So, the Marsh Series has been run and won.

Actually, nobody won anything, so in effect, it has been run, and that’s about it. You can take the competition in any way you see fit – be it a half-hearted hit out to get rid of the cobwebs, or a fully-fledged match-simulation with all the trimmings.

Judging by the way the players applied themselves on the field, it is the latter that most likely applied to them.

We saw some players make a name for themselves, enhance a reputation, and for others… it was the opposite effect. There were bags of goals, excellent defensive efforts, midfielders racking them up, and young stars showing a glimpse of what is to come.

The Marsh Series offers no prizes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t.

The Mongrel watched every game – we reviewed every one of them, so you know we were paying attention. Below is the list of the top 25 performers of the Marsh Series and the Bushfire relief game. If these players continue this form into the home and away season in around nine-days’ time, they’ll be mentioned in more than just columns on the pre-season.

Is there a formula to this?

Nope, this is just subjective observation from someone who watched every single March Series game and feels he has a good grip on what was impressive and what wasn’t. The formulaic rankings of Marsh Series performances will be released for members this week.

So, away we go.

 

25 – LIAM BAKER (RICHMOND)

Well, he beat out Josh Kelly for this slot, so you know he had to have been good.

In the first Marsh Series game, Baker stepped up in the absence of everyone except Dion Prestia to record a ripping 30 touches, 11 intercepts and nine rebounds as he launched from defence up to the wing.

Baker is one of the Richmond workhorses, and whilst his name is not up in lights, his capacity to do the tough stuff over and over again would make him a Hardwick favourite.

He pushed his way into the Richmond side in 2019, and there is no way he is resting on his laurels as we head toward Round One.

 

24 – BEN AINSWORTH (GOLD COAST)

The first of a few Suns players, Ainsworth averaged 19 touches and a game as a small forward for the Suns over the Marsh Series.

With injuries hampering his 2019, Ainsworth looks ready to jump right out of the box this season, and could surprise a few with some great early-season form. He had nine tackles in the first week as he made life miserable for Geelong defenders.

Here’s hoping for many more games where he is a thorn in the side of his opponent.

 

23 – ANDREW GAFF (WEST COAST)

Ahhh, not Tim Kelly, then?

No, but he is a huge part of this. You see, the addition of Tim Kelly is a godsend for Andrew Gaff. Let’s have a look at the game they played together.

Kelly more or less took the spit Gaff was occupying for the first half of 2019, drawn into the stoppages and working to clear the ball. Last year we saw Gaff thrust into that role – a role he is simply not equipped to play. He battled on, but eventually the Eagles sent him a possession away from the contest, where he was much better.

Now, with Kelly, Gaff played a lot of the game against the Dockers two handballs removed from the contest, and the results were 2018-like. 32 touches (23 uncontested) at a ripping 87% efficiency.

And that’s the impact Tim Kelly has, irrespective of whether he plays a great game or not.

 

22 – SAM NAISMITH (SYDNEY)

Sydney were smashed in the ruck last season. Only the pups at the Western Bulldogs were treated with as much disrespect by the league’s big men, and Callum Sinclair was forced to shoulder a load by himself that was obviously a two-man job.

But now Big Sam is back, and the days of pushing around an undersized ruck in red and white are gone. Sinclair can now head forward and do some damage on the scoreboard, whilst Naismith gives the Swans a ruck division that can legitimately compete with the best and will not be pushed around.

 

21 – LACHIE WELLER (GOLD COAST)

I heard some people mock his inclusion in the Bushfire Relief game, stating he was in there simply because Gold Coast needed representation.

My bet was that they’d probably never seen him play and get their knowledge of Gold Coast from Titus O’Reilly tweets.

He belonged, and more than that, there were moments where he stood out! Surrounded by the best players in the league, Weller’s  pace was a highlight, and he backed up that performance with a hard-running 27 touches against the Crows.

The Suns gave up pick two to bring Weller home. That investment may be about to pay off in a big way.

 

20 – SAM DOCHERTY (CARLTON)

Both he and the next bloke just had to get through. Doc has not played since 2017, and though there was plenty of rust to work out of his game, just seeing him get through would have been enough for Blues fans to breathe a sigh of relief.

Averaging 20 touches over the two games, Docherty wasn’t quite his old self, but the signs were good, and really, it didn’t matter if he hacked the footy out on the full and knocked a hot dog out of your hands, the fact that he got through would have made everyone – even non-Carlton supporters – smile widely.

You can always buy another hot dog.

 

19 –TOM MITCHELL (HAWTHORN)

You know what; he could have sat in a forward pocket and threaded blades of grass together to make a nice necklace, and I’d still be happy  that he got through the two Marsh Series games without aggravating the horrible leg injury he suffered last season.

Instead, he started to get some touch back, with 21 touches and 24 touches in his two games.

How well he returns from this injury will go a long way to determining how the Hawks fare in 2020, and truth be told, I am really pulling for him.

 

18 – JAKE MELKSHAM (MELBOURNE)

He looked a cut above in his week two outing, giving James Sicily a bath early on, and looking as though he had the ball on a string.

He had four goals as his timing on leads, and ability to make something out of nothing made him the most dangerous player on the ground.

I am also swayed by his performance in the Dees practice game against North Melbourne at Arden Street, where he was far and away the most effective forward on the ground. I have a feeling this will be a big year for him.

 

17 – ROWAN MARSHALL (ST KILDA)

I spoke to someone today who said that there wasn’t a high level of intensity in the Collingwood v St Kilda match up.

I think he must’ve missed the Rowan Marshall v Brodie Grundy contests.

The wolf climbing the hill is always a bit hungrier and more determined than the one on top, and Marshall eyed this contest with the league’s best big man as a way of proving how far  he’s come. He refused to be pushed out of the way by Grundy, and matched him at ground level as well.

If people think Marshall arrived in 2019, they may be in for a pleasant surprise when he surpasses that output in 2020. Last year he was politely knocking on the door of the room containing the best rucks in the game. This year, he is set to kick the bloody thing in!

 

16 – JACKSON HATELY (GWS)

The old crisis/opportunity scenario strikes again.

With Tim Taranto hurt in the first minutes of the first game, Hately stepped up to the plate and delivered an excellent performance.

Without other stellar midfield contributors like Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly, Lachie Whitfield and Callan Ward, Hately racked up 25 touches and eight clearances. His week two stats saw him with 29 touches and five clearances.

Personally, I’d much rather Taranto in the middle at the moment, but until he is ready, it looks as though GWS have another ripper in their ranks.

 

15 – ADAM TOMLINSON (MELBOURNE)

After a quiet first week wearing blue and red, Tomlinson showed what he was capable of in a devastating performance on the wing, racking up 32 touches, ten marks and six tackles in a  complete display.

His ability to run the length of the ground and be involved in contests at both ends, within seconds of each other need to be seen to be believed.

I admit, I was not a believer in the role he’d have at Melbourne, but after seeing how hard he works, and how determined he is to make every contest he can get to… I now believe.

 

14 – HUGH GREENWOOD (GOLD COAST)

If you didn’t watch his efforts in week one of the Marsh Series, load up for IQ, sit back and take it in. This is EXACTLY why the Gold Coast Suns recruited Greenwood.

He was the crash and bash mid the Suns needed to support David Swallow. He was the tackling, hustling and clearance-winning big body the Suns cried out for in 2019. Not the most heralded recruit, he could very well turn out to be one of the season’s best.

He followed that up with a more subdued 16 disposals in the second game, but of those 16 touches, 13 came in the contest, and six were clearances. Again…exactly what was required.

 

13 –WILL BRODIE (GOLD COAST)

I admit – I had him pointed out to me as the 2020 bolter by some of our Gold Coast readers, and his Marsh Series has backed up their claims.

He had a ball in week one against the Cats, relishing the opportunity to put a team to the sword, and backed that up with another solid outing against the Crows.

Brodie is strong, has that unique, hunched running style with the ball in his hands, and his desperation at the contest was excellent. In a team full of potential stars, Brodie may just be one of those who shine brightest in 2020.

 

12 –GRIFFIN LOGUE (FREMANTLE)

Gave Josh Kennedy a bit of a bath in the first half of the mini-derby, and might just get a run at the season without being hampered by injury for the first time in his career.

A former number eight overall selection, Logue held this defence together in the absence of Alex Pearce, Luke Ryan and Joel Hamling. He has been taking the best forward and doing a damn good job of it.

This rankings isn’t all about numbers- it is also about impact, and Logue is finally looking as though he will have the impact that the Dockers desire from him. He’ll be incredibly important in Round One.

 

11 – SAM POWELL-PEPPER (PORT ADELAIDE)

Has the penny dropped? Are we about to see the leap Port fans have been hoping for from the bald bull?

If application could be measured, there would be a significant spike in output for Powell-Pepper in 2020 already. Late in both games, he applied the blowtorch and did some of his best work at times when the 2019 version would have given up the ghost and looked forward to the next week.

Powell-Pepper tidied up some of that disposal as well, and though I am sure he will have moments and games where he lapses back to the hit-and-hope kicking style, his decision-making, and willingness to go in-board during the Marsh Series was the sort of result that would have pleased Ken Hinkley endlessly.

 

10 – BRAD HILL (ST KILDA)

Tore the Hawks asunder in the first week, with the kind of delivery that would have St Kilda forwards licking their chops, and St Kilda recruiters patting each other on the back.

Hill is an endurance machine, and is running at the same pace with five minutes to go as he is with five minutes gone in the first. The Saints have been missing quite a bit, but as we dissected their Marsh Series form, it was the way Hill used the footy that really stood out.

I wanted to have Dougal Howard in as well, but as good as he was in the second week, his first outing wasn’t quite up to the level I expected.

 

9 – MARCUS BONTEMPELLI (WESTERN BULLDOGS)

He just hit number one in Robbo’s top 50, and was electrifying in the first week of the Marsh Series, was okay in the Bushfire game, before capping off his pre-season with what should be the standard Bont game from now on.

His first outing was brilliant – 37 touches, two goals and 13 score involvements is the sort of return that will result in three-vote games in 2020. At 24 years old, Bont is about to enter his prime – a thought that should send chills up the spine of opposing coaches.

 

8 – DUSTIN MARTIN (RICHMOND)

Another game, another best on ground medal for Dusty.

Martin claimed the medal for the best player in the Bushfire Relief game and followed it up with a blistering half of footy against the Giants.

Dusty’s medal win may have been contentious, but his ability to wield influence over a game is not. He is the ultimate impact player, and when he gets the ball in his hands, the Tiger machine starts rolling. His ten score involvements (the only player in double figures) against Collingwood are testament to that.

 

7 – CHRISTIAN PETRACCA (MELBOURNE)

The ultimate tease may just be ready to finally deliver.

He has looked like a monster in the pre-season, marking strongly, moving with power and purpose and winning contested footy. His first week of the Marsh Series was a class in how to win your own footy – he finished with 27 contested touches to lead all players.

Whilst a quieter 23 touches in the second week deferred to Jack Viney’s contested footy-winning way, Petracca was still a force, and if he can reproduce this form in the home and away season, the Demons will undoubtedly ascend up the ladder.

 

6 – TOBY GREENE (GWS)

The match-winner in the Bushfire game, with a huge last quarter, and the match-saver in the second week of the Marsh Series with two of his five goals coming at a critical time in the last quarter, Greene is in the midst of transforming from infamous star, the out-and-out superstar.

A Mongrel favourite, his ability to change a game is the kind of quality every team wishes someone on their team possessed. He can move into the midfield when required, or drift forward to become the most dangerous player on the ground.

Ladies and gentleman, we could be about to witness the year of Toby Greene… and I know some of you will absolutely hate it!

 

5 – TOM PAPLEY (SYDNEY)

I was a little worried that Papley would get a little sulky after not having his trade wishes fulfilled in the off-season, but his form in both the Bushfire game, and the second week of the Marsh Series have blown that out of the water.

Papley could very well have been awarded the best player on the ground award in what was basically an All-Star game, and he followed that up with four goals against the Kangaroos this past weekend.

The Swans are not expected to contend this year. They’re not expected to make the eight, but if Tom Papley can maintain his pre-season form into the home and away season, he will be a thorn in the side of many a team.

 

4 – BAILEY SMITH (WESTERN BULLDOGS)

The midfield of the Dogs is the envy of most other teams. Bontempelli, Macrae, Dunkley, Hunter on the wing… they’re a ball-winning, long kicking, accumulating machine.

And then they add Bailey Smith, who will soon have his name mentioned in the same breath as Connor Rozee and Sam Walsh as the outstanding players of the 2018 draft.

Despite his hairstyle, Smith is an intelligent player, and is excelling in the area that elite midfield need it – toughness. He had ten tackles in each of the Marsh Series game, adding an aggressive twist to the Bulldogs’ midfield. You wouldn’t pick him as a smart player, would you?

 

3 – ANDREW MCGRATH (ESSENDON)

Finally… McGrath has come back…to the midfield!

OK, that Rock impersonation doesn’t really fly on paper, but if you tilt your head back, raise an eyebrow and say it again, I’m sure  you’ll enjoy it.

Really, McGrath has not been a genuine midfielder in his career, sometimes running off half back, and other times…not running off half back. But the way he took to his midfield minutes in the two Marsh Series games would have the Bomber fans smiling.

McGrath had a ripping first half in week one, and I stated at the time that I wanted to see him do it for four quarters before I started truly singing his praises. Lo and behold, week provided just that.

McGrath has been basically the same player over the last three years, his numbers barely changing, but if he breaks out in 2020, it might just be the lift the Bombers need. He ain’t no jabroni.

 

2 – LACHIE SCHULTZ (FREMANTLE)

I’m a little partial to players who like to get under the skin of the opposition, and in Schultz, the Dockers seem to have found a partial answer to their small/mid forward dilemma (was it a dilemma, or just a question?).

With Brandon Matera out of form in week one, Schultz stepped up to snag four goals and lay six tackles. He backed that performance up with another two goals and four tackles as the Dockers got down and dirty to beat the Eagles.

With seven games to his name, Schultz used the pre-season perfectly. He worked his ass off and earned himself a Round One berth in the team. Yep, I’ve picked him – he’s in… and his spot is richly deserved.

 

1 – DARCY MACPHERSON (GOLD COAST)

Annoying, antagonistic, brash… and just what the Suns need.

DMac was the only Sun to top 30 touches in both Gold Coast wins this pre-season, and could be a wildcard in the deck that gives the Suns an edge in the 2020 season.

He gets forward, lays tackles and kicks goals. Oh, and he likes a bit of banter and some rough stuff. Could end up being the Gold Coast version of Toby Greene.

Was he better than Dusty or Bont? Well, he wasn’t selected for the Bushfire Relief game, so on the whole, of course not. However, in terms of the strides me made this pre-season, players like DMac and Sergeant Schultz have won this pre-season because they improved their standing in the league. Dusty and Bont just reinforced their own.

 

Apologies to B-Zerk-Thatcher, Jordan de Goey, Darcy Parish, Elliot Yeo, Tim Kelly, David Swallow, Lachie Neale, Josh Daicos, Darcy Cameron, Mark Keane, Zac Langdon, Jake Lever, James Aish, Rory Lobb, Tom Green and Tim Membrey. All could have taken up a spot on this list easily.

 

And as a bonus, here are the ten players for whom the Marsh Series really didn’t work.

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