As I sat back watching the comments pour in from last week’s piece, a strange calm came over me. I don’t know if it was divine intervention or the kinship of all living things, but I tell you, Mongrel readers, at that moment, I was an All-Australian selector.

I mean, it wouldn’t be an All-Australian team selection without fierce debate over players in and out, and I knew there’d be those unhappy with the new direction I have taken this team. But I pressed on, put my chief selector’s hat on and dove in for another week. Come join me on this adventure.

 

LAST WEEK’S TEAM

B: Sam Docherty, Steven May, James Sicily

HB: Jack Sinclair, Jacob Weitering, Tom Stewart

C: Ed Langdon, Clayton Oliver, Jordan Dawson

HF: Zac Bailey, Tom Hawkins, Isaac Heeney

F: Charlie Cameron, Tom Lynch, Charlie Curnow

R: Max Gawn, Patrick Cripps, Lachie Neale

INT: Christian Petracca, Andrew Brayshaw, Peter Wright, Angus Brayshaw

 

THE CHANGES

HALF FORWARD FLANK: SHAI BOLTON (RICHMOND)

After spending some time in the All Australian B-team, Shai Bolton’s excellent recent form has earned him a recall to our team of champions. Save for a couple of average weeks, Bolton’s 2022 season has been outstanding, and he is on track to secure a career-best season. Kicking 18 goals in the first nine games, with his previous season-high being 23, Bolton has failed to kick a goal just once this season, and that was because he played in the midfield against the Crows in round five, collecting 23 disposals and 16 contested possessions. Look out everyone, Dusty and Shai is a dangerous combination.

Shai Bolton’s inclusion spelt trouble for one of our forwards, and you don’t need to look very hard to figure out which player felt the knife in their back. Sydney’s Isaac Heeney had a wonderful start to the year, and is averaging just over two goals a game, the highest goal output of his career. But if you look closer, Heeney’s last month has been very average given his lofty standards. Maybe teams have begun to figure him out, and are negating his strengths, or maybe, and this isn’t meant as a personal attack, Heeney has been a touch lazy. Is that too harsh? Perhaps, but as a neutral observer, it looks as though other Swans are working just that little bit harder than Heeney at the present moment, and he would do well to get the mongrel and fire back into his game.

Before you say anything, I am aware that our team is now completely devoid of anyone wearing red and white. I’m sure there’ll be those that disagree with the decision I have made, and feel that I am disrespecting a team pushing for a top four berth. But fear not, Sydney fans, for there’s good reason you shouldn’t be upset. Our team not having any Swans in it is a good thing. It simply means that as a collective, your club is playing very well and very evenly. Mills, Parker, Heeney, McCartin Sr, McCartin Jr, Warner, Franklin, Gulden, Hickey, Ladhams. All these players are producing good, if not great performances each week, so much so that no single player truly stands out above the rest. Again, this is a good thing. It means you aren’t so reliant on one player to carry you, as is the case with a few other teams. So when you see your player omitted or overlooked, remember this mantra. Collective brilliance over individual excellence.

 

THE UPDATED BEST 22

B: Sam Docherty, Steven May, James Sicily

HB: Jack Sinclair, Jacob Weitering, Tom Stewart

C: Ed Langdon, Clayton Oliver, Jordan Dawson

HF: Zac Bailey, Tom Hawkins, Shai Bolton

F: Charlie Cameron, Tom Lynch, Charlie Curnow

R: Max Gawn, Patrick Cripps, Lachie Neale

INT: Christian Petracca, Andrew Brayshaw, Peter Wright, Angus Brayshaw

IN: Bolton

OUT: Heeney

 

WHAT ABOUT HIM?

With our team enjoying the most stability all season, this week we will turn our attention to this particular section. Rather than focus on six individuals, I’ve decided to go even bigger. 18 players, one from each club, that are worthy of recognition. You will see that some players are perhaps more deserving than others, given the teams they play for, but rest assured, each individual noted here has earned it. Also, standard ‘what about him’ rules still apply here. No double ups across the whole season. Put your pitchforks down.

What about Taylor Walker? These last six weeks have proven that despite his age, Tex Walker is still one of the most important players on the Crows’ list. Kicking 17 goals from six games, and averaging a career high 16 disposals, Walker is the main target for the Crows, which could also be looked at as an indictment on their young key forwards, who clearly haven’t progressed as much as Matthew Nicks would’ve liked.

What about Harris Andrews? It’s been more of the same from Brisbane’s defensive master, with Harris Andrews once again laying claim as one of the best defenders in the competition. Andrews’ partnership with Marcus Adams and Darcy Gardiner is perhaps the best three-pronged defence in the league, and Andrews leads the competition for contested defensive one-on-ones, and his loss percentage is elite amongst tall defenders.

What about Adam Cerra? The Blues are enjoying their best season in a long while, and that’s largely due to the fact that so many of their players have stepped up. We’ve already spoken at length about many of them, but one we haven’t yet touched on is recruit Adam Cerra, who has become a vital cog in this machine. Averaging 26 disposals, six inside 50s, five tackles and four clearances, all career highs, Cerra, along with Matthew Kennedy and George Hewett, have taken so much pressure off Patrick Cripps and Sam Walsh’s shoulders, resulting in a better-rounded, and overall stronger, football team.

What about Brody Mihocek? Is there a more underrated key forward in the competition than Brody Mihocek? Without a proper key forward foil, Mihocek is constantly under double, and sometimes triple-teamed pressure, and time and again he always manages to at least bring the ball to ground if he doesn’t take the mark. Undersized at 192cm, Mihocek has kicked 19 goals from his eight games, Mihocek is the workhorse of Collingwood’s front six, and those around him clearly benefit from his excellent work.

What about Nic Martin? Before the start of the season, you could’ve written your own ticket on this no-name kid from the Bombers winning this year’s rising star award. After a ridiculous debut, Nic Martin has followed up with more impressive performances, and would be close to leading Essendon’s best fairest right now. Averaging 21 disposals, seven score involvements, six marks, and with a disposal efficiency over 80%, Martin is a shining light in an otherwise dismal year at Windy Hill.

What about Will Brodie? I don’t think there’s any doubt that Will Brodie is the recruit of the year. From not being able to get a game at the Suns, to dominating for the second-placed team, Brodie has ensured that Nat Fyfe’s absence has largely gone unnoticed. Sitting second at Fremantle for disposals, score involvements, and tackles, all behind Andrew Brayshaw, and leading the Dockers for contested possessions and clearances, Brodie sits alongside Brayshaw as the future of Fremantle’s midfield.

What about Tyson Stengle? Geelong seems to have worked wonders for Tyson Stengle, and he has responded to the Cats’ faith by playing the best football of his young career. Kicking 17 goals from his nine games, Stengle’s forward pressure and crumbing ability is what Chris Scott would appreciate the most, and he would undoubtedly have made the team had he not been shut down by the Saints, but that also shows his importance to this Geelong side.

What about Izak Rankine? This is more a reward for the last fortnight, as the penny seems to have finally dropped for Izak Rankine. I sincerely hope you’re reading this Izak, because your last two weeks have been excellent. Let’s put aside the goals, which will no doubt come back, Rankine has turned the defensive side of his game around, and become a dominant force for pressure inside Gold Coast’s forward 50. Go well kid, you’re now firmly on the right track.

What about Sam Taylor? Young tall Sam Taylor has quickly but quietly become one of the premier defenders in the competition. Averaging career-high numbers across the board, and leading the competition for spoils, Taylor has taken some big scalps this year, none more so than his battle with Charlie Curnow on Sunday. Up to three-quarter time, Taylor had completely blanketed Curnow, and Curnow’s two goals at the start of the last quarter made the stats sheet look good for a man that was otherwise thoroughly neutered.

What about Jai Newcombe? Let’s not forget, Jai Newcombe was a mid-season draft selection plucked from obscurity to the big time, and an argument can be made that Newcombe is leading Hawthorn’s best and fairest at this point of the season. Firmly entrenched in the Hawks’ midfield, Newcombe is averaging 22 disposals, six score involvements, five marks and four inside 50s. Not bad for a 20-year-old kid that was twice overlooked on draft nights.

What about James Jordon? Melbourne is so rich with talent that all of their best players have already been spoken for. When looking over their list and finding players that don’t get the credit they deserve, 21-year-old James Jordon fit the bill magnificently. Slotting into a premiership side so easily despite his young age, Jordon has been superb through the middle and across half-back for the Demons, averaging 21 disposals at 83% disposal efficiency.

What about Bailey Scott? This was tough. Sorry North fans, but your team has been so terrible, it was very hard to find anyone to profile for this section. One player I’ve been impressed with is Bailey Scott, who is certainly not the biggest name on the list, but he plays every game like it’s his last. This will be a very slow process for the Kangaroos, but in Scott, they have found a player that has that no-nonsense Shinboner spirit in spades, and while the stats sheet might not support it, Scott has been very impressive in an otherwise very unimpressive team.

What about Connor Rozee? When Port Adelaide endured a 0-5 start, Ken Hinkley implored his young brigade to step up and take the pressure off Travis Boak and Ollie Wines. Up stepped the most unlikely wunderkind, Connor Rozee. Since his move to the midfield, Rozee, and the Power, have thrived. Averaging 25 disposals in the last five rounds, Rozee is finally showing the competition why he was rated so highly as a junior. Along with Zak Butters, Port has added a string of class to its already tough midfield.

What about Toby Nankervis? Co-captain Toby Nankervis is an old-fashioned ruckman. Not the tallest by any means, Nankervis is a physical beast, often playing like a battering ram to give his midfielders first use of the football. This season Nankervis has equalled his season-best of 17 disposals, while also enjoying career highs in score involvements, clearances, and inside 50s, to with an average 27 hitouts (eight to advantage), another career-high.

What about Brad Crouch? With Jack Steele going down with injury, St Kilda’s midfield needs a new leader, and that man could, and should be former Crow Brad Crouch. This season, Crouch has re-captured his best form from his days at West Lakes, averaging 28 disposals, 12 contested possessions, seven tackles, six clearances, and six score involvements. If the Saints want to go far in September, Crouch will need to be at his best, as his contested playmaking is an asset to Brett Ratten.

What about Chad Warner? As I stated earlier, Sydney are a very well-rounded outfit, and no single player stands head and shoulders above the rest. That could change in a few years though, as Chad Warner is showing just how good he can be when fit and firing. Last season, Warner started the season like a man possessed, featuring prominently in the Mongrel rising star, before a foot injury derailed his season. Etched in history as the man who kicked the ball to Buddy for his 1,000th goal, Warner has an insatiable appetite for the contest, and is very damaging with ball in hand.

What about Alex Witherden? It has been nothing short of a disaster out west. COVID has destroyed a playing list, the team across town is flying, and there are even (premature) questions over the coach’s future. What West Coast fans need right now is something, anything even remotely positive to cling to, and for me, that player is Alex Witherden. Witherden’s work in the back half has been nothing short of superb. Averaging 25 disposals (at 85% efficiency), nine marks and eight defensive rebounds, Witherden has consistently stood up in a backline that is getting hounded every week.

What about Bailey Smith? Much like his glorious mullet, cult hero Bailey Smith’s young career is reaching new heights in 2022. Averaging 32 disposals, Smith would be leading the Dogs in total possessions is not for the hip injury in round two. But if you delve a little deeper, you’ll soon see that despite the sheer weight of numbers, there are things that Smith needs to work on. First, Smith isn’t the most accurate disposer of the football, with a disposal efficiency of 65%. Smith also isn’t as damaging as his fellow midfielders, which is one small reason for the Dogs slow start this season. Having said all of that, Smith is still just 21, and there’s plenty of time for correction.

 

21 of our 22 superstars held their position this week, which is the most stability we’ve seen at Mongrel HQ all year long. Nine rounds into the season, and you expect the cream to start to rise to the top, so it is not unreasonable to expect this trend to continue in the coming weeks.

Until next time, stay safe my dear friends.

 

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