And here we are, at the pointy end of the countdown.
Remember when there were a thing like word limits? That’s why it’s good having your own site, I guess. If you like the long-form stuff, this one is for you. I want to give the top ten in the countdown the attention they deserve, and as such, it got a little lengthy.
But I’m fine with that if you are…
I’d like to say it’s been a wild ride, but it really hasn’t. We’re really pleased with the way this has been received and though I am sure there’ll be a few quibbles about the order in which the players are ranked, when you look at the past few seasons, I reckon this top ten is a very accurate reflection of the players who have been at the top of their game.
Is it 100% correct? Of course not. To save you flicking through the articles linked below, the short form formula behind the rankings is a mesh of placings in recognised AFL awards, best and fairest finishes, where players ranked in our own votes/power rankings, with additional bonuses for those who hold current AFL records. I’d like to believe that it’s relatively comprehensive, but in the end, it is just one formula, and one I am already planning on tweaking to create a more even playing field for defenders – the highest-ranked defender was Jeremy McGovern at 26; this needs to change.
As a result, and as a result of there being a distinct lack of formal ways of acknowledging defenders, I will be developing a rating system in 2020 that will feed directly into this ranking and allow defenders to rank higher.
For instance, if I took this and applied it right now (and this is just guesswork as to who would be ranked number one) and the number one ranked defender was McGovern, it would propel him into 12th position overall.
So that’s something I’m working on.
Righto – before we continue, please familiarise yourself with players 50-11 in the links below to save asking about them, and we’ll get this show on the road.
All caught up and ready for the top ten? Good.
Let’s do it.
10 – TIM KELLY (WEST COAST)
The West Coast Eagles would have moved heaven and earth to secure Tim Kelly, and what they ended up doing is giving Geelong a nice little nest of draft selections to ensure they remain relevant in the coming years in the process. Was it an all-or-nothing kind of move by the Eagles?
Yeah, it kind of was – they have a foot in the premiership window right now, and they’re looking for Tim Kelly to push them through it.
Two years at Geelong and Kelly has leapt into calculations as a top ten player in the game. Quite amazing really, isn’t it? When was the last time this happened? Chris Judd? Kelly was seventh in the league for total clearances in 2019 and joins Luke Shuey in the midfield, who was rated fourth overall. This is a scary proposition.
A dual threat, Kelly can work inside or outside and do either with brutal efficiency. A wonderful mix of contested (11.68) and uncontested (14.04) footy indicates that Kelly is the kind of player that can adapt to whatever the opposition throws at him, OR whatever role he is asked to play.
Perhaps one of the better examples of Kelly adapting came in his worst game of the season in 2019 against GWS, where he was introduced to the season’s best tagger Matt de Boer. The GWS stopper put the clamps on Kelly (no shame in that – the list of names de Boer halted in 2019 is impressive) but the second-year star still worked hard defensively to rack up seven tackles for the afternoon.
If Kelly adds another string to his bow – let’s say his disposal efficiency rises from 65% to over 70% and he goes from an average of 446 metres gained to around 480-500, we could be seeing the makings of a Brownlow Medallist.
Maybe that is head-in-the-clouds kind of stuff, and maybe the reality is that like most new recruits, it will take Kelly half a season to really find his place in an established midfield. Even if that is the case, by the time finals roll around, Kelly will be entrenched in a set-up with the likes of Shuey, Yeo, Sheed, Redden and Gaff. That is a powerhouse cohort of players, and if heaven and earth moving result in another premiership cup, there will be a recruiting department at West Coast smiling satisfied smiles indeed.
9 – MARCUS BONTEMPELLI (WESTERN BULLDOGS)
The 2019 version of Marcus Bontempelli was worth waiting for. This form was the form people speculated about when he burst into the national consciousness in 2016 as the young star of the upstart Western Bulldogs. Four seasons later, we may finally be ready for Bont to ascend into the stratosphere as one of the top handful of players in the game.
There was a doggedness about Bont in 2019, and it became apparent to me in the pair of games against Carlton and Patrick Cripps. Let’s not sugar-coat this… Bont had his ass handed to him by Cripps in their first meeting, and he was rightfully whacked by several sources for his lack of defensive accountability. Cripps had a day out, and powered the Blues to their first win of the season. I watched this game and specifically covered their match-up in-depth here – https://themongrelpunt.com/afl-season-2019/2019/04/21/2019-04-19-crippsbont/
However, in the rematch, Bont was a man on a mission, and left no doubt in the minds of any that he could go toe-to-toe with any player in the game. More than that, he could win!
Here is our Good, Bad and Ugly review of the Dogs’ win in their second clash with the Blues – it was Bont’s most meaningful personal game of the season, for mine.
Anyway, enough cheap plugs – Bont is surrounded by quality in that Bulldog midfield. His teammates in Jack Macrae and Josh Dunkley walk into most teams and secure either the number one or number two midfield roles, and their presence allows Bontempelli the freedom to be the player we always thought he could be.
He doesn’t need huge stats to hurt teams, and at 24 has already secured three best and fairest awards at the Dogs. Now, as captain, he looks to take his team (and really, it feels like it has been HIS team for a while) back to the promised land. The Dogs were the most exciting team in the game in the second half of 2019. They played a blistering brand of footy and at the centre of that whirlwind was Bont. Career-high numbers in disposals, clearances, contested touches and inside 50 possessions indicate that he is now ready to ascend the mountain he started climbing back in 2016.
And perhaps 2020 can be the season he reaches the summit… again.
8 – JACK MACRAE (WESTERN BULLDOGS)
Most of you are aware I am not a Western Bulldogs supporter, but I had a huge smile on my face when Jack Macrae was unveiled as one of the 2019 All-Australian representatives. I’m pretty sure every neutral supporter would have been happy for him – it was reward for bloody hard work.
Macrae has been a running machine for the past several seasons, and really, probably should have been banging down AA selectors’ doors in 2018. He made a significant leap that year, with his disposals per game average jumping +5.29 touches per game to finish at 32.79. He then went one better in 2019, finishing with 33.35 touches per game and a total of 767 total disposals, which was good for ninth place ALL-TIME.
Often overshadowed by the bloke we had at number nine in this countdown, Macrae plays a different game. He is an accumulator who is less of a long-driving kick inside 50, ala Bont, and more of a link man. His 20+ uncontested touches per game ranked him as equal third in the league and had him in elite company as one of just four players to top that 20 touches per game mark.
What can we expect from him in 2020? Is he capable of challenging for the all-time disposals in a season record, currently held by Tom Mitchell? I think in a team with slightly less talented teammates, we may see him give it a shake, but the emergence of Josh Dunkley as a ball-winning mid in 2019 will see a more balanced attack between him, Macrae and Bont as the Dogs look to throw several different looks at the opposition. I do think that a third-consecutive 30+ disposal season is on the cards for Macrae, however. He is relentless and amazingly, still gets under the guard of the opposition.
Interestingly, when Macrae had 35+ disposals in 2019, the Dogs were 8-2, but the two times they lost in that metric, Macrae had over 40 touches. So you want him to be very good, but not TOO good, right?
7 – DUSTIN MARTIN (RICHMOND)
G’day Mr September… I thought you’d be a bit higher in this, but given we’re also assessing home and away games and seasons, it’s not quite your thing, is it?
Joining Luke Hodge, Andrew McLeod and Gary Ayres as the only dual Norm Smith Medallists in history, Dusty has the chance – and it is a legitimate chance – to etch his name into football folklore as the most dominant finals player of all time over the next couple of seasons. We all expect Richmond to be contending, right? We all expect them to be in the mix when the 2020 premiership is decided, right? What would be your worst result for them, right now? Fourth? And that would be considered very low considering what they’ve conjured in the last few years.
Chances are Dusty gets an opportunity to add a third Norm Smith at some stage in the next few seasons… it would be amazing. Or maybe he’ll take the foot off in the last quarter and allow Bachar Houli to finally win one – haha.
If we were doing a finals player power rankings, it’d almost be unfair at the moment.
However, this is encompassing all games over the past few years, and in truth, Dusty’s 2019 before the finals wasn’t as good as previous years. Tiger supporters will trot out the “he was saving himself” line, and the results indicate that theory is hard to argue with, but no AA selection in 2019 also indicates that in the home and away season, several were better than Dusty. His 2018 season was also a drop in form from 2017, but then again, that 2017 season is difficult to compare to anything except maybe Leigh Matthews at his best.
Is a place in history enough to propel Martin to greater heights in 2020? What would that look like?
We got a taste of it against Brisbane in the Qualifying Final, when he drifted forward and finished with six goals – the highest goal total of the 2019 finals by ANY player. This part-timer did what no full time forward was able to do. The man is a freak.
As a forward/mid splitting his time at the two positions, no one can get close to Dusty, and if he decides the home and away is his time as well… look out!
6 – MAX GAWN (MELBOURNE)
We had Clayton Oliver at 18, but a lot of that was based on his excellent 2018 season carry-over. This is not the case for Max Gawn, who was a shining light for a Melbourne team that found themselves in a very, very dark place last season.
His tap work was still sublime. His willingness to put his body in harm’s way and drift back into traffic at half-back was inspirational, and his leadership on-field moved him into the fame to become co-captain in 2020.
Oh, and he also just got married – congrats, big fella.
The debate as to who is the best ruckman in the game isn’t as simple as it should be. Gawn and Grundy traded positions in the 2019 All-Australian team, as Gawn was relegated to the bench in favour of the Collingwood star, but when they went head-to-head on Queen’s Birthday, it was Gawn putting Grundy to the sword and dominating the contest in emphatic fashion.
Whilst it was later revealed that Grundy was under the weather, Gawn’s dominance in their clash was a sharp reminder that the bearded demon (good name for a lizard?) was far from a distant second in their ongoing battle. Here’s a quick article on their second clash of 2019 – https://themongrelpunt.com/uncategorized/2019/08/10/round-three-of-the-grundy-v-gawn-war/
Gawn will be central to any expected Melbourne renaissance in 2020. No player in the league gives his midfielders the silver service that Gawn does. Oliver averaged career-high numbers in clearances in 2019 thanks mainly to the ruck work of Gawn, and if some of the other highly-regarded Melbourne mids can elevate their game as well (Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw… looking at you!) perhaps the climb up the ladder for the Dees will be as sudden as their fall.
Melbourne possess one of the genuine elite weapons in the competition right now. They have him at what should be his peak. They cannot waste this.
5 – LACHIE NEALE (BRISBANE)
There is no coincidence that Brisbane’s sudden improvement coincided with the arrival of Lachie Neale. For years there was an argument that Neale’s influence at Fremantle was overshadowed by that of Nat Fyfe – I’m not completely sold.
Whilst Fyfe is undoubted megastar of the game, Neale was a ball-magnet there as well. Perhaps it is just that more people realised how good he was once he stepped out of that enormous purple shadow and started to play his trade in a team that quickly became his.
And it is his team.
The Lachie Neale effect sent ripples through the team. His start to 2019 was as good as we’ve seen in recent seasons, making a statement that he was there to make a difference. The Lions had just lost Dayne Beams, who headed back to Collingwood just weeks after speaking about how committed he was to the Lions at their best and fairest function. Whilst many thought that losing Beams and gaining Neale may have been a slight net gain, the results speak of a huge lift in the Brisbane midfield as a result of the Neale arrival.
Neale exploded in the first four weeks, with three of those games seeing him surpass the 40-disposal mark, and leaving no doubt that he was going to be the biggest gun in the Brisbane arsenal. He continued his disposal-rich season, becoming just the ninth player to pass that mark in V/AFL history.
Amazingly, Neale’s 30.92 disposals per game were not his highest. His 2016 saw him average 33.50 touches, though 2019 did see him top his best season for clearances with 189 to lead the league at an average of 7.9 per game. He may have got slightly less footy, but he did more with it.
Neale is a fascinating case to monitor in 2020. His output in 2019 set the tone for the Brisbane Lions, and with so much expected of them this year, they will once again look to their man in the middle to get the motor running. Neale got his first-ever All-Australian selection in 2019. It will not be his last.
4 – NAT FYFE (FREMANTLE)
Is it conceivable that we could have a three-time Brownlow Medallist by the time all is said and done, in Nat Fyfe? I wouldn’t bet against it.
Fyfe was spectacular in 2019, just as he was in 2015 when he picked up his first Charlie. He put the Fremantle team on his back at times, and despite some criticism from some in the media about his defensive pressure, Fyfe continued to throw his body into contests both at ground level, and in the air with reckless abandon.
As a matter of fact, after the criticism was levelled at Fyfe, I started watching him more intently without the ball – his attack on the ball carrier was as selfless as anyone in the game, often hurling himself horizontally to get a hand on the opposition as they were trying to break away. I don’t know what those who criticised Fyfe were seeing, but I cannot fault his desperation.
Fyfe had his most prolific season in terms of winning the footy, and looking at Freo in 2020, it is difficult to see him being required to do anything less than top that again. Freo may have to insert Michael Walters into the middle more to give their captain some aid – as good as he is, he cannot get his team back to finals without some high-quality assistance.
So, three Brownlows? A possibility? If Fyfe can stay healthy, there is no reason he shouldn’t be right in contention. If Freo can win ten games, and Fyfe stays on the park, we could be looking at the first triple Brownlow Medallist of the AFL era. I mean, he did it last year with his team winning just eight games.
3 – PATRICK DANGERFIELD (GEELONG)
There’ll be a few who screw their nose up at Dangerfield up this high, and reckon I know why. You see, in Patrick Dangerfield, we have the anti-Dusty. Danger excels in the home and away season, just as Martin does in the post-season. But in the finals, Danger is yet to secure his place in history. It feels a little incomplete.
So, with that in mind, shouldn’t Martin be ranked above him given he gets it done when it matters most?
Well, no… and yes. We are assessing both home and away and finals, and there seems to be more awards and more things to assess in the home and away season. For instance, Brownlow finishes – Danger was right up there again this season, finishing second, whilst Dusty slotted in equal-sixth. Add to that Danger’s best and fairest award and it gave him enough points in this system to leap past his contemporary.
But enough about the Danger v Dusty debate… I’m sure this season will add more fuel to the fire in regard to those two.
Dangerfield is such a divisive character and player. It seems a lot of supporters either love him or hate him. I really don’t have strong feelings either way think of him – how neutral of me, right? Don’t tell Zapp Brannigan!
Danger is a match-winner, and seeing him explode out of the middle with the ball late in game is scintillating… however, seeing him bomb aimlessly inside 50 would have Geelong supporters tearing their hair out. At his best, he is arguably the best player in the game, and at his worst, he goes missing in the third quarter of a Preliminary Final as his team is overrun. Too soon?
Danger’s legacy is an interesting one. There are players who are looked at as undoubtedly great – Robbie Flower, Tony Lockett, Gary Ablett Senior, Nathan Buckley, Matthew Richardson – the glaring omissions on their CVs are premierships. Buckley and Ablett have huge performances in Grand Finals to hang their hats on – they almost dragged their teams over the line. Dangerfield has nothing of the sort.
Does Danger need a flag, or at least a big showing on the grandest stage of all to really cement his legacy? With seven All-Australian selections, four best and fairest awards, an MVP and a Brownlow, a finals record of 6-10 with no premiership detracts from the way he’ll be remembered. At 30 years old in 2020, Danger needs it now.
The addition of Jack Steven is a really interesting one for the Cats. As they lose Tim Kelly, how Steven is able to function , and what condition he manages to get himself in will determine the amount of pressure on Danger this season. Mitch Duncan will see an increased role, and Joel Selwood will pour his heart and soul into his team, but ultimately, the Cats will live and die by the brilliance or Patrick Dangerfield.
Can he handle it one more time? And will he reap the rewards as a result?
2 – PATRICK CRIPPS (CARLTON)
I’ve written a little in this countdown about Cripps being a bit of a media darling over the past couple of seasons, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t deserved. When I’ve mentioned it, it has been in comparison to others who have performed at similarly high levels. It was never to denigrate the feats of Cripps.
So, what do Carlton have with Patrick Cripps?
2019 showed us that he is highly capable of putting his team on his back and carrying them to wins. It would be unfair to expect him to do anything like this on a regular basis, but what he did against Brisbane in Round 12 was nothing short of Herculean. Down six goals to none in David Teague’s first game as Carlton coach, the Blues and their indomitable captain refused to take things lying down, and rallied to win.
Cripps was electrifying, compiling 38 touches, eight clearances and kicking four important goals. It was leadership personified, and Carlton supporters watching that day had to be aware of just how good this bloke in navy blue was… and could be.
If we’re looking at age profile, Cripps should be coming into his peak years right now. After losing some time to injury a couple of years ago, Cripps has been making up for lost time, and now it is time for the Blues to come along for the ride. The first six years of Cripps’ career have been spent patiently, or impatiently waiting for Carlton to get their act together. As Cripps reaches this point in his career, can he wait much longer without frustration bubbling over?
Named the AFL MVP in 2019 by his peers, Cripps will need to continue being the anchor of the Carlton midfield. Unlike his counterpart, Marcus Bontempelli, Cripps is not surrounded by top-end talent in the middle, and will have to continue being a little more patient as Sam Walsh and Sam Petrevski-Seton grow and develop.
There are a few players in the league who are the heartbeat of their teams, and several of them at the pointy end of these rankings – Gawn, Mitchell, Fyfe and Dangerfield amongst them – but none are more important to their team than Patrick Cripps is to Carlton.
If 2020 is the year Carlton start to ascend the ladder again, it will be in no small part due to the exploits of their bull-like captain as he powers his way from contest to contest.
1 – BRODIE GRUNDY (COLLINGWOOD)
By an incredibly close margin, the Collingwood ruckman nudged out Cripps for the number one spot. As a matter of fact, the top four could have easily changed position with just a small adjustment in our metrics. It was very, very close.
However, after all the number crunching and associated frustration on my behalf, the number one player is Brodie Grundy.
Incredibly consistent and able to run the majority of other big men into the ground, Grundy took the necessary step to surpass the dominance of Max Gawn in 2019 to establish himself as the best big man of the season. In the section on Gawn you will note that I emphasised his dominance over an ailing Grundy in their first encounter last season, but in the second, it was Grundy that was the big man commanding the most attention.
In fact, it was Melbourne almost conceding Grundy’s importance, instructing Gawn to tag his nemesis instead of playing his natural game. The result – a resounding win to the Collingwood big man.
So, with his contract situation still not settled (but Collingwood sounding very confident now that they’ve caved on the duration), Grundy is in for a huge payday and at just 25 is about to hit what would normally be the peak years for a ruckman. Just how good can he be?
With 20+ disposals in 16 games in 2019, Grundy’s ability to win the ball, and collect his own clearances (146 good enough for equal eighth in the league) is breaking new ground for rucks. How teams handle him in 2020 will go a long way to determining how effective they are against the Pies. Want an example? Have a look at the last quarter of the 2019 Prelim against GWS.
Grundy was huge in the last quarter, racking up over 70 hit outs for the game. Unfortunately for the Pies, the Giants worked hard to negate his influence, with very few of those hit outs going to advantage, particularly late in the game when it was all on the line. You have to wonder what lessons teams took out of the GWS victory and their tactics against Grundy. Could it be enough to bring the big man back to earth in 2020?
Or will we witness another stage in the evolution of the ruckman?
Grundy forced a bit of a rework of our weekly power rankings heading into 2020. Did he break the system in 2019? Hmmm, maybe not broke it, but he did drag it through the ringer a bit. As such, it has forced me to reassess the trigger for rucks in terms of clearances – Grundy hit it on 18 occasions. It may assist in allowing the group to contend properly in 2020 – Grundy was the number one ranked player in EVERY ranking period last season, whilst second place changed hands nine times in the 11 ranking periods.
As it stands, heading into the 2020 season, all things considered, Brodie Grundy sits at number in our player power rankings.
And the challenge is now laid at the feet of those below him.
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.