Mongrel of the Year 2019 – Round 14

It’s the last of the bye rounds, three weeks from hell for footy fans, and now we’re into the home stretch, with just two wins separating third from ninth. Before we move on to Round 15 though, time to look at the Mongrel votes for this weekend’s matches. It was a fairly wide spread of votes in Round 14: we saw three ruckmen in dominant form, winning games for their side; we saw small forwards and half back flankers play their role magnificently; and of course we saw a few midfielders have days out as well.

As with every week, Mongrel contributors have given votes on the games they have written reports about to players on a 3-2-1 basis, based predominantly on influence more than anything. Here are this week’s votes:

West Coast v Essendon

3 Brad Sheppard (West Coast)

2 Dom Sheed (West Coast)

1 Mark Hutchings (West Coast)

In an Eagles’ backline that dominated throughout all of last year, conceding the third fewest points of any finalist, before then conceding just 199 points in three finals, it’s easy to forget the role of Brad Sheppard, who almost exists permanently in the admittedly broad shadows of Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn. He is, however, as of this week the Eagles’ leading vote getter in this award, coming largely on the back of his work with ball in hand. Against Essendon on Thursday, his best on ground performance was primarily notable for his outstanding defensive work on arguably the Bombers’ most dangerous player, Orazio Fantasia.

After a torrid week for the Don, he was completely shut down by Sheppard, with just one touch to half time, before finishing the night with just six and with one score involvement. The Bombers clearly needed production from Fantasia and they didn’t get it, with his Eagle opponent also racking up 19 touches at 95%, with five score involvements, seven intercepts and three contested marks to be the most influential player on the ground.

Sheppard didn’t play in the Grand Final last year, and so you could say he’s been the driving hunger behind the Eagles’ so far steady premiership defence, but if any flag winner has been determined to prove it was no fluke, then it’s Dom Sheed. After nailing the game winning shot last season, Sheed has taken his game to another level this year, and though he has been in and out of form, against Essendon he looked back to his absolute best. His 36 touches at 81% effectiveness and 14 contested possessions were both game highs, while he also booted two goals, had nine score involvements, alongside six clearances and six inside 50’s to be the game’s dominant midfielder.

We’ve had a defender and a midfielder in these votes so far, and so it seems only fitting that a forward gets the nod for the final vote. Though Mark Hutchings is not a permanent forward, and though he didn’t win a mountain of the ball, it was his work without footy in hand that was most important. Opposed to Essendon’s most creative backman, in Adam Saad, Hutchings made sure there would be no drive provided from the Bombers’ defence. The former Sun ended the match with just 12 touches, his equal lowest tally for the season, while he was also well down on his 303 average metres gained, providing just 186. Though the Eagle managed just two behinds as a personal scoreboard return, he also had five score involvements from his ten touches, proving the most important forward on the park in a good win for his side.

Sydney v Hawthorn

3 Jordan Dawson (Sydney)

2 Zak Jones (Sydney)

1 Luke Parker (Sydney)

Though a number of other Swans had more of the ball than Jordan Dawson, the impressive youngster provided what has probably been so far his most impressive performance out of his 17 in red and white. Having been provided an extended run in the side this season, missing only the Round 2 loss to Adelaide, Dawson has begun to show his quality week after week, and after an impressive showing last start against the Eagles, he was best on ground this week against the Hawks. In fact it was an impressive performance across the board for the young Swan, with his 22 touches coming at 82%, and including 11 marks, six score involvements (including a direct goal assist), eight intercepts, four inside 50’s and 349 metres gained. Throw in three tackles for the night and it is clear that his class on the outside was a big reason why Sydney got the win over their arch rivals.

After not playing since the Round Nine victory over North, Zak Jones’ return to the Sydney outfit was hugely important, as his grunt work allowed his fellow midfielders, and in particular Luke Parker, to have an influence further around the ground. Though he can, at times, give off an air of false machismo, Jones was excellent against the Hawks, and only Parker, Josh Kennedy and George Hewett, all players renowned for their hard ball winning abilities, had more contested possessions than his 11 for the game. He had 27 touches for the night, with two direct goal assists in amongst his six score involvements, as well as five inside 50’s and 364 metres gained. Perhaps most impressive, though, were his six tackles, with three coming inside forward 50, as his best work was done forward of centre.

It’s frankly easy to forget that Luke Parker finished second to Patrick Dangerfield in the 2016 Brownlow. Parker was a big factor in getting the Swans to a Grand Final that year, but probably hasn’t reached those heights since then. Admittedly, John Longmire has shown a willingness to use one of his co-captains forward of the ball, but with push coming to shove, the two-time best and fairest has been thrown back into the middle of the ground, and it has done wonders for the Swans. He was a vital cog in their victory on the night, with his 31 touches, 12 contested possessions and 12 tackles all game highs. He also managed six score involvements, three tackles inside 50 and seven clearances, proving crucial in the clinches to get his side over the line.

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Melbourne v Fremantle

3 Max Gawn (Melbourne)

2 Tom McDonald (Melbourne)

1 Clayton Oliver (Melbourne)

In what almost constituted a shock victory, the Demons managed to net their fourth win of 2019 over the streaking Dockers, and an enormous factor in that was Max Gawn. Though a number of Melbourne players have been down on their 2018 form, Gawn has at the very least broken even on his All Australian season, and could easily repeat the dose this year in tandem with Brodie Grundy. On Saturday he received votes for the third game in a row and fourth game out of five, taking him into the top five on the leaderboard.

The ruck duel was an important one, and though he was crucial in their win over Port Adelaide, Sean Darcy was simply helpless against the bearded might of Gawn, with the Demons winning the clearances 46-36. Around the ground the big Demon dominated too, with 20 touches, seven clearances, eight marks including two contested, three tackles, a goal and four inside 50’s in a truly massive performance.

There’s arguably no player who’s been more down on 2018 form than Tom McDonald, not just at Melbourne but across the AFL. It would have been a welcome return then, for Melbourne fans, with McDonald working up and down the ground to be the game’s most dominant forward. His 28 touches were an equal team high, while he also managed 14 contested possessions, seven marks, five inside 50’s and 359 metres gained, as he demonstrated his much vaunted workrate to outrun an Alex Pearce-less Docker backline. Most important, though, was his scoreboard return, booting 3.2 including the final two goals of the game to put Melbourne eight and fourteen points up, respectively.

Jack Viney was enormously impressive on Saturday, while Fyfe and Brad Hill battled hard in defeat. However, the final vote in this one goes to the man who best reaped the rewards of Max Gawn’s aerial dominance, Clayton Oliver, who finished the day with a game high 11 clearances. 16 of his total 28 disposals were contested, and his 16 kicks were one off a career high, demonstrating how damaging he can be when he isn’t always looking to handball. He also sent the Demons inside 50 six times, laid six tackles, kicked a goal among seven score involvements and gained 412 metres to be the most influential midfielder on the ground.

St Kilda v Brisbane

3 Daniel Rich (Brisbane)

2 Charlie Cameron (Brisbane)

1 Stefan Martin (Brisbane)

In a game in which St Kilda barely managed to go with the Lions for a half, who look September-bound for the first time since they recruited Brendan Fevola, it was a few of Brisbane’s lesser lights who stood up and made sure of an important road win. Chief among them was 2009 Rising Star winner Daniel Rich, who looks set for a career best season, and possibly a first All Australian nod. His 24 touches weren’t the most for his side, but his 88% disposal efficiency was outstanding, and only Dayne Zorko had more than his 503 metres gained for either side. He led the game with seven intercept possessions and 11 marks, along with a team high seven rebounds, and also managed to send his side inside forward 50 four times and kick the game’s first goal, in a game in which he demonstrated his ability to work up and down the ground, highlighting his importance to the young Lions side.

In quarters 1, 2 and 4 Charlie Cameron had a grand total of four disposals. It may well then be asked how he was even considered for votes given his lack of statistical output, but the fact that he managed nine touches in the third, in a quarter in which Brisbane piled on nine goals to put the result beyond doubt, speaks volumes. He also managed three goals from his three touches in the first quarter, adding his fourth and fifth in the first five minutes of the third quarter, as he highlighted once again that small forwards don’t need to win a mountain of the ball to have an enormous impact on the game. His 5.1 came among eight score involvements, while he also sent his side inside 50 three times, as he furthered his case for an All Australian jumper as a small forward.

If any ruckman were to benefit from the rule changes regarding the ruck over the off season, I thought it would have been Stefan Martin, who over the last few seasons had positioned himself as arguably the game’s third best ruck. However, his 2019 so far has been a relative disappointment, with his average disposals down three, average hitouts down eight, and average clearances down one. On Saturday evening he managed to look near to his best though, winning an enthralling ruck battle against the ever improving Rowan Marshall. Though Marshall had 37 hitouts, the Lions pair of Martin and Oscar McInerney managed to marginally edge that stat, with Brisbane also winning the clearances 43-39. Around the ground, however, Martin did the most damage, with 22 touches including eight score involvements, eight marks, four clearances, seven inside 50’s and 319 metres gained in an impressive display.

Port Adelaide v Geelong

3 Scott Lycett (Port Adelaide)

2 Tom Clurey (Port Adelaide)

1 Dan Houston (Port Adelaide)

In a game which could only really be described as a scrap, Port Adelaide managed to perpetuate Geelong’s post bye hoodoo, winning the encounter by 11 points. The key architect of what was an important win for the Power was premiership Eagle Scott Lycett, who simply dominated against Rhys Stanley, even in the absence of Paddy Ryder who was dropped for this game. It wasn’t just in the ruck battles where Lycett won this game, though it certainly helped that Port won the  hitouts 49-34 and the clearances 52-36. Around the ground, Stanley managed to win just seven disposals, his lowest tally of the season, while Lycett tallied 24 touches, including a game high 18 contested, six intercepts, two goal assists in amongst five score involvements, five marks, nine clearances, eight inside 50’s, 450 metres gained and three tackles. It was maybe as good a ruck performance as we had seen so far this season (notice the past tense), and Lycett was a huge factor in handing Geelong just their second loss of the season.

Tom Hawkins had, up until Saturday night, gone from strength to strength this season, kicking 20 goals in his past five games to sit second behind Jeremy Cameron in the Coleman Medal race. Saturday night did him no favours in attempting to play catch up, however, as though Cameron had the bye, Hawkins was held goalless for the first time this season by hugely underrated Port key defender Tom Clurey. It was as bad a performance as the
Geelong forward line have turned in this season, and Hawkins’ impotence was a big factor in that, managing just five touches for the game. Clurey managed six intercepts from his 10 touches, while he also dragged in seven marks, in a truly impressive defensive display.

Even though equal Mongrel leader Travis Boak had another quality outing, and Robbie Gray showed his talent, the final vote here goes to Dan Houston, whose transition into a defensive midfielder was one of the key factors in Port’s win. Tim Kelly has had very few poor games this season for the Cats, but Houston completely shut him out of the game, ensuring Geelong received none of his midfield drive, whilst also creating for his own side. Kelly managed just 17 touches for the game, while Houston racked up 26 of his own, including 11 contested possessions, five clearances, six tackles, six inside 50’s and three rebounds to be one of the most influential players on the ground.

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Western Bulldogs v Collingwood

3 Brodie Grundy (Collingwood)

2 Jackson Macrae (Western Bulldogs)

1 Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)

Scott Lycett had played one of the best games from a ruckman this season on the night before this game, but Brodie Grundy blew him, and everyone else, out of the water, with one of the most influential individual performances of the season so far. After being soundly beaten last start by Max Gawn, in the latest iteration of footy’s current most compelling one on one matchup, Grundy  took his game to another level against the Dogs, a side he took to the cleaners earlier in the season. Though Tim English was admittedly better this time around, Grundy still was the most influential player on the ground, with the Magpies winning the clearances 40-31. Around the ground the reigning Copeland Trophy winner was indomitable, with 25 touches including 12 contested, two goals including the sealer from outside 50, six clearances, five inside 50’s, four tackles, and eight marks, including three contested, as he willed his side to an important, if ugly, win.

Jackson Macrae gets votes for the second week in a row, in spite of his side’s ultimately narrow defeat. While no player on the ground had more than his 41 touches, it wasn’t just his offensive work for which he deserves credit. Admittedly he did do that exceedingly well, though, with three direct goal assists in amongst his six score involvements, alongside three clearances, eight marks, and eight inside 50’s. At the stoppages, he continued to grow into arguably the Dogs’ most proficient negater, ensuring that Scott Pendlebury didn’t get first use of the ball while also adding 13 tackles. It is a rare luxury for Collingwood that they can have a player of the quality of their captain having just 20 touches and still win the midfield battle, but Macrae deserves a lot of credit for his work both offensively and defensively.

Though Adam Treloar continued his fantastic season, and Steele Sidebottom was back near his creative best, the final vote in this one goes to Marcus Bontempelli, who somehow continues to improve his game year after year. Though he polled two votes against the Magpies in their last outing in Round 4, it is arguable that this was the Bont’s most dominant performance of the season, racking up 30 touches, including 16 contested, with an equal game high 10 score involvements, two inside 50’s, six rebounds, and a team high nine clearances. Equally impressive were his seven tackles, with a massive five coming inside 50 as the Bulldogs piled on as much forward pressure as they could to stay in touch with Collingwood.

 

Leaderboard (Players with the bye in Round 14 have an *)

=1. Travis Boak (15)

=1. Tim Kelly (15)

=3. Max Gawn (11)

=3. Lachie Neale (11)

=5. Brad Crouch (10*)

=5. Nathan Fyfe (10)

=5. Brodie Grundy (10)

=5. Brad Sheppard (10)

9. Patrick Dangerfield (9)

=10. Marcus Bontempelli, Stephen Coniglio*, Patrick Cripps*, Matt de Boer*, Brad Hill, Alex Keath*, Zach Merrett, Scott Pendlebury, Tim Taranto* (all on 8 votes)

No movement at the very top of the leaderboard, as Tim Kelly was tagged out of a game in which Travis Boak was again excellent, although not quite worthy of votes. However, a number of players have jumped into the top five. Max Gawn’s second consecutive best on ground performance sees him jump to level with Lachie Neale on 11 votes, while Brodie Grundy’s ruck dominance sees him just one vote back of his main rival.

Interestingly Brad Sheppard is also into the top five, and though those on the Eastern Seaboard may not know him as well as those in Perth, he is genuinely worthy of his spot. The only mover into the mess of players on eight votes is Marcus Bontempelli, who polls votes for the second time this year against the Magpies.