We’re about to hit the top twenty in The Mongrel 50 pre-season edition, and with plenty of heavy hitters still to come, how they played in 2020 becomes more important.

For those who have missed the previous 40 players, jump on the search box on our site and search Mongrel 50 – you can do it… I believe in you! For a cliff notes version, the rankings are based on 100% of their ratings for 2020, 50% of their ratings for 2019, and 25% of their ratings for 2018.

We’ve been doing this for three years and the goal is to reward the players playing their best right now whilst respecting the body of work over the last three seasons. With that in mind, let’s jump back in with the top ten.

 

10 – MARCUS BONTEMPELLI (WESTERN BULLDOGS)

LAST SEASON – 9

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

Another excellent year from Bont saw him have a nice carry-over amount of points from his 2019 campaign as well as points for finishing sixth in the coaches association voting. He was All-Australian again and slotted in behind Caleb Daniel in the Charlie Sutton Medal.

There is always talk about Bont v Cripps and I have to admit, I get sucked right into those sorts of discussions. Personally, I prefer Bont’s game as I believe he is a lot more damaging with the footy and can do more in 18 touches than Cripps can in 28, but that’s just me. I am sure others feel the opposite.

The one thing preventing Bont from elevating his game to the next level is his goal kicking, though he seemed to come good when it mattered most in 2020, slotting a huge goal from 50 metres out to give the Dogs the win against the Eagles… although some swear Jeremy McGovern touched it.

Bont’s ability to get the footy, take off and go long inside 50 give his forwards plenty of opportunity. He finished sixth in total inside 50s for the the season whilst also finishing top ten in tackles and clearances.

 

9 – JACK MACRAE (WESTERN BULLDOGS)

LAST SEASON – 8

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

Consistency gets him to this dance, with Macrae earning his second top ten berth in the pre-season rankings.

Macrae suffered a hit in the disposals per game category last season, dropping to 26.4 per game in the reduced game time, but it averages out to around the same percentage as time lost. He is just so reliable and finds the footy on a monotonous basis.

Whilst Macrae does not have the long, driving kicks inside 50 that his captain possesses, he is the engine room of the Dogs’ midfield, running at top pace all game long and demonstrating a perfect mix of inside/outside footy that allows him to slot into whatever role Luke Beveridge requires at any given time.

Behind only Lachie Neale in total touches for the season, Macrae will go down as one of the more underrated midfielders in the modern game. He plays alongside a superstar and is about to embark on another season surrounded by perhaps the most talented midfield in the competition. How will he handle playing alongside another proven ball winner and hard runner in Adam Treloar? Will they complement each other’s style or step on each other’s toes. Who takes a back seat? Does someone even have to?

 

8 – MAX GAWN (MELBOURNE)

LAST SEASON – 6

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

Big Max is riding on his previous couple of seasons, with 85% of his total score stemming from his excellent 2018-19 campaigns.

He took a back seat to Nic Naitanui in 2020 and if we’re being hinest, I thought Todd Goldstein was every bit as worthy of being in the AA team as Gawn was last season.

Alas, Goldstein did not have a Coaches Association Player of the Year Award to prop him up as Max did. Gawn also had a pair of Bluey Truscott Medals in 2018-19 to match his AA selections, so you can see why he was able to retain a high place without performing to the level we’ve come to expect from him.

Is Gawn still the best tap-ruckman in the game? Or has that title shifted to Nic Nat? Gawn probably has him covered in the air, with his ability to drift back into the hole and clunk a contested mark far outweighing Naitanui’s aerial consistency, or lack thereof, but Nic Nat put his foot down in 2020 and I’d give him the nod over Big Max in the hit out department, despite Gawn registering just under two per game more.

 

7 – NAT FYFE (FREMANTLE)

LAST SEASON – 4

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

A consistent last few years have seen Fyfe hold his place inside the top ten, bolstered of course by his 2019 Brownlow season.

Fyfe battled through 2020 under duress, returning too quickly from a hamstring injury and looking proppy for weeks on end as a result. I reckon, if he had his time over again, we might see Fyfe miss a few games early then be right for the rest of the season. Instead, we had a version of Fyfe we had not really seen before.

Running at what I’d guess was about 85% fitness, the dual Brownlow Medallist spent a fair amount of time inside attacking fifty in the second half of the season, moving through the midfield when he could, but never over-extending himself to the point we’re used to seeing from him.

The result was a season that was gutsy, yet not as spectacular.

Fyfe still managed to rank as the fifth-highest in contested touches per game, proving that you can take the boy out of the midfield, but you can’t take the midfield out of the boy. At 29, Fyfe may now begin to transition to a more permanent forward role, but I would love to see one more season in the middle for one of the best mids of the modern era.

And I would love to witness history in seeing the first triple Brownlow Medallist since Ian Stewart captured his third in 1971.

 

6 – TOM HAWKINS (GEELONG)

LAST SEASON – 19

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

Finally got his hands on a Coleman Medal in the modified 2020 season but there is definitely no asterisk next to this achievement as it was Hawkins’ overall offensive game that elevated him into the top ten.

His 2020 CV reads like that of the perfect deep forward. First in goals, first in score involvements, first in goal assists, first in marks inside 50, sixth in contested marks and second in a category you would not expect a bloke of his size to excel in – tackles inside 50.

Hawkins did it all in 2020 and at 32, has hit career-best form. I know there have been seasons where his numbers have been impressive, but the mature version of Hawkins is one that brings others into the game with apparent ease. Always looking to dish off to a player in better position, or create play with some superb bodywork, Hawkins made a habit out of completely owning forward 50 ruck stoppages to the point it started becoming ridiculous.

There were occasions where he was simply out-muscling some of the best rucks in the game, leading to scoring opportunities for the Cats where there should have been none… and still, the other teams refused to take note of it.

 

5 – CHRISTIAN PETRACCA (MELBOURNE)

LAST SEASON – N/A

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

The breakout season for Christian Petracca saw him accrue points in multiple areas and he is the only player to hit the countdown with no carry-over points from previous seasons. Third place in the Brownlow, second in the Coaches’ award, and third in the MVP race, Petracca’s 2020 season was by far the best of anyone who had not featured prominently in this countdown before.

He ranked fourth overall in contested possessions and sixth in score involvements whilst splitting time between the half-forward line and the middle. He was the Dees’ go-to man with the game on the line against St Kilda and stood in a tackle to belt the ball toward goal in a moment that gave the Dees a sniff of finals and damaged the Saints’ top-four hopes and seemed dangerous every time he was near the footy.

If 2020 was just a teaser of what Petracca is capable of, then Demon fans have plenty to be excited about. The man with the thighs that made him one of Mrs Mongrel’s favourite players could take it up another notch in an extended season. A Brownlow is not out of the question in the next couple of seasons.

 

4 – PATRICK DANGERFIELD (GEELONG)

LAST SEASON – 3

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

Another stellar season from Dangerfield, bringing in a good amount of carry-over points from his two previous seasons. Danger was still able to pick up points with a high place in the Brownlow and another All-Australian selection.

Dangerfield is now entering the do-or-die phase of his career. He was close to the ultimate glory in 2020 only for a baffling decision to keep him in the forward line when the game was there to be won in the middle of the ground.

Being so close, yet unable to impact the contest in a meaningful way in the second half would have to eat away at a competitor like Danger. After being starved of Grand Finals, his first taste was bitter, bested by the man that has seemingly done what Dangerfield was meant to do – lead his team to the Promised Land.

Danger was hurt late in 2020 but battled on to help propel the Cats into the biggest game of the year. Whilst people are quick to point out his lack of impact in the second half of the Grand Final, they quickly forget how potent he was in the Qualifying Final, snagging four goals as the Cats dismantled the Pies.

 

3 – TRAVIS BOAK (PORT ADELAIDE)

LAST SEASON – 34

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

Top three finish in the MVP award, coaches association player of the year award, and the Brownlow Medal, combined with a second-place finish in the Mongrel of the Year award saw Boak continue his amazing post-30 run of form.

Plenty of people thought Boak was spectacular in 2019 after moving back into the midfield, but he topped that with a ripping 2020 season where he finished second to Darcy Byrne-Jones in the Jack Cahill Medal.

Boak may have relinquished the captaincy following the 2018 season, but if anything, his on-field leadership has gone up several notches since. He led the Power in disposals, contested touches and clearances as he helped propel Port deep into finals action.

In Port’s 150th year it was fitting that Travis Boak was their best player. A selfless performer, he is still the heart and soul of his team, captain or not.

 

2 – DUSTIN MARTIN (RICHMOND)

LAST SEASON – 7

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

The finals. Dusty was at it again in 2020 after picking up Gary Ayres and Norm Smith Medals in 2019, he was doing it again.

Yes Tiger fans, I can feel your outrage a mile away – second place? The most dominant finals player in a generation or two and we have him sitting in second?

Are we nuts? Did we miscalculate? Do we have something against the Tigers?

The answers to these questions are Yes, No and Not Really.

Martin made up some ground following his massive finals series, but the distance Neale put on the field with his fantastic home and away season proved too much to overcome. More on Lachie in a minute.

Martin left no doubt as to which player you’d pick first heading into a big final. He willed his Tigers back into the game and snagged four goals in a performance that put to rest the perception that he didn’t earn his previous Norm Smith Medals. Far and away the best player on the ground, Dusty made something out of nothing on several occasions to firstly, keep his team in the game and then to put the foot on the throats of the failing Cats.

Opposed to the man many perceive as his closest rival over the last five seasons, Martin tore the game apart and claimed another premiership medal in the process. Three Grand Finals, three flags and three Norm Smith Medals. Throw in a Brownlow, an MVP, and a coaches association player of the year award and you have just about the complete career.

And he may have more left in the tank, yet.

 

1 – LACHIE NEALE (BRISBANE)

LAST SEASON – 5

WHAT GOT HIM TO THE DANCE?

Scooped the pool with home and away season awards, picking up the maximum points for winning the Brownlow, Coaches Association award, the MVP, and the Mongrel of the Year. That is a heap of points in this system.

Lachie Neale was the consensus player of the 2020 season and came into the year with a decent amount of carry-over points from his first season with the Lions, where he redefined what was required to be successful for the team.

Neale is the Brisbane midfield. They have some good support players, but if we were to liken him to anything, he would be the Sun, and players like Jarryd Lyons, Jarrod Berry and Dayne Zorko are like planets revolving around him.

In terms of consistency, Neale started the season strong and finished strong. The in-between period was not half bad, either.

He finished the season first in contested touches, second in overall clearances, fifth in score involvements and the number one player in the game in terms of overall disposals. Whilst many loved his work at Freo, it was emerging from the shadow of Nat Fyfe that allowed Neale to really blossom as the on-field leader of the Lions.

With such a spectacular 2020 season behind him, Neale will head into 2021 as the favourite to repeat the dose. The Lions will need him to if they expect to contend again this season. No other player is as important to their team’s structure as Neale is to Brisbane.

And that includes the guys behind him on this list.

 

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