal game high 11 score involvements, a team high 534 metres gained, five clearances, five inside 50’s and four tackles in one of the most influential performances of the season.

He may not have kicked the winning score this week, but in a tense final quarter he stood up, nailing two goals, proving once again that he may well be the coolest man under pressure in the AFL at the moment.

Of course, to suggest that Nathan Fyfe isn’t the best player at Fremantle would be close to sacrilege in some sectors of the West, and in fairness he was more than handy against Port Adelaide as he continued another excellent season. 22 of his 37 possessions came in the contest, while he went at 78%, including 11 score involvements and two direct goal assists, 11 clearances and seven inside 50’s. Though he may have only recorded two tackles, he also had 24 pressure acts, essentially putting to bed the argument that he doesn’t work hard enough defensively as has been raised in some parts of the footballing media this season. It’s entirely possible that Fyfe could add to his 2015 Brownlow Medal this year, such has been his influence for the surprisingly good Purple Haze.

Despite losing the game by a fairly substantive margin, Port led the Dockers at three quarter time, and an enormous facet in that was former skipper Travis Boak, who continued his astonishing year to the point that Scott Pendlebury has backed him in to take home the Brownlow come season’s end. 29 of his 36 touches came before the last break, as he did everything he could to earn his side an important victory, with 15 contested touches, a goal and a goal assist in amongst eight score involvements, and eight clearances. If the Power are to make a return to September action this season, Boak will be a big factor in getting them there.

Carlton v Western Bulldogs

3 Jackson Macrae (Western Bulldogs)

2 Josh Dunkley (Western Bulldogs)

1 Charlie Curnow (Carlton)

Votes in this game could have gone to any one of a truly vast spread of players, but in what was unarguably one of the best games of season 2019 so far, it is these three who get the nod. Despite a career best outing from Dunkley, it is Macrae who got the nod as best on ground, and not just for his offensive work. That aspect of his game was truly excellent though, with 37 touches at 81% including three direct goal assists and 10 score involvements, plus 400 metres gained, four clearances, four inside 50’s, six marks and three rebounds.

Arguably more impressive, however, was his work at the stoppages on Patrick Cripps, who was hugely influential in Carlton’s Round 5 win over the same side. Throughout that game he was opposed to Bontempelli, but Macrae took responsibility this time around and it worked a treat, having eight tackles and restricting the Blues’ skipper to just 22 touches in what was essentially the match winning move. By no means was Cripps poor on the night, with seven clearances, but after his performance last game against Brisbane, this was clearly a step down, and Macrae deserves plenty of credit for that.

As mentioned above, it was a career best outing for Dunkley. He has thrived since being shifted into midfield following a fairly lacklustre start to the year, and against Carlton was crucially important in a win that keeps his side in with a sniff of September action. 17 of his massive 41 disposals came from the contest, while he managed to kick a goal in amongst 10 score involvements as he showed his ability to work forward. He had an equal game high seven clearances as well, managing to send his side inside 50 five times, but again impressive were his 10 tackles, a stat the Dogs won by 15 despite leading the total disposal count by 72. Dunkley’s workrate was a huge contributing factor to that, and he would now have to be close to the Dogs’ first choice midfielder.

It would be massively unfair not to give a vote to a Blue, after their hugely impressive, although not quite good enough, performance on Saturday night. Despite the plethora of Dogs who had more of the ball, n
o player was more exciting to watch than Charlie Curnow in his breakout game, highlighting the impressive stocks of big men Carlton have at their disposal. Curnow kicked 7.1 at Marvel, a career best, from 17 touches, which included seven marks (two contested), and a goal assist. It was truly a joy to watch a young key forward dominate a game to the extent that Curnow did, just as it was to watch Aaron Naughton do so earlier this season, and it did play no small part in what was a great spectacle of a game.

North Melbourne v GWS

3 Matt de Boer (GWS)

2 Josh Kelly (GWS)

1 Phil Davis (GWS)

There was an outcry last week on the Mongrel’s Facebook page that Ben Cunnington wasn’t featured in our rolling All Australian side. Whether or not that was fair isn’t what’s up for debate here though, as it becomes more and more obvious that Matt de Boer was the biggest omission from that side. It’s hard to think of a game in which he has been beaten this season, and while this column has already discussed his scalps thus far in 2019, he can add the North Melbourne contested bull to the list. It was comfortably Cunnington’s worst game for the year, with just 16 touches at 62%, and though he did have 12 contested and six clearances, it was nowhere near the impact we’ve come to expect from the 200 gamer. Though the former Docker had just 11 touches himself, he sat out the final quarter, wherein his opponent had six touches, in what was clearly the most important performance of the afternoon in Hobart.

In a team full of some of the classiest ball users in the game, there are few players Leon Cameron would want the ball in the hands of more than the recently re-signed Josh Kelly. Even though he has missed three games this year, his importance to the now-second place Giants should not be diminished, and on Sunday he was hugely influential when the game was there to be won. He let others, like Hopper and Coniglio, win the contested ball, with 26 of his 35 touches coming on the outside, while he kicked a goal and had two goal assists from seven score involvements, had six clearances, seven tackles, four inside 50’s and four rebounds, gaining 552 metres with his disposals, playing a masterful display in what was a gritty and important away win for his side.

Of all the key defenders in all the land (well, in the AFL anyway), there are few more underrated than Phil Davis. Yes, some will point to Robbie Tarrant, and that’s probably a fair assessment, while others may rightly laud Jordan Roughead’s season. My brother would probably say Liam Jones but I think that says more about him than anything. The GWS co-captain, though, is a truly excellent defender, and showed that again on Sunday evening against one of the premier key forwards in the competition in Ben Brown. The knock on Brown is that he is a bit of a one trick pony, and while that is probably a fair assessment, he is very good at that trick. On Sunday, Brown took three marks inside 50, as he was forced further up the ground to win the ball, and while he kicked two goals, and could potentially have had more, Davis was key in keeping the Roos to just 10 goals, despite winning the inside 50 count. The co-captain also led his side for intercepts (10), with a massive 17 one percenters and seven marks rounding out a truly great day for the former Crow.

Leaderboard (Players with the bye in Round 13 have an *)

1. Travis Boak (15)

1. Tim Kelly (15*)

3. Lachie Neale (11*)

4. Brad Crouch (10)

4. Nathan Fyfe (10)

6. Patrick Dangerfield (9*)

7. Stephen Coniglio (8)

7. Patrick Cripps (8)

7. Matt de Boer (8)

7. Max Gawn (8*)

7. Brad Hill (8)

7. Alex Keath (8)

7. Zach Merrett (8)

7. Scott Pendlebury (8*)

7. Tim Taranto (8)

This top 10 keeps getting more and more unwieldy, to the point where it is now a top 15, and it would serve well to look at it in halves. At the top, with Tim Kelly and Lachie Neale enjoying the bye, Travis Boak had the chance to make his move. Though he was outstanding against the Dockers, their loss restricted him to just one vote, meaning he shares the lead with Kelly. Port and Geelong meet at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday night in what could well be one of the deciding matches for this award.

After having the bye last weekend, Fyfe polls two votes for the second consecutive game to jump into the top four, while Brad Crouch has received two votes in each of Adelaide’s three consecutive wins to have him in the top four as well.

In the bottom half of the leaderboard, just one player received votes, with Matt de Boer’s best on ground performance seeing him join star teammates Taranto and Coniglio in the top 10. Jack Billings and Michael Walters are the other big movers, with their respective best on ground performances seeing them just one rung below those mentioned here.

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