So, no real complaints from our first lot of ten players in the Mongrel Punt Pre-Season Player Power rankings… but it was early days, and I expect that to change when it becomes a little more apparent that a player, or a few players haven’t made the cut.

To those people, I say – I don’t make the rules; I just… actually I did make the rules, but what I am not going to do is alter the formula I’m using simply because it hasn’t worked for one player. I’m all about fairness…. Not so much transparency, but definitely fairness.

If you haven’t caught players 50-41, I suggest you do so before continuing.

Mongrel Punt Pre-Season Player Power Rankings 50-41

All caught up? Good, let’s get back into it.

 

40 – Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood)

The old fella made a huge return to form in 2019 after starting to look as though things may have been catching up with him in 2018. His sixth All-Australian selection and a third ANZAC Medal have well and truly put Pendles in the frame when discussions about the greatest Magpie of the modern era crop up.

Can we see a reason he is done yet? Unless he suffers a recurrence of the back injury that prevented him from doing rudimentary activities such as picking up his child in 2018, Pendlebury looked as though he could continue playing at a high level or a couple of years yet. Currently third all-time in handballs, and ninth in overall disposals, we will be seeing the name of Scott Pendlebury come up often when consulting the record books over the next couple of seasons.

So, why isn’t he higher on this list?

Well, by his own lofty standards, Pendlebury had a bit of a stinker in 2018. That back injury really limited his impact, and despite the Pies being agonisingly close to a flag, and for Pendlebury to add ‘premiership captain’ to his already-impressive CV, his individual year was a notch or two below the years before and after. In 2018, he had his lowest disposal per game output since 2010, and saw his numbers for inside 50 disposals dip as well.

He rectified these falls in 2019 with a great season and looked like the Pendlebury of old, cocking the handball, holding it…. holding it… HOLDING IT until he was good and ready to dispose of it. After all this time in the game, he is still the absolute best at buying time and looking like he sees the game a couple of seconds ahead of everyone else.

Looking forward to seeing him shine again in 2020.

 

39 – Luke Breust (Hawthorn)

Make no mistake – Luke Breust makes this list based solely on the strength of his 2018 campaign.

Here’s the equation for Hawthorn fans; if Breust kicks 40+ goals in a season, the Hawks make the finals. The last two times he was unable to hit that mark were 2017 and 2019. Need I tell you where the Hawks wound up on the ladder in those seasons?

We had Jack Gunston listed earlier in the countdown and, like Breust, his output was considerably down in 2019. Breust kicked 20 goals less than he did in 2018 as it seemed as though he was being used as a marking target at times, which is definitely not a strength of his game. Don’t get me wrong – he can occasionally surprise, but he is much more adept at collecting at ground level, shaking those hips as tackles kind of fall off him like Joe Ganino’s clothes in the men’s locker room at the local pool, and straightening up for goal.

With Jon Patton and Mitch Lewis now the big marking targets, and Gunston and Wingard drawing just as much heat as Breust with the ball on the deck, the two-time All-Australian should be back to his chaotic best.

40 goals is the target. You know what happens when he doesn’t reach it…

 

38 – Tim Taranto (GWS)

The 2019 finals series was a bit of a coming-out party for Taranto, as the wider football world got to see what he can do on the big stage. Right in contention for the Gary Ayres Medal before his team completely and utterly fell apart in the Grand Final, Taranto established himself as one of the most complete midfielders in the game.

With injuries to Callan Ward, Stephen Coniglio and Josh Kelly throughout the season, Taranto averaged a career-high 27.7 touches per game, as well as 6.3 tackles per contest, which put him into the top ten in the league. The only other players to amass 26+ touches and 6+ tackles in the game in 2019 were Sydney’s Josh Kennedy, Clayton Oliver, Patrick Cripps and Josh Dunkley.

That’s it, folks… that’s the list.

Taranto has already re-committed to GWS, and whilst there have been some higher profile players that have been on the radar of other clubs in recent history (Josh Kelly), it has been Taranto that has gone about his work and established himself as one of the elite. In a team of star players, he shined brightest at their best and fairest award, taking out the Kevin Sheedy Medal.

Paired with another star on the rise – Jacob Hopper, Taranto was +6.90 disposals in 2019 in one of the biggest jumps by a young player we’ve seen.

He’s 21 years old, people. Let that sink in for a minute. 21 years old, and he is matching it with the big boys of the competition already. The future might be bright for Tim Taranto, but the present is pretty well-lit as well.

 

37 – Adam Treloar (Collingwood)

Does anyone else feel as though Adam Treloar gets a little disrespected in AFL media circles? I’m well aware that when he was learning the AFL caper, he’d tend to throw the ball on the boot and damn the consequences, but in recent years I have seen a more poised, more considered player tucking that ball under the arm and lowering his eyes a lot more than he used to.

Yet still, the amount of times I’ve heard people comment that he wastes the footy is probably just the perception they’ve maintained from the version of him they saw years before.

So, I suppose if I am going to write that sort of stuff, I should attempt to back it up, right?

Here goes – at 32.9 touches per game, Treloar ran at 71% disposal efficiency. That’s the same as Andrew Gaff… you know, the Andrew Gaff that gets the ball on the outside and runs with it and supposedly hits targets? Gaff has over 22 uncontested touches per game. Treloar has under 19 uncontested touches, yet Treloar’s the one wasting it?

I don’t buy it – not anymore.

How about Dion Prestia? Everyone raved about his season (and rightly so). He ran at 68%. Brad Crouch? 64% Clayton Oliver? 69% Dangerfield? 67% Bont? 69% Cripps? 71%

So explain to me how Treloar wastes it?

Yep, when you look at it, he doesn’t. Despite what people will tell you.

 

36 – Andrew Gaff (West Coast)

Oh, I just shot him down a little in Treloar’s section and I scrolled down, saw his name and thought… “shit.”

Anyway, getting it out in the open, I am not sure whether Gaff had a worse year than his 2018 effort due to the way he played, or the way he was forced to play.

What does that mean? Well, for me, Gaff is at his undoubted best when he plays on the wing. He gets out into open space, gut runs, gets the ball twice in a passage of play because he outworks his opponent and gets to where the ball is going.

But in 2019 I noticed Gaff being drawn to the contest too often, and as a result, we saw him hacking the ball forward aimlessly, oftentimes right to an opponent 30-40 metres away. The first half of the season was particularly concerning, as Gaff seemed to be working as a clearance player before trying to spread. The numbers over the first four weeks back that up, with Gaff averaging 5.25 clearances per game over his first four matches.

That would eventually even out to see him finish with 4.23 clearances per game over the course of 2019 – much more around the mark you’d want him at.

So, do we get the running machine version of Gaff in 2020, or do we see Adam Simpson try to involve him at the coalface again? The addition of Tim Kelly is vitally important to the midfield make-up of the Eagles, and not that I want to harp on about it here, but the impact it could, and SHOULD have on Andrew Gaff’s game really hasn’t been touched on as much as it should by your traditional media outlets. Maybe they’re warming up to it?

Kelly can play both inside and outside, but it is his work in the clinches and ability to break from stoppages (seventh in the league in clearances in 2019) that should allow Gaff more room to move on the outside. If West Coast can fashion a stoppage set up that sees Gaff as the player stationed one or two handballs off the ball, that is where he has the capacity to cut teams to ribbons. That is where he will have the time and space to assess, have a bounce and spot up a target.

Though we had Gaff averaging a career-high 31.91 touches per game in 2019, his impact was reduced by the role that he was forced to play. That should all change in 2020. Worth a little flutter on him for the Brownlow, I reckon.

 

35 – Matt Crouch (Adelaide)

Similar to Rory Sloane, the stats for Matt Crouch indicate that in a team that dropped its bundle in 2019, Matt Crouch was able to hold his head high.

But did he really?

Crouch averaged over 32 touches per game for the third consecutive season (nothing to sneeze at!) but in an Adelaide game plan (if you could call it that) that seemed to value monopolising the football without making many inroads into the attacking 50, those numbers, at least in regard to 2019, may be a little inflated.

Crows fans, do you remember how often you threw your head back in anguish when it looked as though an inside 50 disposal to a one-on-one contest was looming, only for the team to change direction, kick backwards and transfer play, turn it over and end up with no scoring opportunity at all.

Pepperidge Farm remembers, and so does The Mongrel Punt. I also remember Matt Crouch involved in plenty of those “nothing” passages of play.

Will Matthew Nicks coming in see Matt Crouch continue to amass huge disposal numbers, or will he be a little more direct, opting to have Crouch hover around the 28-29 touch mark and have each of those disposals actually mean something? I don’t mean to rain on the Crouch parade here, but as an outsider looking in last season, I didn’t like what I saw from him, irrespective of what the numbers tell me.

Oh, and if we’re going to allow numbers to tell the story, here are a couple that probably illustrate how hollow that 32.63 disposals per game were. Crouch was 45th in clearances in the league, and outside the top 100 for average metres gained.

He didn’t hurt teams, sadly.

 

34 – Gary Ablett (Geelong)

The Little Master. Halfway through the 2019 season, I thought we were going to see Gary Ablett stand alone at the top of the pile, with nine All-Australian selections, but his second half of the season saw a slight drop in form, and given the short memories of AA selectors, that was enough to leave him out of the side.

20 touches and 1.42 goals per game as a permanent forward were seemingly not enough for Gaz to be part of the team. Ah well, there’s always 2020, right?

Not if they want Ablett to be right for the finals, there’s not.

Here’s what I’m thinking. It is time for Chris Scott to start actually strategizing when it comes to the way he is using Gary Ablett. In the first half of 2019, Ablett had 20+ touches seven times. In the second half of the year, including finals, Ablett had that amount five times. Worse than that, the goals dried up as well.

From Round 1-12, Ablett had 22 goals at an average of two per game. From Round 13 onwards, Ablett had 13 goals at an average of one per game. A 50% reduction in effectiveness. Impressed with my mathematical ability? I sure am!

Do we think the top on form was due to the opposition working out how to play Ablett? He’s the Little Master FFS! It was because the bloke was exhausted. He played 24 games for the season, and whilst that is commendable, by the time the finals rolled around, his legs looked like they were shot. He had no burst of speed, and did not seem to be able to break away from his opponents.

Chris Scott needed Gaz in the finals and he was unable to deliver. He needed him a lot more than he needed him in Round 10 v Gold Coast or Round 17 v Sydney.

In 2020, Geelong need to get Ablett some rest during the year so that when we get to the business end of the season, Gary Ablett can once again be the Little Master.

This year may be their last shot to capitalise on possessing a weapon like Ablett, who even at his advanced age, is still a match winner.

 

33 – Shannon Hurn (West Coast)

The All-Australian vice-captain, huh? Still annoying you, West Coast supporters? I’m not an Eagles supporter, but it’s still annoying me. I’m no Elsa – I have a hard time letting go…

Hurn had a career-best season in 2019, following on from what was a career-best season in 2018. Those huge legs, that punishing kick, and the ability to read the footy held him in great stead over the last couple of seasons as, despite the heroics of Jeremy McGovern, it has been the cool head of Hurn that has held the formidable West Coast backline together.

If there was one player who benefitted from the kick-in rule changes, it was Hurn in 2019, who cantered out of the square, gained five or six metres and then roosted the ball out of defence often. It’s reflected in his rebound stats jumping to a career-high 6.43 per game (good for eighth in the league).

Hurn is now 32 years old and his legs started to falter at the end of the 2019 season. His presence in the defensive 50 – a strong leader with great hands and a cool demeanour is imperative to the Eagles making a run at the premiership in 2020.

Who knows, maybe handing over the captaincy is the thing that will impress AA selectors so much that they’ll appoint him as captain of the team of the year as a result. I really don’t know how they operate at times…

 

32 – Charlie Cameron (Brisbane)

Charlie has a bit to prove in 2020 as his Lions bowed out in straight sets in 2019, and he was in the headlines for the wrong reasons late in the season.

Mark your calendars for the rematch Charlie will be looking forward to most. May the 8th on Friday night footy, Brisbane run into Richmond at the Gabba, and Charlie Cameron gets another crack at Dylan Grimes.

To say that the way Cameron finished the season against Grimes (I know their last game was against GWS… hang on) was a disappointment would be an understatement. Grimes had Cameron’s number, and after such a fantastic year for the small forward, it was a poor way to end. A pair of seven-disposal games in consecutive clashes against the Tigers and just three goals to his name across those two outings was not the way Charlie Cameron envisioned his 2019 concluding. Against Richmond, he was a non-factor.

Then there was his arm injury against GWS in the Lions’ final game of the year… it was gutsy, and it was ballsy (which are kind of the same thing) but it amounted to very little as the Lions crashed out despite looking like they could run over the Giants.

Let’s look at it like this. Charlie Cameron is Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back. He faced Grimes (Vader) and was not completely ready. As a result, he was bested. He even walked away from the 2019 season with an injured arm, though I am sure he hasn’t had it replaced with a robotic prosthetic. Now he returns in 2020 to face him again – older, wiser, better prepared. Will he be able to face Darth Dylan and finally emerge victorious?

The fate of the galaxy may not rest on the Round Eight clash between Charlie Skywalker and Dylan Vader, but after being beaten so soundly in 2019, 2020 must be subtitled “Return of the Lion” for Charlie Cameron. Facing Grimes again is his ultimate test.

 

31 – Dylan Grimes (Richmond)

And as we conclude on Charlie Cameron, we commence on Dylan Grimes. We’ll shed his black armour and lightsaber for this section, as he is anything but a villain in the eyes of Richmond fans.

As we enter a 2020 season without Alex Rance, there would be some pressure on Grimes, right? Nope… been there and done that, and did it without a lot of preparation, either.

Dylan Grimes emerged as the number one defender at Richmond following the knee injury that ended Alex Rance’s 2019 campaign, and ultimately his career. The people questioning whether Richmond could win the flag without Rance obviously had not factored in how good Dylan Grimes was (and how good Astbury and Broad were in support as well).

Grimes took the top job and handled it with aplomb, taking the mantle as the best one-on-one defender at Richmond, and some would argue in the entire league, culminating in a last month of exquisite defensive footy.

We’ve discussed his efforts in curtailing the influence of Charlie Cameron in the section above, but Grimes’ leadership in the defensive half was apparent all through the finals series. Whilst many will take more convincing that Grimes has assumed the mantle as the number one defender in the league, it would be unwise to argue that he hasn’t made a brilliant start to life without Alex Rance as his buffer.

Part of me wonders who assumes the Grimes role as the most underrated defender in the league now – David Astbury, or Nathan Broad, and whether we’ll see one of them appear in this ranking this time next year?

 

And that’s it – 20 positions in the Top 50 down. Look, I am sure people will be grumpy when one of their favourites isn’t named. I’m sure the formula has kinks (this is year two) and I will continue to work on it as the years go by (yeah, we’re in for the long haul, Mongrels!). We’ll also be producing weekly power rankings as the season progresses based on weekly statistical output – these articles will be members only (you’ve been warned), with monthly wrap-ups open to everyone. If you’d like the more detailed breakdowns, I suggest you entertain the idea of becoming a member. Click on the pooch below to get behind the Mongrel… but keep those hands to yourself please – I’m a married man.

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