Twenty players have been named and the top 30 are still to come. However, here you only get ten, because really, I have to drag this out over the course of a week or two or else I won’t have enough content.
Wait, did I write that, or just think it? Damn… if only there was a way I could go back and delete things.
Anyway, if you haven’t caught players 50-31, or want to know the rough formula I’m using to compile this list, I suggest you click the links below before continuing so as not to get angry at me for something I may have already explained.
All caught up? Good. I got a message from an angry Geelong fan after I posted players 40-31 stating that it was ridiculous that Shannon Hurn made the list but Tom Stewart didn’t. Problem with this is that Tom Stewart did make the list (number 45) and even appeared in the graphic for that article (see above)… she missed that bit.
Ugh… people, if you’re gonna whack me, at least make sure you’re whacking me for the right reasons. I mean, I give you so many opportunities to do so…
Let’s get back into it.
30 – TRAVIS BOAK (PORT ADELAIDE)
There are a few elder statesmen of the game who have decided that their time is not over by a long stretch, and have re-applied themselves after hitting 30 years of age. We covered the continued great form of Shaun Higgins in a previous article, and we also touched on the renaissance of Scott Pendlebury in 2019, but the way Travis Boak put Port Adelaide on his back and showed his club the way a leader should perform was inspirational.
Perhaps a young midfield bull who was handed co-captaincy should take notice?
For the first time in forever… sorry – been watching Frozen a bit too often with the kid – for the first time in his career, Boak topped 30 touches per game, which is +3.5 on his previous best mark, way back in 2014.
It’s scary to think where Port Adelaide would have ended up without Boak in 2019. With stars down on form, and a reliance on young talent to prop the club up, Boak was like an island in the stream of mediocrity amongst the senior players. His career-high numbers in clearances, contested possessions AND uncontested possessions indicate that he was a man on a mission last season.
Sadly, the rest of his team seemed to be on a completely different mission.
Heading into 2020, Boak is 31 years old. After watching him excel in 2019, the question must be asked – can he get better again? Reports out of Port last year stated that Boak took pre-season extremely seriously, including training underwater whilst holding his breath in order to learn to remain calm in a situation that would normally cause panic.
It obviously worked.
29 – HARRIS ANDREWS (BRISBANE)
The heir apparent to the crown vacated by Alex Rance, Andrews is a 23-year-old wrecking ball. We’ve all seen Rocky 4, right? Remember the fight between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago where Creed is out there jabbing… sticking and moving? And Drago is stalking him with that massive fist cocked as though he wants to kill Creed… and eventually does.
Sorry for the spoiler.
Well, that’s how Harris Andrews looks as he approaches a pack marking contest. Eyes on the footy, fist ready – there is no question that if he gets a good run at the footy that he is going to kill the contest, just like Drago killed… this is getting morbid.
Andrews earned his first All-Australian blazer in 2019 after leading the league in spoils and emerging as the best young defender in the game. Some may argue that he had already done that in 2018, but many players have one good season – Andrews has now put together back-to-back seasons where he has been the most effective spoiler in the competition (his biggest competition – fellow 23-year old Dougal Howard just got traded to St Kilda where I think it’ll take him ten or so games to find his niche in their defence).
Many coaches believe that premierships are won with defence, and with Harris Andrews rarely having his colours lowered, Chris Fagan and the Brisbane Lions have an integral piece of what they hope is the premiership puzzle in place.
28 – TOM LYNCH (RICHMOND)
Coming into the 2019 season, I was not sold on Tom Lynch. Having watched him at Gold Coast for the previous couple of seasons, I started to wonder whether the All-Australian form of 2016 may have been an anomaly, and whether the Tigers were buying a bit of a lemon.
Well, I had to write an article apologising and stating I was completely wrong around halfway through the season (you can read it here) as Lynch far exceeded my expectations in his first season as a Tiger.
With Jack Riewoldt sidelined for a good portion of the year, Lynch played every game and did the heavy lifting many thought he was incapable of doing. With 63 goals to his name, Lynch was ranked third in the league, and coupled that with being ranked first in contested marks.
From Round 15 onwards, Lynch experienced a purple patch in terms of consistency that mirrored that of his team. With at least three goals in six consecutive games, Lynch was the presence that straightened the Tigers up, and it was a rare occasion that he failed to give a good contest in a pack situation.
So, here’s the thing – he didn’t have a great pre-season in 2019 and was still able to conjure a year like that? What can he provide if he gets a clean run at it in 2020? He got better and better as the season progressed in 2019, with the improvement in his second efforts painfully apparent after the bye.
Lynch lived the fairy tale in 2019. He escaped a situation where he felt he’d given all he could and was welcomed with open arms at Punt Road. He made good on his end of the deal, bailing the Tigers out up forward when Riewoldt went down and was rewarded with a premiership medallion.
I wouldn’t mind having a flutter on him for the Coleman in 2020, but a lot of that will depend on the role he plays opposite Riewoldt should the latter stay healthy.
27 – BACHAR HOULI (RICHMOND)
Here’s another bloke that has found the fountain of youth.
At 31 years old, Houli has elevated his game to a level where he can be the most damaging player on the park at times. A couple of those occasions have been in premierships, overshadowed only by the brilliance of Dustin Martin.
Zoning off and making space, Houli is an absolute weapon off half back for the Tigers. At one stage late in the season, some fox footy brainiac unearthed some vision of Houli playing wide of his opponent and looking to make space rather than man-up.
And it was aired as a weakness in his game that should be exploited.
What’s that old saying about something being easier said than done?
Richmond and Houli dare you to try to exploit him. Go on – run off him and try to get open. In the era of team defence, when you do that kind of thing, you’re playing directly into Richmond’s hands. They want you to run off Houli and get into a position where you think you’re by yourself… only for Vlastuin, Broad, Grimes or Astbury to come crashing in and then find the loose Houli as the ball comes to ground.
The days of yelling “man up” and everyone finding a bloke are over. Houli understands what his role is and how to best go about it. He has played it to perfection in two Grand Finals and has two premiership medallions to show for it. You may think he plays loose – I think he plays smart.
Add to that the character of the man – out there working with kids the day after his team won the flag – and you have a guy that is not only a fantastic footballer, but a great example for kids.
he was also delisted by Essendon… eeek!
26 – JEREMY MCGOVERN (WEST COAST)
There are not many defenders who’d have their name in big letters on the opposition whiteboard, but early in the 2019 season, you could see teams actively trying to avoid kicking the footy anywhere near Jeremy McGovern.
I’d seen a little bit of this before with Alex Rance, where teams where obviously instructed to avoid kicking to where Rance could zone off his man and impact another contest, but watching teams circumvent McGovern’s area on the field in 2019… you’d think the bloke had an infectious disease or something.
Even if the stats didn’t back it up, there is no better intercept mark in the game than McGovern. He backs himself, throws his body into contests and is a difference-maker of the highest order. But the stats do back it up. He took 45 contested grabs for the season (bested only by Tom Lynch and Aaron Naughton) and was the number one intercept player in the game, picking up 197 for the year.
With his fourth straight All-Australian selection at centre half back, Gov is now the most consistent defender in the game operating at a high level, and it appears only injury will stop him from adding a fifth AA selection to his CV.
At 27 years old, this is now peak time for McGovern. With memories of his towering mark to kick-start the West Coast Eagles’ surge forward to win the 2018 flag still etched in the minds of many, the Eagles possess a weapon that is rare – a defender that can be a match-winner.
With a wonderful supporting cast around him (Hurn, Sheppard, Barrass) McGovern has licence to play the centre halfback role on his terms, and if teams allow him to do that in 2020, they’ll be chalking up losses more often than they will wins.
25 – LACHIE WHITFIELD (GWS)
I found it really interesting to hear draftees talking about how much they loved the game of Lachie Whitfield, but upon reflection, you can understand why. He finds the footy, busts his ass all over the field, runs and carries, and hits targets. In a GWS midfield full of genuine stars of the game, Whitfield could be the best of the lot. Settle down GWS fans… I said ‘could be’. So could Kelly, Coniglio, Taranto or even Hopper on any given day.
However, watching Whitfield in 2019, on more than one occasion I wondered whether a healthy version of him could be the difference between a premiership side and an also-ran. Now, I don’t think that a healthy Whitfield in the Grand Final could have made a dent in the armour of the Richmond Football Club – they were inspired – but over the course of a season, if Whitfield can get through uninterrupted by injury, we may see something special.
And we may see a Brownlow Medallist.
In our 2019 midfield awards (The Swannies), Whitfield had the highest-rated game of the season, amassing 40 touches and 18 marks, whilst adding three goals as the Giants ran all over the Blues in Round 9. It was as impressive a game as you’ll see. He played another excellent game the following week against Melbourne before injuring himself against Gold Coast and spending weeks on the sidelines.
Up until 2019, I reckon there was a bit of a perception that you could put Whitfield off his game with a little untoward physical pressure. Often, I would see him thrown to the ground in a tackle just after his disposed of the footy, or there’d be a player happy to lay a shepherd on him if he was anywhere near the area of the contest.
I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Despite injury, he had a career-high 27 touches per game and was also +1.04 on his previous best clearance numbers. After seven years in the Giants’ system, he has re-signed with them long-term and has well and truly found his AFL home.
If the Giants are to go on and win their inaugural AFL premiership in the next couple of years, Lachie Whitfield will be playing a huge role in it.
24 – TODD GOLDSTEIN (NORTH MELBOURNE)
He might be the ruck world’s forgotten man, and I have to admit, I have been guilty at times of forgetting just how good Goldy can be.
Whilst Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn go about garnering the headlines and accolades, in 2019 Todd Goldstein quietly went about a season where he notched career-high disposals per game, whilst maintaining an impressive 33.50 hit outs per contest.
Spurning interest from other clubs, Goldy recommitted to the Kangaroos, along with fellow elder-statesman Shaun Higgins, to provide the club with some stability heading into 2020.
I’ve made no secret that I really like what North have been able to do with their list over the last couple of years, and though Goldy is 31 years old, he gives the impression that he has a fair bit left in the tank.
Capable of rucking all day where required, Goldstein will benefit greatly from the return of Majak Daw, assuming he can regain full health (fingers crossed). Majak’s ability to pinch-hit in the ruck was one of the reasons North were okay with letting Brayden Preuss head to Melbourne (to play back up to another top tier ruckman… duh!) but Majak’s 2019 meant that Goldstein had to shoulder a huge load.
And he did it admirably.
Admittedly, I had to have this game pointed out to me as I didn’t get to watch it at the time, but I went back and viewed his Round 22 effort against Port Adelaide’s combination of Peter Ladhams and Paddy Ryder. Wow… that was a show!
Goldy collected 34 touches, 28 hit outs and nine clearances as he did as he pleased all game long. Definitely one of the better ruck performances of the season, and if he can find that kind of form again in 2020, I reckon North will be surprising a few teams here and there.
23 – ELLIOT YEO (WEST COAST)
At a point in 2019, Garry Lyon declared that Elliot Yeo was the best all-round footballer in the league, and whilst something like that is, and will always be a matter of opinion (or poorly-used data in some cases… yep) there can be no doubt that Yeo is now being recognised outside of WA as one of the elite players in the league.
Not a huge possession-winner, Yeo has made his reputation on being a two-way player in the midfield, able to win his own footy and play an accountable brand that limits the impact of his direct opponent. His back-to-back best and fairest awards with the Eagles, including one in their 2018 premiership year speak of a player who is valued highly by those internally, and his two All-Australian selections demonstrate that it’s catching on in the wider football community.
Unafraid to go head-to-head with the big names in the game, and back himself in the process, Yeo is a bit of a throwback in terms of his work in the middle. Whilst many players seem content to play wide of their opponents, Yeo takes enormous pride in his tackling, and had 10+ tackles on six occasions in 2019. Amazingly, five of those totals came in a run of seven games, where he averaged a staggering 10.85 tackles per game.
The role Yeo plays in 2020 will go a long way to determining the success of the improved West Coast midfield. Tim Kelly is still to come in this countdown, as is Luke Shuey, and we’ve already had Gaff, Redden and Sheed make appearances. The Eagles are absolutely stacked in the midfield and I haven’t even mentioned a bloke named Hutchings – does this collection of talent allow Yeo to focus on a more defensive role? Will he be content in such a role, or have we just seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Elliot Yeo can produce?
He’ll be 26 as the season starts – this is peak Elliot Yeo. Be afraid… be very afraid.
22 – STEELE SIDEBOTTOM (COLLINGWOOD)
Sidebottom won the 2018 Gary Ayres medal for his finals consistency, but as we head toward 2020, I’m looking at the way he performed in two of Collingwood’s biggest losses recently (the 2018 Grand Final and the 2019 Prelim) and on both occasions, he has been close to unsighted. Is this a worrying sign, or is it simply circumstantial?
At the commencement of 2019, Collingwood were in a position similar to West Coast right now, with additional talent joining an already formidable midfield. The Pies had Dayne Beams join a team already boasting Pendlebury, Adams, Treloar and Sidebottom. Some called it the greatest midfield ever assembled… talk about hyperbole.
It didn’t quite work out that way, and initially I thought the move of Pendlebury to half back may have been on the cards, given his decision-making and what appeared to be a less than Pendlebury-like 2018, but it was Sidebottom that made the adjustment, moving onto the wing often and becoming more of an outside runner. He averaged his lowest number in contested footy since 2013 as the Collingwood team shifted to accommodate everyone.
However, in the wash-up, Sidebottom’s individual game probably suffered. He had 30+ disposals on just four occasions last season, down from 14 in 2018 and he missed not only the AA team, but the squad of 40 as well.
Sidebottom makes this list based on an excellent 2018. He is one of the highest-ranked players to have had an ordinary 2019 and will need to re-establish himself as a premier player in the competition in 2019.
Either that, or he can remain a very handy winger.
21 – DAYNE ZORKO (BRISBANE)
Four straight Merrett-Murray Medals indicate that Dayne Zorko is the kind of player that doesn’t ski downhill. The Brisbane Lions were struggling in the years he won his B&Fs, but whilst many flew the Brisbane coop, Zorko remained focused, remained committed, and he was finally rewarded with a finals berth in 2019.
The addition of Lachie Neale to the midfield spelt the end of his monopoly on the best and fairest award, but it allowed Zorko to get forward more, and in the process he became the league leader for tackles inside 50. Yep… the bloke doesn’t even play there most of the time and his tenaciousness and determination saw him better the totals of full-time small forwards in applying pressure.
You think about it – who do you think of when you think of forward pressure? Anthony McDonald Tipungwuti?
Zorko was better.
Zorko was better.
Again… Zorko better.
That he was able to do what he did in 2019 and still average close to a goal a game was one of the big reasons for Brisbane’s improvement, and they were the actions of a genuine leader.
Appointed captain of the team after Dayne Beams stepped away, I was initially sceptical of the way he went about it. I did not like the way he handled being tagged at all, to the point where his reactions to a player like Touk Miller seemed… childish?
But I’ve been turned around. Zorko is a competitor, and the emotions he displays are a bi-product of playing with emotion. He looks like a player that genuinely cares, and I respect that. It will be an interesting season for the Lions. Some are predicting they’ll falter whilst others believe they’ll take another step and go deeper into the finals. Either way, so much of how they travel will revolve around the performance of their captain.
Lachie Neale may be the best player on the Lions, but Zorko remains the heart and soul.
And that’s it – just the top 20 remaining.
Look, I am sure people will be grumpy when one of their favourites isn’t listed. I’m sure the formula has kinks (this is year two) and I will continue to work on it as the years go by (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’d really appreciate if you considered becoming a member – it helps me grow the site and provide more content.
Click on the pooch below to get behind the Mongrel… but keep those hands to yourself please – I’m a married man.