Here at The Mongrel we have a flair for the extravagant. We recently published our second annual forwards awards – The Pluggies, for the best offensive efforts of the season, but far from being entirely swayed by those who kick bags of goals, we’re looking to be an equal-opportunity award giver.

2nd Annual Pluggies – The Forwards Awards for 2020

 

And so, we’re now looking at the defenders.

Not to step on the toes of the late Danny Frawley’s Golden Fist award, we’d like to drill down a bit further, into the ins and outs of being a defender in the modern game. It’s now so much more than just beating your man, and there are stats to track how well a defender performs.

How many one-percenters is a player notching? How many times are they the one that exits defensive 50? What about the interceptors? Or the guys gaining valuable metres for their teams?

We’ll be drilling down into each category to come up with the winners in each distinct category, but what should we call these awards? Something that does these prestigious awards justice…

The Alex Rance Awards? Settle down, Tiger-haters… I wouldn’t name it after someone who has so recently departed the game.

The Matty Scarlett Awards? The Dustin Fletchers? The Prestis? The Denchies?

The Bruce Doull Awards?

Ahhhh, now we’re getting somewhere. In honour of the Flying Doormat, maybe we could shorten the name. It’s not the Oscars, not the Logies, and it certainly fits right in with the Pluggies.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the 2020 Doullies.

 

THE BRUCE DOULL AWARD for the best overall defensive performance.

 

And the nominees are…

HARRIS ANDREWS (BRISBANE)

LUKE RYAN (FREMANTLE)

DARCY MOORE (COLLINGWOOD)

NICK HAYNES (GWS)

 

AND THE WINNER IS… LUKE RYAN (FREMANTLE)

 

A career-best season for Luke Ryan saw him step up into the role of defensive general for the Dockers, controlling the back half and holding together a Freo defence that was once again cut down by injury.

With Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling both struck down by injury, Ryan emerged as the man in the back half, ranking first in rebound fifties, first in intercepts per game, eighth in metres gained and third in kicks per game.

Whatever Fremantle needed, Luke Ryan provided as he switched between lockdown roles and that of the loose, rebounder.

Ryan had 10+ intercepts on five occasions in 2020 and had a run of games from Round 8-13 where he surged to the top of our defensive player of the year rankings. During that period, he averaged an incredible 9.6 intercepts per game amongst his 23.2 disposals.

Whilst Freo failed to make the finals, their slow start to the season really hurting them, Ryan’s emergence as the best all-round defender in the league has given them quite a bit of room to play with their defensive line up in 2021.

More extensive coverage of Ryan’s season below for our members

Mongrel Punt Defensive Player Of The Year – Purple Reign

 

 

THE “DENNIS RODMAN I CAN’T REALLY SCORE BUT BY GOD, I CAN REBOUND” AWARD for the best Rebound 50 performance

 

And the nominees are…

TOM STEWART (GEELONG)

LUKE RYAN (FREMANTLE)

JAKE LLOYD (SYDNEY)

JACK LUKOSIUS (GOLD COAST)

 

AND THE WINNER IS… LUKE RYAN

Settle down… it’s not going to be a clean sweep, but nobody worked the defensive fifty as well as Luke Ryan in 2020.

Able to zone off at the right moment to create a release option, Ryan could have really fallen in love with the role of being loose man in defence, but to his credit (and the credit of Justin Longmuir for preventing it from happening) he was able to successfully navigate between minding his man and opening the game up.

Ryan is a terrific one-on-one player, but even he couldn’t handle some of the biggest blokes in the game. Luckily, Brennan Cox really stepped up to help him in the second half of the season and the improved efforts of Taylin Duman and Ethan Hughes gave him ample support in that regard.

Ryan led the league in rebounds as the Dockers continually used him to turn defence into attack and if the Dockers are to return to finals in 2021, much will depend on how they can work Ryan free to continue to provide his rebounding.

 

THE FORMER DYLAN GRIMES AWARD – Best performance by a defender in a supporting role

Right, before I get you all complaining, to qualify for this award I can’t have a player ranked as a top two defender at a club. If there is a CLEAR two players thought of as better, then you’re in with a show.

 

On with the nominees…

LIAM BAKER (RICHMOND)

LACHIE KEEFFE (GWS)

JORDAN RIDLEY (ESSENDON)

LIAM DUGGAN (WEST COAST)

JACK CRISP (COLLINGWOOD)

LUKE MCDONALD (NORTH MELBOURNE)

TRENT MCKENZIE (PORT ADELAIDE)

 

AND THE WINNER IS… TRENT MCKENZIE

What a turnaround for this bloke!

From the young bloke with the long leg at Gold Coast to one who looked as though he may fall through to the cracks to a wonderful defensive presence in the Port Adelaide defence.

The emergence of McKenzie was one aspect of Port’s 2020 that people really didn’t see coming. Often, it is players that improve organically – not the big signing of new recruit – that make a big difference.

After just two games in his first two seasons of Port’s list, McKenzie looked more like a candidate for delisting than a promotion into a permanent spot in the team, but he made good on his opportunity, taking on some big jobs and playing 17 games in 2020.

 

On a side note, I did strongly consider Brad Sheppard as a nominee but believe he is now a top-two defender at West Coast. It’d be McGovern and Sheppard as one-two, for me. Unfortuately, that excluded him from this award.

 

THE FORREST GUMP “AND I JUST KEPT RUNNING” AWARD for the most metres gained

 

And the nominees are…

JAYDEN SHORT (RICHMOND)

JAKE LLOYD (SYDNEY)

TOM STEWART (GEELONG)

BRAYDEN MAYNARD (COLLINGWOOD)

BAILEY WILLIAMS (WESTERN BULLDOGS)

 

AND THE WINNER IS… JAYDEN SHORT (RICHMOND)

There are blokes that gain ground and kick the ball as far as possible every time they get it – and a big hello to Adam Saad – and then there are the blokes who get the footy, run with it and do something with it.

Jayden Short fits the latter category perfectly.

Though he has been a weapon for a couple of seasons, Short was able to really display what he could do for the Tigers in 2020. With Bachar Houli opting to remain in Victoria with family as Richmond hubbed in Queensland, Short was afforded more opportunity and he really made the most of it.

He led the league in metres gained and picked up a handy little Jack Dyer Medal in the process as he steered the Tigers out of defence and got them running in waves. Best and Fairests in a premiership season are awards that every player desires, and as of this season, Jayden Short can count himself amongst those to be judged the best player for the season… on the best team.

Oh, and he collects this award as well.

 

THE RODNEY DANGERFIELD “NO RESPECT” AWARD for the player consistently playing great defensive footy and getting very little credit.

Before I begin – to qualify, you must have NEVER been an All-Australian.

 

And the nominees are

ROBBIE TARRANT (NORTH MELBOURNE)

JACOB WEITERING (CARLTON)

DAVID ASTBURY (RICHMOND)

SAM COLLINS (GOLD COAST)

STEVEN MAY (MELBOURNE)

 

AND THE WINNER IS – STEVEN MAY

I know, Kangaroos fans… Robbie Tarrant robbed again. Not quite – he won this award last season, and though Tarrant was solid again in a defence leaking goals, May’s season was fantastic – and he got zero respect from the All-Australian selectors who didn’t even whack him into the squad of 40!

May was the selection of many people as the All-Australian fullback, an opinion that grew once Harris Andrews went down with a hamstring injury late in the season. He more than made up for his poor 2019, where he was out of shape, suspended and injured throughout the season and looked as though he may end up as one of the real regrets of the Melbourne list management team.

May ended the season ranked sixth in Rebound 50s and ninth in one-percenters as he formed a very solid defensive base with Jake Lever. The Dees would be looking forward to those two anchoring their climb back up the ladder in 2021.

 

THE IVAN DRAGO “YOU DON’T WANNA BE ON THE END OF ONE OF THOSE FISTS” AWARD for contest killing

 

And the nominees are…

HARRIS ANDREWS (BRISBANE)

TOM BARRASS (WEST COAST)

LIAM JONES (CARLTON)

 

AND THE WINNER IS… LIAM JONES (CARLTON)

You may have to settle me down a bit here – I genuinely love what he brings to the table for the Blues.

You could be forgiven for forgetting about Liam Jones. All we ever heard all season about the Carlton defence was Jacob Weitering-this and Jacob Weitering-that, however much of the heavy lifting in that Carlton back six was performed by the once-maligned Jones, who has developed into an excellent key defender and contest killer, extraordinaire.

Much like old mate, Joe Ganino, he gets his fist into places that he really shouldn’t be able to, and spoils everything he comes in contact with.

Jones ended up leading the league in one-percenters, often beating his own man in one-on-one contests but also flying in to aid his fellow Blues defenders with a timely fist

 

THE “YOU CERTAINLY DON’T LOOK OLD ENOUGH BUT I’LL TAKE YOUR WORD FOR IT” AWARD for the best young defender in the game.

Must be under 22 years of age. Sorry Bomber fans – guess who just had a birthday?

 

And the nominees are…

BRANDON STARCEVICH (BRISBANE)

ISAAC QUAYNOR (COLLINGWOOD)

JACK LUKOSIUS (GOLD COAST)

WILL DAY (HAWTHORN)

NOAH BALTA (RICHMOND)

NICK COFFIELD (ST KILDA)

TOM MCCARTIN (SYDNEY)

 

AND THE WINNER IS… NOAH BALTA (RICHMOND)

To me, it came down to Coffield and Balta, but with key defenders usually taking more time to develop, I simply cannot go past Balta.

Having just turned 21, he is already strong enough to contend with the biggest power forwards in the game, and the funny thing is, in this Richmond system, he has hasn’t been at all rushed to take on the role. They’ve been patient and he has just forced his way into the side.

Balta is an athlete that can close in on a leading opponent or stand body-to-body with whoever plays as deepest forward. With great support around him, he looks to be the defensive leader in the Richmond side for the next ten years.

Scary, huh?

 

THE DUSTIN FLETCHER “SNEAK FORWARD AND HURT THEM ON THE SCOREBOARD” AWARD

 

AND THE WINNER IS – HEATH SHAW (GWS)

RUNNER UP – JOSH WALKER (NORTH MELBOURNE)

Great to see Heater get a nod on his way out the door.

His effort in the game against Essendon, where he was matched up on Conor “play me as a forward – I swear I’ll be good” McKenna saw him run off the want-away Bomber to get forward and snag two goals.

Shaw has always been an intelligent footballer – not saying he is some sort of genius… more like a footballing savant than anything. He knows what to do and when to do it, and seeing his match up not really knowing what he was doing, Shaw took advantage, took the game on and made a huge difference to the Giants.

Heath Shaw walks into retirement as one of the best running, rebounding defenders of the AFL era. Always prepared to take on one of the bigger jobs for his team, even in the twilight of his career, his presence on the GWS team, and in the AFL in general, will be sorely missed.

Josh Walker was a revelation for North Melbourne in 2020 and whilst he only had three goals for the season, his presence as a marking option was vital to a struggling North Melbourne team who had players dropping like flies.

 

THE KOBE BRYANT “GOING OUT WITH A BANG” AWARD for best defensive performance in his last game

 

AND THE WINNER IS – HARRY TAYLOR (GEELONG)

In typical Harry Taylor fashion, the old fella stood and applauded Gary Ablett off the ground despite knowing it was also his last game as well.

Taylor announced his retirement in the week following the Grand Final, but his final game was a very good one for him, personally. Playing on a man capable of turning the game with his contested marking and physical presence, Taylor was excellent in restricting the impact of Tom Lynch in the biggest game of the season, holding the full forward to just eight touches and one goal.

Taylor led the Grand Final in spoils and could genuinely hold his head high with his final performance in hoops.

 

THE LEO BARRY “COMING UP BIG WHEN IT COUNTS” AWARD for best defensive performance of the finals

 

AND THE WINNER IS – LACHIE HENDERSON (GEELONG)

Strange that the Cats win this one on face value. There’d be an argument for the best defender in the finals to come from the Premiership team  – that’s understandable, but I cannot go past the performance of Henderson over the entire series.

Whilst he wasn’t the standout of the Grand Final, Henderson’s performance across all four finals for Geelong was probably the best of all Cats over the entire series.

Henderson was delisted after the 2019 season, however he was picked up again by the Cats as insurance. He averaged 14.75 disposals, 7.25 marks and 5.5 intercepts per game across the four Geelong finals.

Geelong do not award a “best finals player” as part of the Carji Greeves Medal awards, but if they did, I believe Henderson would have given it a real shake this season.

 

And there we go; our second instalment of ‘The Doullies’.

Hopefully, it is taken in the tone it is intended, but you just can never tell with some people… they get so fired up.

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