Okey-doke, the 40-31 ranks raised a few questions, with Ben Brown ranking above Tom Lynch – I must stress… this is not a ranking based on personal preference. I’m not Robbo. It is based on performance over the last three years.

Give me the choice right now around which key forward I’d like to have on my team (the team with no key forwards since Jon Patton’s alleged indiscretions), and I’d take Lynch every day of the week. I just think he does more.

But if we weigh them up over the last three seasons, only Brown’s 2020 was below par, with his 2018/19 seasons worthy of the Coleman Medal… almost.

Anyway, I have based these rankings on a formula and given that result, you may think it’s flawed. I think it rewards players with a great recent season but also recognises those who have a run of good seasons. In that case, Brown was the beneficiary.

Before we continue, here are the previous 20 players in the 50.

 

The Mongrel 50 – Pre-Season Version Ranks 50-41

 

The Mongrel 50 – Pre-Season Version Ranks 40-31

On with the countdown.

Here are ranks 30-21

 

30 – STEVEN MAY – MELBOURNE

LAST SEASON – N/A

What gets him to the dance?

2020 provided a fantastic redemption arc for May after a less than stellar beginning to his career at Melbourne in 2019.

The big defender burst back into form and was the pick of many for the All-Australian full-back. To the shock of those same people, and my good self, May failed to even make the squad of 40… which was probably more a failure of the AA selectors than of May, himself.

Finishing in the top ten for both Rebound 50s and One-Percenters, May was a pillar of strength for the Dees, combining with Jake Lever to provide a great one-two punch.

May remains a key to the Dees’ potential for improvement in 2021. Another season in the same vein as his 2020 year and May’s claims as one of the best key defenders in the game cannot be disputed.

 

29 – DYLAN GRIMES – RICHMOND

LAST SEASON – 31

What gets him to the dance?

All-Australian in 2019, he also finished third in the Tigers’ B&F in 2019 after placing fifth in 2018. Had a nice number of carry-over points from those seasons as a result.

The lockdown man of the Tiger defence struts back into the pre-season countdown with a third premiership medal around his neck, having reverted to a more unsung role in 2020.

Grimes’ ability to close down a forward line was one of the decisive factors in the Richmond run in the second half of the season. With Noah Balta taking on more of the defensive responsibility, it was Grimes’ impeccable timing in regard to leaving his man and helping his teammate that made the 21-year-old walk taller.

And it made others in the Richmond defence walk taller as well.

As quick as any small forward and with that deceptively wiry strength, Grimes is a nightmare for forwards to deal with and as the Tigers look for a three-peat, he will undoubtedly be one of the catalysts for their success in 2021.

 

28 – CAM GUTHRIE – GEELONG

LAST SEASON – N/A

What gets him to the dance?

Huge 2020 for Guthrie, picking up a couple of firsts for his career. He is now a Carji Greeves Medallist and added an All-Australian selection to his list of accolades as he emerged as one of the more rounded Geelong mids.

Playing an accountable brand of football through the middle, Guthrie was able to nullify opponents whilst still winning plenty of the footy, himself. He set the tone for the Cats in their game against St Kilda, moving to Jack Billings in the third quarter after the Saint had six touches and kicked a goal in the second.

The result?

Three touches for Jack in that quarter as the Cats blew the game open.

With many wondering how the Cats would compensate for the loss of Tim Kelly, Guthrie was the one to provide an answer in 2020, having a career-best season in the process.

 

27 – CLAYTON OLIVER – MELBOURNE

LAST SEASON – 18

What gets him to the dance?

A complete workhorse, Oliver is STILL just 23 years old. Feels like he has been around forever, doesn’t it? Picked up a Best and Fairest for the Dees in 2019, made the AA team in 2018, finished second in 2018 and fifth in 2020.

I’m a massive Oliver fan, as he wins the footy as well as anyone in his age bracket and tackles like a… well, like a demon should. His work is often ignored due to having peers the likes of Bontempelli and Cripps but Clayton Oliver’s CV is nothing to sneeze at.

Two Bluey Truscott Medals and one of just three men to ever top 400 contested touches in a season (the others being Patrick Dangerfield x 1 and Josh Kennedy x 3), Oliver has the chance to one day sit atop that statistical category. He is currently the lazy 2500 behind Gary Ablett Junior in that category, but if he plays ten years in the league, footy historians will be looking back at the record books and asking “How good was Clayton Oliver?”

The answer is good. Very good.

 

26 – JOSH KENNEDY – WEST COAST

LAST SEASON – 49

What gets him to the dance?

Had a bit of a renaissance in the second half of the 2020 season after looking every bit of his 33 years early in the season. Ended up with the second-highest goal tally in 2020 after placing seventh in 2019. Also picked up a Glendinning-Allan Medal in 2020.

Is this the last season for the bearded Kennedy? I’m not so sure.

Had you asked me that early in 2020 I may have been a little more easily convinced, but as the season wore on, JK seemed to get better.

His three-goal last quarter effort against Geelong gave the Eagles life in 2020 and moved them into the top four at the time after the team suffered a slow start to the season. Down by eight points at the beginning of the last quarter, Kennedy stepped up his game and clunked marks, roved ruck contests and sent a pretty strong message in the process – he still had a bit of gas in the tank.

So, again we ask – is this his last season?

Form will dictate whether JK goes around again in 2022, but the Eagles have a young bloke named Oscar Allen who may be ready to step into his shoes by then. Perhaps the spearhead can go out with a bang in 2021!

 

25 – JACK DARLING – WEST COAST

LAST SEASON – 14

What gets him to the dance?

Has led the Eagles’ goal kicking in two of the last three seasons and also had an AA selection to his name in 2019. Finished third in the 2019 Coleman and equal ninth in 2020.

Darling is often remembered for inauspicious moments, such as his fumbled marks in both the 2015 and 2018 Grand Finals, but he is a player that has demonstrated that when “on” can be one of the most damaging weapons in the game.

In 2018, Darling was arguably the best player in the competition in the first half of the season, averaging 3.11 goals per game over the first nine rounds before a nasty-looking ankle injury brought him back to earth with a thud.

Had he not been injured, he may have a Coleman medal of his own to match his celebrated forward teammate at West Coast.

Darling is still capable of ripping a game to shreds but struggled with the reduced game time in 2020. His best was three goals on three occasions, including the Elimination Final that saw the Eagles fall out of contention.

Is 2021 the season Darling really stakes his claim as the number one man up forward for West Coast?  Or does he still need Josh Kennedy to draw the heat so he can operate without that pressure?

 

24 – NICK HAYNES – GWS

LAST SEASON – N/A

What gets him to the dance?

Picking up both an All-Australian nod and sharing the GWS Best and Fairest with Lachie Whitfield, Haynes made a huge contribution to a GWS side that struggled for consistency in 2020 and probably should have had an AA selection in 2019 as well.

He has long been a favourite at The Mongrel Punt, with his exploits finding a greater appreciation amongst those who enjoy the influence a defender can have on a game.

Haynes was forced to do the hard yards in 2020, with both Phil Davis and Sam Taylor succumbing to injury/illness. This left Haynes to hold down a key position whilst still having to float in and play the role of interceptor. Such was his value to the Giants, that when GWS met the Swans in their derby, John Longmire allocated Wil Hayward the job of curbing Haynes’ influence on the game.

At 28, you could argue that Haynes has now peaked as an AFL defender. It doesn’t get much better than an AA/B&F season, but if the Giants are more than just a spent force, Haynes will be looking at adding to his CV with another medallion that matters more than any other award. They were close in 2019 before collapsing on the biggest stage and despite losing a few quality players, GWS should still be well and truly in the hunt.

And if they are, Haynes will be one of the key reasons

 

23 – JACK RIEWOLDT – RICHMOND

LAST SEASON – 19

What gets him to the dance?

Despite being labelled as past it by a few, Riewoldt actually finished the number one man at Richmond in front of goals yet again. Add to his totals a Coleman Medal, jack Dyer Medal and All-Australian selection in 2018 and Jack had a nice little nest egg of points tucked away.

Similar to Josh Kennedy at West Coast, Riewoldt is been mentioned over the last twelve months as people discuss those who could be preparing for life after football.

Whilst it is easy to point at sheer goal kicking numbers and come to the conclusion that Jack isn’t kicking big bags anymore, you have to ask – does he need to in this Richmond system? They’ve just won their third flag in four years and have another bloke sharing the load with the Coleman Medallist. Jack is doing just fine.

In the latter stages of his career, Riewoldt has demonstrated a maturity many thought he was incapable of, sacrificing his own game in order to make space for Tom Lynch and others inside 50. He had some meagre returns at times last season, but when those returns came in wins, it did not seem to matter to Riewoldt.

And rightfully so.

In the end, Jack led, drew a very good defender every time and in the process, either contested for the footy, or was far enough away from teammates to give them every chance to compete in a one-on-one contest. Yes, there weren’t bags of goals and no, there may never be bags of goals again.

But what there will be is wins. He’s used to the feeling of winning now and is content with less personal accolades if it means team success. It’s winning football, people.

 

22 – JAKE LLOYD – SYDNEY

LAST SEASON – N/A

What gets him to the dance?

Another fantastic season from the underrated Lloyd saw him pick up his second Bob Skilton Medal in three seasons, despite getting very little in the way of love from All-Australian selectors. Again.

Many people, including quite a few Sydney supporters I know, have downplayed the effectiveness of Lloyd, but I don’t subscribe to their theories of him piggybacking off the work of others. Not in 2020, at least.

He consistently provided an outlet for the Swans to exit their defensive fifty, finished third overall in that category to add to finishing eighth in intecepts, fifth in metres gained and second in disposal efficiency.

So, if the bloke is right up there in metres gained AND disposal efficiency, it means he is not only generating run and carry, but hitting targets as well.

In fairness, I reckon the Sydney B&F was Dane Rampe’s award to lose when he got hurt, but you cannot fault Lloyd for that. He adapted his game after Rampe’s injury to compensate for the loss of one of the best defenders in the competition and became a great interceptor in his own right.

 

21- TOM MITCHELL – HAWTHORN

LAST SEASON – 11

What gets him to the dance?

A second-place finish in the Hawks’ 2020 Best and Fairest is probably a good indication as to how poor the Hawks were overall, as Mitchell was nowhere near the level he was in 2018. And it is that fantastic 2018 season that sees him retain such a high place here.

Mitchell got better as the 2020 season evolved, but the Hawks would like to see more of the in-and-under work that made him such a weapon in 2018. Mitchell had 4.3 clearances per game in 2020 after a huge eight per game in 2018. There was a 20% reduction in game time, but the dip in Mitchell’s numbers was close to 50%.

He was also down close to six contested touches per game in 2020 on his 2018 numbers – something that the Hawks would desperately love to have back.

That said  his return from that horrific broken leg is a great story and if he gets back to anything like his 2018 form it may rank as one of the best returns from that type of injury ever.

Like Lachie Neale at Brisbane, the Hawthorn midfield revolves around their Brownlow Medallist. As goes the season of Tom Mitchell, so goes the season of the Hawthorn midfield.

 

And there we have it. Over the halfway mark now and the plot is starting to thicken… just like my midsection, sadly.

Any tips for number one? Rank your top five? Come on… stick your neck out and have a crack!

 

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