I was looking back at my pre-season predictions this week. I may have made a few errors. Rather than go through it all now, I’ll save it for the end of the piece. But I’ll start with this.

Maybe I was wrong about Port Adelaide.

 

LAST WEEK’S TEAM

B: Jack Bowes, Steven May, Lachie Ash

HB: Christian Salem, Jacob Weitering, Daniel Rich

C: Andrew Gaff, Sam Walsh, Ed Langdon

HF: Hugh McCluggage, Taylor Walker, Christian Petracca

F: Toby Greene, Harry McKay, Ben King

R: Max Gawn, Jack Steele, Clayton Oliver

INT: Jack Macrae, Ollie Wines, David Mundy, Cam Guthrie

 

THE INCLUSIONS

 

BACK POCKET: TOM STEWART (GEELONG)

Once again showing ultra-consistency that defies belief, Tom Stewart has taken his game to another level in 2021, as if that were even possible. Averaging a career high 25 disposals, Stewart is yet to gather less than 21 disposals in a game, and uses the ball supremely well, at an efficiency rate of 84%. His performance against St Kilda was in the conversation of best on ground, with 23 disposals (at a staggering 95% efficiency), and six defensive rebounds.

 

BACK POCKET: BRANDON STARCEVICH (BRISBANE)

A much-underrated player, defender Brandon Starcevich has become vital to Brisbane’s premiership chances. He is as pure a small, stopping defender as there is in the competition. Starcevich has taken some huge scalps this season, including Tom Papley, Jordan De Goey, Robbie Gray, Eddie Betts, Michael Walters, and this week Izak Rankine. 21-year-old Starcevich is also averaging career-high numbers in disposals, marks and defensive rebounds, highlighting his ability to find the football as well as keeping his direct opponent from having any influence.

 

CENTRE HALF FORWARD: JOSH BRUCE (WESTERN BULLDOGS)

All we ever wanted from Josh Bruce was consistency. Show us your talent against the good teams, don’t just beat up on North Melbourne. While he may not have hit the scoreboard as much as the statisticians would’ve liked, Bruce’s performance against Port Adelaide was vital in their victory. Allowing Aaron Naughton the space to dominate in the air, Bruce was the perfect foil, and was surprisingly excellent when pinch-hitting in the ruck. Bruce is equal second with Taylor Walker in the race for the Coleman, but unlike Tex, Bruce has been better across all nine rounds.

 

FORWARD POCKET: JACK DARLING (WEST COAST)

Is it Kennedy? Is it Darling? Just who is West Coast’s most important forward? Well after the first nine rounds of 2020, I think the conclusion is now clear. Jack Darling is the unquestionable number one man. Sitting fourth on the Coleman Medal ladder with 26 goals, Darling has turned in some match-winning performances, none more important than his five-goal second quarter against Adelaide, a match where an upset looked on the cards until Darling took over.

 

RUCK ROVER: MARCUS BONTEMPELLI (WESTERN BULLDOGS)

You asked. You essentially demanded. And in good conscience, I couldn’t ignore the voices any longer. The Western Bulldogs midfield is no doubt the best in the competition, and time and time again, it is led by skipper Marcus Bontempelli. I made the argument last week that Bontempelli had game where he was overshadowed by teammates, and for the last few weeks, he has been putting up fantastic numbers, but so have our incumbent midfielders. But this week against Port Adelaide, the Bont played one excellent game too many, and after 26 disposals, two goals and 589 metres gained, he simply had to be in our team.

 

INTERCHANGE:

 

JARRYD LYONS (BRISBANE)

Make no mistake, Jarryd Lyons should not be playing for Brisbane. He probably should never have played for Gold Coast either. This is a man who has been discarded not once, but twice. Traded by Adelaide after 55 games, Lyons slotted straight into Gold Coast’s best 22, and showed his former club why they were fools to let him go. But after just two seasons at the Suns, both of which he averaged 25 disposals, Stuart Dew couldn’t guarantee Lyons a place in the midfield, and he was delisted. Brisbane swooped, and the rest is history. Gold Coast and Adelaide; you two, are idiots.

 

THE DROPOUTS

 

With the team needing, and acquiring a small stopping defender, it meant that one of our rebounders had to make way. The unlucky player is young Giant Lachie Ash, who had a decidedly average night against Richmond. Gathering 14 disposals (at just 64% efficiency), Ash didn’t have his usual impact, and his last three weeks haven’t been as good as when he was drafted into this team.

Gun Sun Jack Bowes also finds himself out of the line-up, partly after suffering a hamstring injury in the third quarter of the Q-Clash. Many pundits may point to the fact that I had left players like Jordan Ridley, Josh Dunkley and Dustin Martin in the team after their respective injuries. However each example is different, and in Ridley and Martin’s cases, their injuries would only see them out for one week, and Dunkley was still one of his team’s best in his injury game. Before suffering his injury, Bowes wasn’t having his usual impact, only touching the ball nine times in the three quarters before his injury.

Ben King has been consistent rather than spectacular, and has suffered because of the team he plays for. With Izak Rankine having no impact, Alex Sexton in the reserves, and Sam Day on the sidelines, King is literally the only player capable of keeping the Suns’ scoreboard ticking over. However, King’s last three weeks could only be classified as solid, and other players have had match winning efforts that usurped the rising young Sun from the forward line.

Last week, I spoke of Taylor Walker, and his blistering start to the season. However, since Round 3, and after sustaining a calf injury during the week of Round 4, Walker has been slightly off, and his midfielders don’t know how to kick to him, after doing it so well to start the year. Matthew Nicks must be an avid reader of The Mongrel Punt, because after I said that Tex should be rested, Nicks heeded that advice. Tex responded by saying that he hated being rested, but a player like Walker should not be expected by front up for all 22 games, and hopefully her can get back to his best once he returns to Adelaide’s forward line.

Finally, two midfielders who have had very good seasons – unfortunately, needed to make way for the sheer brilliance of Bontempelli and Lyons. Jack Steele was one of the Saints best against Geelong with 23 disposals and 11 tackles. However, as captain, Steele is held to a higher regard, and like it or not, the Saints dropped a game they should’ve won, given how poor they were in front of goal. Like many of our dropouts, Steele’s last few weeks have been very good, but our incoming stars have simply been slightly better. This also applies to Dockers’ veteran David Mundy. Mundy’s performance against the Bombers was good if not great, gathering 22 disposals and kicking a goal, and while Mundy’s 2021 season has defied all expectations, we can’t grade on a curve, and other midfielders have been better across all nine games.

 

Six in, six out. Here’s round 9’s team:

B: Tom Stewart, Steven May, Brandon Starcevich

HB: Christian Salem, Jacob Weitering, Daniel Rich

C: Andrew Gaff, Sam Walsh, Ed Langdon

HF: Hugh McCluggage, Josh Bruce, Christian Petracca

F: Toby Greene, Harry McKay, Jack Darling

R: Max Gawn, Marcus Bontempelli, Clayton Oliver

INT: Jack Macrae, Ollie Wines, Cam Guthrie, Jarryd Lyons

IN: Stewart, Starcevich, Bruce, Darling, Bontempelli, Lyons

OUT: Bowes, Ash, Walker, King, Steele, Mundy

 

WHO’S IN CONTENTION?

 

Last week, we focused on those that have been in and out of the team at various points of the season. This week, let’s focus on a few players that we’ve rarely spoken of, if at all.

We’ll start by talking about two contested beasts, both of which have been underrated by many in the league. Sun Hugh Greenwood and Giant Jacob Hopper have both continued on their merry way, and both are doing so in the absence of more AFL appreciated teammates. In Matt Rowell’s absence, Greenwood has become the leader of Gold Coast’s midfield, averaging personal best numbers across the board. Greenwood has averaged 20 disposals, 11 contested possessions, eight tackles and four marks in 2021, all career highs, and he is the perfect leader of a young group still discovering their own careers. Hopper too, has stepped up in the absence of skipper Stephen Coniglio, and like Greenwood, is the contested ball king in Western Sydney. Hopper is averaging a career high 27 disposals, and his average of 14 contested possessions is in the top five league wide. He has also kicked more goals than at the same stage of any other year, indicating that Hopper’s skills are evolving and developing the longer he is in the system.

Has there been a recruit that has taken his game to a higher level than new Bomber Nick Hind? Essentially discarded by St Kilda at the end of the 2020 season, Hind has been a revelation in Essendon’s back half, and has more than filled the void left by Adam Saad. Without being disrespectful, Hind is the far cheaper option, and it leaves the Bombers with extra room in their salary cap without behind affected on the field. In just his third season, Hind has more than doubled his career disposal average (10.5 in 2019 and 2020 to 24 in 2021), and is averaging six marks, four inside 50’s, four defensive rebounds and 458 metres gained.

Arguably the best key defender in the last three year, Brisbane star Harris Andrews has once again been superb in 2021. Like those mentioned previously, Andrews is enjoying a career best year stats wise, averaging 15 disposals (also at a career best 87% efficiency), three rebounds from defensive 50, and his 76 marks are the most amongst key defenders across the league.

 

The players above are coming home hard, and normally I’d follow this with the players that are in danger of slipping out of the team. However, this week, there are three players that fit into this category, and four players that will directly replace them.

The first cab off the rank is Toby Greene, who has been unbelievable since taking over as interim captain. Kicking 22 goals from his nine games, Greene has singlehandedly dragged the Giants season back to relevance, and his importance to his teammates has never been stronger. This week, it was revealed that Greene sustained a broken shoulder during the Richmond clash, and yet he still played out the game. Facing four weeks on the sidelines, Greene holds his place for now, but when he drops out, one of two players will replace him. The first is Bailey Fritsch, who has been a revelation in Melbourne’s forward line. Fritsch has kicked 21 goals in his nine games, and has been a constant threat, with team unable to contain Fritsch’s aerial prowess as well as his ground ball ability. The second is Docker Matt Taberner, a player renowned for his consistency. Taberner has followed up his breakout 2020 with an excellent start to 2021, kicking 26 goals to sit fourth on the Coleman Medal table. Right now, Taberner has the slightest edge.

Like Fritsch, Ed Langdon has been a revelation for Melbourne, fulfilling his potential the Demons saw when they recruited him. The perfect link between defence and attack, Langdon has also hit the scoreboard more than at any point in his career. Kicking eight goals, Langdon is averaging 24 disposals, seven marks and 436 metres gained. His numbers have been very good, but there is one player putting together an excellent season, and one more superb performance will see him overtake Langdon, and that man is Isaac Smith. Enjoying a resurgence since being moving to Geelong via free agency, Smith has really only had one subpar performance and has been uber consistent in his other ventures. Smith’s best performance of the year was his last outing, and he seems to only be getting better as the season progresses.

Ollie Wines has been neck and neck all season with Travis Boak as Port Adelaide’s best player. On Saturday night, he was excellent, with 32 disposals, five clearances, eight tackles, six score involvements, and five marks. Clearly a contested possession beast, Wines is averaging career-high numbers in disposals, marks, tackles, clearances and inside 50’s. But it was evident during the Bulldogs loss that Wines is also part of a wider problem for Ken Hinkley. Without young guns Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma, the Power lacks a certain spark in the midfield, and Wines, Boak and Sam Powell-Power are all basically the same type of player. Should Wines suffer a drop in form, a young gun from Essendon is ready to step in, 23-year-old Darcy Parish. It is a shame that it has taken this long for Parish to be fully unleashed in Essendon’s midfield, and even more of a shame that it took an injury to Dylan Shiel to make it happen. Since being elevated, Parish has thrived, and it is no surprise that he is averaging career-high in every major stat. Sitting in the top 10 league-wide for disposals (an average of 29), Parish has been his team’s match winner on multiple occasions, taking out the ANZAC Day medal in the process.

 

Following on from the intro, I said that Port Adelaide would be the premiers, Brayden Preuss would be recruit of the year, Matt Rowell would be in the Brownlow Medal top 3, Charlie Dixon would win the Coleman Medal, Gold Coast would be the biggest improvers, Elijah Hollands would win the Rising Star, and that Melbourne would only just make the top eight and sack Simon Goodwin after bowing out spectacularly.

But hey, at least I said Collingwood would be the biggest faller.

 

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