With just one month left in the regular season, things are certainly starting to become clearer, as the wheat is separated further and further from the chaff. Some things still remain unknowable though. Who will finish eighth, in one of the tightest, most open races for a finals spot we’ve seen in year? Who will make the top four, and who will just miss out? And finally, and arguably most importantly, who will win the prestigious Mongrel of the Year award.

This year we at the Mongrel Punt have devised our own award to reward the players we like to see in the game. It isn’t just the midfielders we like to see recognised. Ruckmen feature prominently this week, as do more than a few key backs, the game’s most accountable mid, and some key forwards as well. Votes are given by those of us who write the reports on any given game, and are decided on individual criteria that are generally more predicated on influence than pure statistical output. Here are the Mongrel Votes from 2019’s fifth last home and away round:

COLLINGWOOD V RICHMOND

 

3 Dustin Martin (Richmond)

2 Dylan Grimes (Richmond)

1 Tom Lynch (Richmond)

Two players have really summed up Richmond’s recent resurgence, and each of them features in these votes. The first, in Martin, had a horror start to the year by his own lofty standards. After three rounds he was averaging just 21 touches and two tackles a game, with no goals and a one week suspension for belting Matt de Boer behind play.

Since the Round 9 win over Hawthorn though, he’s been back near his 2017 best, averaging 30 touches and a goal a game. Friday night’s win over Collingwood was arguably his best game for the season, with his 38 touches a team high, as were his eight inside 50’s. Dion Prestia was the only Tiger to have more than his 14 contested possessions, Tom Lynch the only one to have more than his 11 score involvements, and in the wet he gained a game high 663 metres, as time and again he managed to get the ball forward, contributing heavily to Richmond’s scoring and their third win against a top eight rival for 2019.

Without Alex Rance in the side this season, Dylan Grimes and to a lesser extent David Astbury have come more to the fore, gaining recognition from a much greater sect of the AFL media than before. Both were essentially impassable on Friday night, in conditions that would have seemed to suit Collingwood’s by-necessity smaller forward line. The Magpies took just eight marks inside 50 from 49 entries, and Grimes was a key contributor to that, with 14 touches at 86%. Between he and Astbury they had 21 one percenters and 17 intercept possessions, with a game high three of eight marks contested for the former. They also managed to keep Cox and Mihocek, each of whom has been best on ground once in the Pies’ last two wins over the Tigers, to 23 touches, eight marks and 2.1 between them. That compares pretty unfavourably to the tall timber at the other end of the ground.

Key forwards can fade in and out of seasons. Jeremy Cameron looked like cracking the ton at one stage before going off the boil a little over the middle of the year, Tom Hawkins was being pencilled in for four goals a game before the ball was even bounced before the bye, and even Kennedy and Darling have had down patches over various parts of the year. We maybe, then, shouldn’t have expected Tom Lynch to completely dominate the entirety of a season. Since the bye, though, he’s been phenomenal, with 17 goals in five games. Five of those came on Friday night, in conditions that didn’t really suit key forwards, but it wasn’t just the scoreboard return. Of his 16 touches, a game high 13 of them resulted in scores, as he managed to not just score himself, but bring teammates into the play as well, in what would have to be the most encouraging sign for Damien Hardwick yet.

HAWTHORN V BRISBANE

 

3 Mitch Robinson (Brisbane)

2 Ben McEvoy (Hawthorn)

1 Lachie Neale (Brisbane)

I reckon Mitch Robinson’s day against the Hawks, and even his career as a Lion, might best have been summed up by a passage of play wherein he conceded a 50 metre penalty then managed to win a reversal by goading the young Mitch Lewis to bump him unnecessarily. You always take the good with the bad with Robbo, especially this year, with his big body making a huge difference for the Lions.

Saturday might not have been his most prolific game ever, but it was certainly an important one, as Brisbane’s confidence heading into September seems to ever be increasing. Only Lachie Neale had more touches for the Lions than Robinson’s 28, while only Daniel Rich had more than his 9 intercepts. His 554 metres gained were the third most of any player, and while it wasn’t always pretty, it was certainly effective, as he continually kicked the ball long forward for Brisbane’s speedy forward line to run onto. He had seven score involvements and four clearances, and if he plays like this for the rest of the year, he’ll have a big say in September.

Ben McEvoy has well and truly catapulted his name into contention for the AFL’s third best ruckman over the last fortnight. After monitoring Rhys Stanley last week to the point that the Cat was dropped for this round, he dominated against Oscar McInerney and Stefan Martin, and looked at many stages like he was what was keeping Hawthorn in the game. It may surprise some, but he has as many Mongrel Votes this year as Grundy, and just one fewer than Gawn, after receiving two on Saturday. In tandem with Jon Ceglar, who played mostly forward, McEvoy won the hitouts 45-26, which translated to a 42-33 clearance ascendancy. He won seven clearances of his own, just one fewer than Jaeger O’Meara, who had the most of the game, as well as two contested marks out of three total, seven score involvements, and six tackles. It’s hard to believe he’s only 30, given he looks 40 and feels like he’s been around forever, but with a few more years to go in a more than handy career, the Hawks’ midfield will be enjoying silver service for a while yet.

Lachie Neale hadn’t polled votes before Saturday since Round 15, after having copped a heavy tag over the previous fortnight and narrowly missing out on votes against GWS. Encouragingly for Chris Fagan, Jarryd Lyons had really stepped into the void, having consecutive best on ground performances to ensure the Lions remained on the winner’s list. When it came time for the former Docker to step up, though, that’s exactly what he did, with a team high 33 touches, a game high 17 contested possession, an important last quarter goal, seven clearances, seven score involvements and six intercepts. While it would have been a tantalising prospect to see him in a midfield with Dayne Beams and Dayne Zorko, his impact on his side and the whole competition this year has been phenomenal, and with the Brownlow Medal race seemingly wide open, a big last month could see him take Charlie home in what would be a fairytale finish.

CARLTON V ADELAIDE

 

3 Patrick Cripps (Carlton)

2 Sam Walsh (Carlton)

1 Will Setterfield (Carlton)

With the amount of players stepping up at Carlton, there was always going to be a decreased reliance on their superstar captain, and while David Teague owed his debut coaching win to Cripps, who almost single handedly dragged his side over the line against Brisbane, he had been less prolific since then. He missed two games immediately following the bye, but averaged just 23 disposals in the three games he had managed, with some parts of the media starting to cool on his Brownlow hopes. All that negativity was quashed with his remarkable performance on Saturday.

Opposed to a Crows midfield which was, if nothing else, big bodied, Cripps had a career high 39 disposals, game highs in contested possessions (24), score involvements (eight) and inside 50’s (eight), and a team high seven tackles. As if that kind of dominance, including a nice goal on his left in the first quarter, somehow wasn’t enough, his 19 clearances were the equal second most on record. Ever. The difference with Carlton under Teague is clearly that there is less reliance on their skipper, but when he has a game like that, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have him in the side.

With their captain obviously locking up the three votes and, were it possible, having all six votes all to himself, the next two sets of votes were hard to narrow down. Liam Jones was excellent on Josh Jenkins, keeping him to two effective touches and one goal, Levi Casboult and Andrew Phillips beat Reilly O’Brien handily in the ruck, and Kade Simpson and Dale Thomas were both excellent rebounding from defence. Ultimately though, Carlton’s improvement has come from their youngsters, and so Sam Walsh gets votes for the second week in a row. His 30 touches were the third time this year he’s reached that mark, while his 16 contested possessions were the most of any player not named Cripps, as were his seven clearances, as he strongly demonstrated his class once again, and put the debate, if there even was one, over who the Rising Star winner will be to bed.

While I’m absolutely convinced that if Ben King didn’t get the Round 19 Rising Star nomination it would have been one of the greatest cases of daylight robbery the game has ever seen, if Will Setterfield were to have received it you couldn’t argue he didn’t earn it. With so many of Carlton’s experienced stars standing up for the whole game, he and Michael Gibbons quietly but assuredly had career best outings. The former Giant’s 24 touches were an equal season high, but more importantly it was the poise with which he went about carrying the ball which was a feature. Only Kade Simpson had more than his 553 metres gained, and only Patrick Cripps delivered the ball inside 50 more than his seven. His six score involvements were the third most of any Blue, including a snapped goal from the pocket which sealed Carlton’s sixth win of the year, and their fifth in the last seven weeks.

WEST COAST V NORTH MELBOURNE

 

3 Elliot Yeo (West Coast)

2 Josh Kennedy (West Coast)

1 Tom Barrass (West Coast)

If it wasn’t quite a statement win for the Eagles on Saturday evening, it was a reminder of just how good a team they are when their stars are all on the park. With everyone in the media apparently ready to declare Richmond premiers in July, West Coast continue to build momentum heading into September, and a top two berth looks pretty likely at this stage.

Elliot Yeo might not have been the truly dominant two way force he has been in some games this season, but his influence on this contest should not be understated, and his accountability allows the likes of Gaff, Shuey and Sheed to create forward of centre. His 26 disposals included outright or equal game highs in contested possessions (14), tackles (seven), score involvements (10), and clearances (10). So much for not being completely rampant. Add in an equal team high five inside 50’s and a goal for the two time best and fairest and it’s not difficult to see why he has speedily become Adam Simpson’s most important midfielder.

Josh Kennedy wouldn’t have had many patches in recent times where he has been unable to hit the scoreboard as much as he has over the last three weeks, with just two goals in that timespan. In part he has been shielded from criticism by both Jack Darling, who was best on ground last week, and by his long record of excellent goalkicking. Having been handed one of footy’s most exacting tests for a key forward, opposed to Robbie Tarrant, the two time Coleman Medalist had an absolute field day. All seven of his goals came before three quarter time, while the game was there to be won, and five of his eight marks were contested, with a total of six coming inside 50. Nine of his 11 total disposals for the day resulted in scores in what represented an excellent return to form for the big man, booting his 600th career goal to open the second half.

The fact that Tom Barrass is only the third or fourth best defender in the Eagles’ lineup is pretty much mindboggling, given there aren’t too many backlines in the competition in which he wouldn’t be the key man. With McGovern, Hurn and Sheppard back there, he flies under the radar a little, but his contest killing ability is crucial to the Eagles’ defensive set up. While he may have had just the 10 touches, four of them resulted in rebounds from defence, while three of his five marks for the evening were contested. The most impressive stat, though, were his 17 one percenters, as he killed off forward entry after forward entry, and restricted current Coleman runner up Ben Brown to just three marks and two goals.

ST KILDA V MELBOURNE

 

3 Christian Petracca (Melbourne)

2 Josh Bruce (St Kilda)

1 Nick Hind (St Kilda)

In a game which was largely characterised by mistakes, partially as a result of pressure but mostly because of poor skill levels, it was the forwards who took their chances who most stood out in this game. While Christian Petracca has been at times symptomatic of the Demons’ dropoff this season, he has actually managed to hit the scoreboard more this year, as Simon Goodwin deploys him forward of centre more and more frequently. On Saturday night he was the Demons’ best, proving a handful for St Kilda’s backline. His first five minutes included a goal and a goal assist, and he added two more goals in the second quarter to keep Melbourne in with a sniff of victory. Nine of his 20 touches were contested, as he demonstrated his skill and reminded the competition of just how good he could be if he reaches his potential.

Though Josh Bruce’s form this season could be described as patchy, the Saints are certainly a better side with him in it. Last year he managed to play just the first three games, but he’s played every game this year for 32 goals in what has been an impressive comeback. Since Round 14 he has kicked 19 goals, with another four coming on Saturday night against the Demons to earn the Saints back to back wins for the first time since Round 5, also against Melbourne. He took five marks against a backline clearly missing the big body of Steven May, with four coming inside 50, and kicked a goal in each quarter to go with seven score involvements, and two tackles. It might not have been the former Giant’s most dominant game, but he was certainly hugely influential in getting his side over the line.

Nick Hind might not have been a dominant force either on Saturday, but Champion Data don’t provide statistics for class and pace, and that’s what Hind has in spades. His 14 touches resulted in 333 metres gained, a pretty good conversion, while he also had five score involvements and five contested possessions. More important than any of that, though, was his last quarter goal, which put the margin out beyond two goals and ultimately sealed a good win for the Saints. The more game time Hind gets this year, in a season which looks most probably to be one that doesn’t contain September action, is all the better for the future at Moorabbin.

PORT ADELAIDE V GWS

 

3 Nick Haynes (GWS)

2 Travis Boak (Port Adelaide)

1 Phil Davis (GWS)

In an affair which could best be described as scrappy but compelling, and worst be described as unwatchably shithouse, it was a Mongrel favourite who earned the chocolates as best on ground in what was an important win for the Giants, backing up their demolition of Collingwood last weekend. On a sidenote, have you noticed that all our Mongrel favourites are backmen? That’s no coincidence, as they simply do what needs to be done without frill. If there’s one word that describes Haynes, and this is meant with all the respect he has earned, it isn’t ‘frill’, though it probably is ‘unheralded’, or at the very least ‘underheralded’. Six of his 21 disposals came from intercepts, to go with four one percenters, three rebounds, and 10 marks, as he and the rest of the Giants’ backline kept Port to just seven goals, despite the home side winning the inside 50 count 53-45. In a season where seemingly every backman in the league is in All Australian contention, Haynes deserves to be in the running as much as any of them.

Travis Boak is paying $21 for the Brownlow with some betting agencies. I know we at the Mongrel don’t endorse gambling, but those odds are truly stunning. The former Power skipper’s season to date has been outstanding, registering fewer than 30 touches on just four occasions, and he set a new season-high watermark on Saturday night against the Giants. He reached 40 touches for just the second time in his career, and the first time since 2014. If there are questions over how damaging he can be with ball in hand then that’s understandable but he’s been influential enough to now lead the Mongrel of the Year Award outright for the first time since Round 9. He had equal game highs on Saturday in score involvements (seven), clearances (seven) and inside 50’s (six), as well as a team high 12 contested possessions, enough for Brownlow votes in anyone’s book, despite the loss.

Phil Davis doesn’t get quite nearly the wrap he deserves from the media either. Having captained the Giants since their AFL debut, in tandem with Callan Ward, Davis has been instrumental in ensuring the club has risen up the ladder, unlike their northern cousins. While their midfield and forward line get most of the attention, Davis just keeps on keeping on down back, with another excellent day out against the Power to get his side over the line. His 13 marks and eight intercepts were both game highs, as the home side managed just seven marks inside forward 50 despite their relatively high volume of entries. Ultimately his defensive abilities proved critical in the Giants’ tight win, and thus he gets the final vote.

WESTERN BULLDOGS V FREMANTLE

 

3 Jackson Macrae (Western Bulldogs)

2 Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)

1 Aaron Naughton (Western Bulldogs)

If you were to nominate the Bulldogs’ three most important players, I reckon you’d get these three as an answer from nine out of 10 judges, if not more, and rightly so. Bontempelli and Macrae are the two leading Dogs in this award, with Naughton tied for third with Josh Dunkley, and on Sunday afternoon against a Fremantle side which looked relatively lifeless, these three were absolutely excellent again.

Macrae’s ball winning abilities are well known, but in recent weeks it has been his ability to be accountable for the opposition’s best midfielder at stoppages. With Fyfe being thrown forward for much of the first quarter by Ross Lyon, Luke Beverage didn’t have to worry about that as much, and so Macrae was allowed to do as he wanted running through the middle. 92% of his game high 38 disposals were considered effective, to go with a game high 18 contested possessions. No player on the ground had more than his 13 score involvements or eight clearances either, with those numbers representing one of the most complete games we’ve seen from a midfielder this season. Add in five tackles and four inside 50’s, and it’s arguable that Macrae has even gone past the Bont in terms of his ability to impact the contest.

That last comment shouldn’t be seen as an attempt to sell Bontempelli short. The future Bulldogs’ captain sits outright third in this award now, just three votes behind Travis Boak in first place, and it isn’t exactly hard to see why. He doesn’t need mountains of the ball to have an enormous impact on games, and so while Fyfe and Daniel had more of the ball than he did, neither of those two damaged their opposition as much as he did. His goal from 50 in the first quarter was an absolute belter, and he was one of three Dogs to register double digit score involvements, with 11. All four of his clearances came from the centre, with an equal team high five tackles and game highs in nine inside 50’s and 603 metres gained demonstrating his class.

This was far from Aaron Naughton’s most damaging game in terms of scoreboard impact. In fact, he managed just the one goal, though that goal was for my money the goal of the year, and I’d recommend watching it if you haven’t yet, with the amount of skill (and luck) required to get the ball through from that spot in the pocket almost incomprehensible. Still, this game was an excellent one for the young Dog, registering 20 disposals for the first time this year and the second time in his career. 10 marks is the second most for his career, behind that unbelievable game against Richmond, with four of those contested, and just two coming inside forward 50, with his ability to work up the ground allowing Bailey Dale and Sam Lloyd to kick four and three goals respectively. He also had two goal assists as part of 13 score involvements, as he showed a different dimension to his game as opposed to simply being the focal point of the attack.

SYDNEY V GEELONG

 

3 Tom Hawkins (Geelong)

2 Josh Kennedy (Sydney)

1 Joel Selwood (Geelong)

If any player has been truly emblematic of Geelong’s woes since the bye, it’s Tom Hawkins. Having kicked 20 goals in the five games leading up to the midseason break, the big man had managed just seven goals in the five games since then. Having looked at one stage like an All Australian lock, the big Cat had gone right off the boil, which was clearly having an impact on the Cats’ forward set up, averaging just 70.4 points since the bye as opposed to 99 before it. That changed on Sunday, when in game 250 the 2012 All Australian dominated against Dane Rampe. His 10 score involvements were a game high, consisting mostly of his 5.2, his biggest return of the year, while his four contested marks and 15 contested possessions out of seven and 17 total were also game highs. It was a welcome return to form for the key forward, who looms as integral to Geelong’s flag chances this year.

It’s a wonder, having played for as long as he has, and having endured the battering his play style demands, that Josh Kennedy is still going strong in his 12th AFL season. While he may not be having quite as much impact as he has had in years gone by, there is clearly still value in having him in the Swans’ midfield at the moment, and with George Hewett looking to take over his mantle one day, the pressure on JPK is much lower than it has been. He kept the Swans in the game on Sunday afternoon, with 28 disposals, a second quarter goal to put his side in the lead, an equal game high seven tackles, six clearances, seven score involvements, 12 contested possessions and six inside 50’s, in what was an all-round impressive display.

When we at the Mongrel did our regular Mongrel mailbag segment recently, there was plenty of discussion around Joel Selwood’s waning ability to influence games in the manner in which he used to. That’s probably fair, given his average of 21 disposals per game is well down on his career record of 25, but on Sunday against Sydney he managed to have a pretty strong influence on the contest with just 24 touches. His goal in the last quarter came at a fairly important time, extending the margin beyond five goals and giving his side some breathing room, and while he may not have dominated the clearances, with three, he had an equal game high nine intercept possessions, as well as 13 contested. His possessions came at 83%, with five tackles a team high, to go with six inside 50’s and seven score involvements.

GOLD COAST V ESSENDON

3 Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast)

2 Shaun McKernan (Essendon)

1 Jake Stringer (Essendon)

In a game in which Essendon were strongly challenged in a game in which they probably didn’t expect to be strongly challenged, it was the Gold Coast’s big men who proved the greatest handful for a Bombers’ side whose weakness, as it currently stands, is very obviously a lack of height. With Tom Bellchambers out with a strained calf, Zac Clarke proved no match for the Suns’ co-captain in Witts, who recorded 60 hitouts for the fourth time in his career, and the second time this season. His dominance of the ruck contest led to a 44-43 ascendancy in the clearances for the Gold Coast, with the big man winning seven off his own, just one off the game high set by Anthony Miles. Add in seven score involvements, the second most of any Sun, and two things become damningly clear:

1.    Jarrod Witts deserves to be in the conversation of the upper echelon of ruckmen in the league

2.    Essendon need Tom Bellchambers back as soon as is possible

Of course, if John Worsfold can’t get Bellchambers back, he could look to clone Shaun McKernan, who is quickly morphing into one of the Bombers’ most important players. It’s unfortunate he doesn’t have one of him he can use in the ruck and one up forward simultaneously. Only Cale Hooker had more than his eight marks for the evening, but no player took more than his six contested marks. 11 of his 15 disposals were contested, and his seven score involvements included most prominently his return of 4.1, as he monstered an inexperienced Suns’ defence and effectively won the game for his side, and not for the first time, either.

In discussion with a workmate on Sunday evening, the question of what Essendon’s plan B is came up. It seems, at this stage, as though John Worsfold’s plan when things go sour is to throw Cale Hooker forward and move Jake Stringer into the midfield. Predictable, maybe, but it worked to a tee on Sunday, with Hooker’s goal putting the Bombers ahead for good in the dying stages, and then Stringer bursting out of the middle to kick an amazing goal. The former Bulldog came alive after half time, having been moved into the centre, with his 15 touches for the game including a team high six clearances and an equal team high eight score involvements. Three of his goals also came in the second half, with 508 metres gained (a game high) and five inside 50’s, demonstrating his capacity forward of centre.

Leaderboard

 

1. Travis Boak (19)

2. Tim Kelly (18)

3. Marcus Bontempelli (16)

4. Lachie Neale (15)

5. Zach Merrett (13)

5. Brad Sheppard (13)

7. Patrick Dangerfield (12)

8. Patrick Cripps (11)

8. Brad Crouch (11)

8. Nathan Fyfe (11)

8. Max Gawn (11)

8. Josh P. Kennedy (11)

8. Jackson Macrae (11)

8. Luke Shuey (11)

8. Elliot Yeo (11)

We have a new leader, with Travis Boak recording votes for the first time since Round 15 for his performance in his side’s loss to the Giants. He leapfrogs Tim Kelly, the only member of the top four not to poll votes this weekend, after a solid but not spectacular game against Sydney.

Bontempelli is another of the big movers, polling his ninth vote since the bye to jump into outright third spot, ahead of Lachie Neale, who falls back a place despite having polled a vote against the Hawks on Sunday.

There’s a massive logjam of players in eighth spot, with eight players all sitting on 11 votes. Newcomers to the top 10 this week include Cripps, who would have received more votes if possible for his unbelievable performance on Saturday; Josh P. Kennedy, who led this award after Round 4 but has polled just the five votes since then; Jackson Macrae, whose votes have all come since the bye to see him as the form player of the season’s second half; and Elliot Yeo, whose star grows with each passing performance.

Just one vote below them, Dustin Martin and Ben McEvoy each polled votes on the weekend to see themselves in equal-16th spot with Brodie Grundy.