And the beat goes on da-da-dum da-dum…
Here we go, entering the top 20 of our pre-season player power rankings.
Amazingly thus far, I haven’t had that many of you telling me I’m full of it (saving it for the top ten, huh?). With the available data in this system now spanning three seasons, I reckon we’re really starting to piece together a nice tapestry of the power players in the game over the past couple of years.
As an aside, I had someone message me asking where Alex Rance ranks. Goooooood question.
I removed him from the field as he’d retired, but had I left him in, he would have slotted right in at… drumroll – position 58, which reflects him missing the entirety of 2019. In truth, this system is a little tough for defenders, and part of me wishes I’d completed a little project I was working on last year to fully assess the effectiveness of defenders. Had I been able to add that to the formula for this ranking, he may have finished higher (and still be omitted due to retiring) but other players such as Harris Andrews, James Sicily, Jeremy McGovern and Bachar Houli all could have featured more prominently at the pointy end of the countdown.
So leave that with me – I will put a bit more thought and work into the tool and see if we can add it for next year, but as of right now, yes… the defenders have been somewhat screwed over.
Righto – before we continue, please familiarise yourself with players 50-21 in the links below and we’ll get this show on the road.
All caught up? Good.
Let’s get back into it.
20 – JEREMY CAMERON (GWS)
Remember early in the season in 2019 where Jeremy Cameron was being touted as the player destined to break the 100-goalkicker drought? That was after Round Seven, where he’d just secured a bag of six goals to take his season total to 30.
He then went goalless over the next fortnight, which ceased the talk of him achieving that milestone, but he rallied toward the end of the season to pip Ben Brown for the Coleman Medal with a nine-goal blast against the Gold Coast Suns.
I reckon we should have voided goals kicked against the Suns, as it seemed as though those who played them twice got a huge advantage and any key forward that played them after the bye got a team that was full of young legs that had been easily worn down over the course of the season. Eddie Betts was able to turn the clock back and kick two bags of six against them. Even the retiring Jarryd Roughead partied at their expense late in the season.
Anyway, Cameron finally fulfilled what many thought was his destiny since his early days in the league, with his first Coleman Medal. He played a big role in the Giants’ triumph over the Magpies in the Preliminary Final before his team capitulated to the rampaging Tigers in the Grand Final.
One of the very few Giants with a contract decision looming, Cameron will be one of the most sought-after signatures in the game should he opt to explore his options, however my money would be on GWS securing him early in 2020, and on a long-term deal. When they genuinely want someone to stay, they stay.
19 – JACK RIEWOLDT (RICHMOND)
From the 2019 Coleman Medallist to the 2018 version, Riewoldt had a poor year by his standards, coming good in the biggest game of the season to snag five goals against the Giants and join in on the premiership feast.
I was really interested to see how Jack would work in conjunction with Tom Lynch throughout 2019, but the scary thing is that we really didn’t get to witness a fit Riewoldt play alongside Lynch for the majority of the season, if at all. What could they conjure together? Could the Tigers actually get better in 2020?!?!?
Riewoldt has made the transition from selfish, petulant star to consummate teammate in recent years, even trying to be too unselfish at times, preferring to attempt to knock the ball into the path of a teammate than to take possession. When it works (as it did on several spectacular occasions in 2018) it is wonderful. When it doesn’t, people wonder why he didn’t just grab the bloody thing!
Riewoldt has emerged as a leader at Punt Road, and would be well-served playing second fiddle to the emerging stardom of Lynch going forward. Do we think he has that in him? To ride shotgun as Lynch cements himself as the focal point of the powerful Richmond machine?
A mature Jack Riewoldt will take the secondary role. A mature Jack Riewoldt will defer to the powerhouse that Lynch has become. But the petulant Jack Riewoldt wouldn’t. I’m looking forward to seeing just how mature and self-assured the 2019 version of Riewoldt is, and for the record, I hope for an injury-free year for him. I want to see what this pair can do when they’re allowed to work together, fully fit!
18 – CLAYTON OLIVER (MELBOURNE)
I’m sometimes bemused at the way one excellent player has plaudits thrown his way, but another, performing a very similar role, gets close to completely semi-ignored by the football media.
Clayton Oliver’s team was poor in 2019. They finished second last and really, embarrassed themselves in the process. People thought they were premiership contenders. You have to wonder whether they thought they were contenders as well, and maybe thought the work would do itself?
It came back to bite them, and opinion even started to turn on some of their young stars as the season progressed. Remember Garry Lyon questioning whether Clayton Oliver got rid of the ball too quickly instead of copping a tackle? I reckon had the Dees been winning, people would have been complimenting Oliver’s quick decision-making and “lightning fast hands” for the very same actions.
I guess that’s the difference between winning and losing, huh? Perceptions.
Whilst there was a perceived drop off from Oliver, it was more of a reflection of his team overall. He notched career-high numbers for disposals (first 30+ disposal average of his career) as well as clearances. In fact, looking at Oliver’s numbers, it is interesting to pair him up with the man who seems to be the AFL media darling, Patrick Cripps.
Oliver is two years younger, and in 2019 he was +2.05 in disposals, +0.17 in tackles, -1.55 in clearances and -0.68 in contested possessions. Oliver had six games with 20+ contested touches, as did Cripps, and the only real area that Cripps had it over Oliver was in individual games totalling 10+ clearances (Cripps – 7, Oliver – 4). Overall, they are pretty close.
However, in a team that won just two more games than the Dees, Cripps was hailed as a messiah, whilst Oliver adopted the role of Brian of Nazareth. And he is not even a very naughty boy! From the outside looking in, and with no disrespect to the level Cripps played at, Oliver was criminally underrated in 2019.
And to round it out, Oliver is one of just three players in history to have 400+ contested touches in a season. Again, he is 22… and he is a star.
17 – BEN CUNNINGTON (NORTH MELBOURNE)
I could write about this bloke all day – he is a footballer’s footballer.
Whilst other inside mids receive the accolades and notoriety that come with being a contested footy winner, somehow Ben Cunnington has been relegated to a position in the pecking order that doesn’t seem to register with those in the game that hand out accolades.
Get this – Ben Cunnington has never been an All-Australian.
It’s wrong, isn’t it?
He hasn’t played less than 20 games since 2011, is coming off career-high disposals per game (26.64), contested touches (15.59) and uncontested touches (11.45) yet cannot hold the attention of AA selectors. He holds the record for contested possessions in a game – 32 for those playing along at home… (yep, that is freakish!) and racked up the footy in a big way in the categories that matter in 2019. He had 20+ contested touches on six occasions, and matched that with 10+ clearances in six games as well.
But some people chose to focus on the little gut punches he threw, and called for his suspension. I’m guessing they did this over a soy latte at the local café.
Ben Cunnington is a throwback to when football was played hard and tough, and despite there being a lot of love for some other players yet to come on this list, there is no tougher player in the game than him.
16 – TOM HAWKINS (GEELONG)
Hawkins was a beast in 2019, not only securing the coveted All-Australian full forward slot, but playing a pivotal role in the Geelong forward structure when he wasn’t slamming through goals.
Unfortunately for Hawkins, his 2019 will be remembered for the image of him sitting in the Geelong coaching box as his team capitulated in the second half of the Preliminary Final that saw the Tigers run over the top of the Cats. Could he have made a difference? Could he have been THE difference?
Hawkins has been incredibly consistent for the Cats over the last eight years, hovering between 2.2 and 2.8 goals per game in that time. One thing that I see often in his game, but is not reflected on all that much in mainstream media, is his ability to control forward line boundary throw ins. Hawkins has an uncanny ability to create room with his body against seasoned rucks, allowing him to take clean possession at the stoppage and often result in a shot at goal either for him or a teammate.
I’m actually really surprised he was continuously able to do this all year long and barely anyone implemented measures to prevent it.
Hawkins finished with 56 goals in 2019, but was also third in direct goal assists, which indicate his effectiveness cannot simply be measured by how many goals he ends the game with. Many were annoyed that Hawkins was selected as the AA full forward in 2019. He was fifth in the league in goals kicked, but it is the overall team play that swayed the selectors and rewarded the Tomahawk with the selection.
Hawkins will be determined to right the wrongs of 2019 this coming season. His poor decision and subsequent suspension cost his team – how he makes amends will be a storyline to follow. He owes his team.
15 – LUKE SHUEY (WEST COAST)
The recently-appointed captain of the West Coast Eagles has been an on-field leader for years, and people who read a lot of our stuff will probably be sick of me stating it, but if you want to see a player put a team on his back and will them over the line, I am not sure there has been a better example of that than Luke Shuey in 2019.
Playing against the Hawks in Round 15, the Eagles trailed by five points at three quarter time and an upset appeared to be taking shape.
Enter Luke Shuey.
He refused to allow his team – and it is now HIS TEAM – go quietly into the night. He dominated the last quarter in such a way that I had a friend screaming at the TV for someone to stop him.
Shuey was on, and when he’s on, he is as good as it gets. He is a big game player, a last quarter specialist, and now he has been appointed the successor of one of the best leaders the AFL has had in recent years.
What does 2020 hold for Shuey? Handed the reins of the Eagles, he is coming off career-high numbers in disposals and inside 50 deliveries. Normally the focus of any defensive attention at stoppages, he will now have the luxury of another A-Grade midfielder to take the heat.
Just how much does the addition of Tim Kelly elevate Luke Shuey? How does the West Coast midfield adjust to their new star, and what roles are allocated as a result?
The Eagles have re-tooled in their quest for another flag, and with Shuey as their leader, they are well-equipped to take another premiership cup back west.
14 – JACK DARLING (WEST COAST)
The last two years have seen the emergence of a man who, at one point, seemed to be in danger of becoming one of those players who had potential, but never really capitalised on it.
How times change.
In the first half of 2018, Jack Darling was not just the best forward in the game – he was close to the best player in the game, and after a slower start to the 2019 season, he ramped it up in the second half to rank top five in both goals and contested marks.
It would have been interesting to see what Darling could have produced in 2018 had he not landed awkwardly and injured his ankle in Round 11 against St Kilda.
Here are his averages prior to injury.
2.6 goals per game
3.1 contested marks per game
For the record, the league leader at the end of the season was teammate, Jeremy McGovern, averaging 2.79 contested grabs. After injury, Darling fell back to the pack, ending in second place with 2.57.
Whilst Darling didn’t hit the same highs in 2019 that he did in 2018, he was consistent and still managed to be rated amongst the best forwards in the game. Is 2020 the season that Darling combines the early season form of 2018 with the consistency of 2019? If so, Eagles fans should be booking their tickets for deep into September as soon as they become available.
13 – LANCE FRANKLIN (SYDNEY)
You could argue that the last two seasons have been Franklin’s worst in the league since his AFL infancy, yet here we are, knocking on the door of the top ten players in our power rankings, and Buddy is still right in the mix.
It is his 2017/18 forms that keeps him in the mix here, with his second-lowest goal total of his career coming in 2019. The previous year, Franklin was shockingly elevated into the All-Australian captaincy slot, in what seemed to be more a career-achievement sort of honour that reflective of his 2018 season.
The one thing Franklin has been able to do consistently up until the last couple of years has been to overcome injury and get by without copious amounts of training. As he hits 33 this season, it’s as though Franklin has come to the realisation that he needs to put the work in during pre-season in order to reap the benefits. This season, he has been on the track early; as though he realises father Time is gaining on him at a rapid rate.
Is a fit Buddy Franklin enough to send the Swans climbing back up the ladder? Can a 33-year old body find the form of seasons past and become the driver of a Swans resurgence? He has the talent around him – Blakey showed plenty in 2019, and the emergence of players like Jordan Dawson as a pivotal player at half forward or half back has Swans supporters quietly optimistic.
Putting it out there- this is Franklin’s last real dance. When he signed that huge contract with Sydney, people screwed up their nose at the duration. They all wondered whether he would be anywhere near the player at 34 that he was at 27. This is season seven in red and white. This is around the time players’ bodies start really breaking down if they’re not looking after themselves. The early signs have been good for Buddy, but if he wants that 1000-goals, and he wants it this year, he is going to need to be cherry ripe early in the season.
And if he is, he is the difference-maker in the harbour city.
12 – BEN BROWN (NORTH MELBOURNE)
Big Ben is the only player to notch 60+ goals in each of the last three seasons. Incredibly consistent, yet just as unlucky in terms of recognition, Brown has been pipped at the post, first by Jack Riewoldt in 2018, and then Jeremy Cameron in 2019 in the race for the Coleman Medal. When you add a fourth place finish in 2017, Brown’s ability to both stay on the park and deliver scores are second to none.
However, when it comes to reward for effort, the AFL world have not been too kind to Brown. He remains one of very few top forwards in the game to never be honoured with an All-Australian selection. Jack Riewoldt has his, Buddy Franklin has a heap of them, Josh Kennedy has been there, done that, and even Tom Hawkins edged him out of a full forward slot that you could argue should have been his in 2019.
What does Ben Brown have to do to gain the respect of those who pull the AFL strings? What parameters would you set to see him named as the AA full forward?
Win the Coleman? He’s been so close, but it would be very difficult to deny him with that medal hanging around his neck.
Another 60+ goal season? It hasn’t been enough thus far, but how about if he topples over into the 70s? Could they ignore him then?
It seems that quality players and AA snubs go hand in hand with North Melbourne. Brown joins Ben Cunnington as one of the best proponents of his craft who get the least accolades. As a footy fan, I’d be rapt to see that change in 2020.
For both of them.
11 – TOM MITCHELL (HAWTHORN)
It is testament to how good Tom Mitchell was in both 2017 and 2018 that he could miss the entirety of the 2019 season and still sit just outside the top ten in this list. Of course, there are some who believe he doesn’t hurt you with the footy – they’re usually the same people who say such things about Lachie Neale. Allow me to throw a few of his credentials your way
The only player in the history of the V/AFL to have two 50+ possession games.
Pulled off the double in 2018, securing both the Brownlow and AFL MVP award. Here is the list of players he is keeping company with in that regard – Gary Ablett Jr, Dustin martin, Nat Fyfe, Ben Cousins, Michael Voss, Shane Crawford, Robert Harvey, Greg Williams, Jim Stynes.
Not a bad selection of talent, huh?
Most disposals in a season, highest disposal average in a season… people, Tom Mitchell is a star!
12 months out of the game with possibly the worst injury a player can experience – the same injury that ended former Tiger and Bulldog, Nathan Brown’s run as a true elite player, Mitchell has his work cut out for him. A tib/fib break is the stuff nightmares are made of. How he recovers from a blow like this will go a long way to determining just how far the Hawks can go in 2020.
If Mitchell re-emerges as one of the top handful of mids in the game, it has flow-on benefits for players like Jaeger O’Meara and James Worpel. They go from sharing the mantle of number one midfielder at hawthorn, to numbers two and three. They also find the freedom that comes with having a player like Mitchell take the heat.
I’m more than a little bit interested in how the Hawks track in 2020. Part of me thinks that, with the right injury luck, they could push deep into finals, but so much rides on the health of their Brownlow Medallist. Without him, they’re a middle of the road team.
And that’s it – the teens were pretty forward-heavy, weren’t they? Just the top 10 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.