We’re now a month away from the first bounce, and if you’re not getting excited for season 2024, it’s about time you started
As we do every year here, at The Mongrel Punt, we will be closely following the work of the wingmen, as they continue to provide a hell of a lot more in the role than the AFL Media have given them credit for in recent seasons.
That said, it was wonderful to see not just one, but two wingmen named in the All-Australian team in 2023 – the first time that had happened in quite a while. Josh Daicos was incredible all season, whilst you could argue that Errol Gulden played almost as much as a midfielder as he did a wingman, particularly in the second half of the season.
Regardless, we’re claiming both of them.
This year’s Wingman of the Year Award has taken a bit of a shot in the arm in terms of prestige. In 2024, we are incredibly humbled to have the permission of the Flower family to name the award after Melbourne Champion, and champion bloke, Robbie Flower.
Flower was an incredible player. I remember attending games with my father – a staunch North Melbourne supporter, and when the Kangaroos played the Dees, the phrase “bloody Flower!” would crop up quite often. Almost on cue, my Dad would turn to me and say “fantastic player, son…” as though he felt he had to balance his previous statement with one that acknowledged just how good Robbie was.
It is an honour and a privilege to be able to have the Flower name attached to this award.
In 2023, Josh Daicos ruled the roost in the Robbie Flower Wingman of the Year Award. He did it on the back of being outstanding all season long. There were points where dudes from Champion Data tried telling you that others were on pace to break records (I’m guessing they were records they just made up) but in the end, the consistency of Daicos won out.
The top five to end the 2023 season were as follows.
1 – Josh Daicos
2 – Errol Gulden
3 – Nic Martin
4 – Blake Acres
5 – Mason Wood.
The 2022 standings are listed below.
1 – Karl Amon
2 – Josh Daicos
3 – Isaac Smith
4 – Ed Langdon
5 – Blake Acres
2021 looked like this
1 – Paul Seedsman
2 – Karl Amon
3 – Hugh McCluggage
4 – Andrew Gaff
5 – Isaac Smith
And finally, our inaugural year (2020) looked like this
1 – Sam Menegola
2 – Andrew Gaff
3 – Sam Walsh
4 – Zach Merrett
5 – Josh Kelly
A few of those 2020 blokes have gone on to bigger and better things.
Anyway, the purpose of the lists above is to give context as we rate the top ten seeds in the 2024 Robbie Flower Award for the best wingman of the year.
SEED 1 – JOSH DAICOS (COLLINGWOOD)
You simply cannot go past two consecutive top two finishes in the award.
Daicos has had a wonderful partner in crime to work with, in Steele Sidebottom, who covers for his teammate a lot as the retreating, defensive wing as Daicos goes in search of the footy.
This gives Josh the opportunity to hunt the footy with impunity. Not that he doesn’t do his fair share of the defensive stuff, it’s just that Collingwood have this great symmetry between him and Sidebottom that seems to allow them both to gamble on occasion.
And the pay-offs have been excellent.
He ranks first due to the combination of his recent history and the fact he will likely play the role for the entire year to come.
SEED 2 – BLAKE ACRES (CARLTON)
Might surprise a few people, but his improvement over the past two seasons has been fantastic, especially when you consider that he has slotted into a new team perfectly in 2023.
Acres made his first real leap in 2022, jumping 3.81 disposals per game as a Docker. Watching him, it seemed as though he had an epiphany at some stage and realised that the harder you work in the AFL, the luckier you get. He made a huge difference to the running of the Dockers, and helped propel them both to the finals, and himself into the five best outside runners in the game.
When he left Freo, his move hurt. Many others didn’t, but the loss of Acres was felt keenly.
At Carlton, he picked up where he left off and had another increase, albeit a smaller one (1.36 disposals per game) on his numbers. However, it was the way he earned those disposals that made the impression.
Blake Acres ran his backside off in 2023. Working the length of the ground, he would often bob up as a floating marking target inside 50, only to retreat down the other end to step up to take an intercept grab on the last line of defence.
Blake Acres has grown up in the last couple of seasons, and at 28, is at the peak of his powers. He is set to own a wing at Carlton in 2024, and will give the award a big shake.
SEED 3 – KARL AMON (HAWTHORN)
Really flew under the radar in 2023, as he continued to play his elite brand of footy on the outside, but this time, he was doing it as part of a developing team as opposed to a contender.
Amon made the jump to Hawthorn the year after his win in the Robbie Flower award. This impacted him significantly, as unlike Acres, Amon seemed to need time to adjust to the game plan of his new team and adjust his running patterns to better fit.
He managed to slot into eighth position in 2023, but spent more time rallying back inside 50 than he did with Port. Whether this was part of the plan, or just a necessity, given Hawthorn’s leaky defence, I don’t know. That said,I expect a return to a more attacking role this season, as I expect the Hawks to play a more attacking brand.
Amon is a career wingman. He may attend the occasional centre bounce, but he is a wingman, first and foremost, and whilst others will be penalised for splitting time in other roles, Amon is one who rarely has any deductions made.
If the Hawks get a wriggle on in 2024, Amon will be right in the mix.
SEED 4 – LACHIE HUNTER (MELBOURNE)
A bit of a left-field call, slotting him at number four, especially when many believe that his counterpart at Melbourne is a better overall player. However, Hunter has a knack for finding the footy and loves to get forward with it.
In his first season at the Dees, he was +2.88 on his previous numbers for the Dogs (although he was way more prolific in pre-covid times.
Still, jumping to a new club and slotting in immediately is a tough ask, and I reckon Hunter will be better for the run. How that looks for Ed Langdon, however, remains to be seen.
SEED 5 – MASON WOOD (ST KILDA)
The only thing that keeps Mason Wood down the seeding is that the Saints just went out and recruited someone else to play the wing role, and I am not sure the Saints will have Wood as a permanent fixture in the position.
The addition of Liam Henry may take some minutes away from Wood in the role, where has used his tank and good overhead skills to elevate his game over the past couple of seasons.
In a three-man squeeze on the wing, you have Henry, Wood, and Bradley Hill, who can all play the role of permanent wingman. I wonder whether Ross Lyon sees something else in Wood, or whether he will continue to deploy Hill as the running half-back and allow Wood to continue his running game out wide?
SEED 6 – NIC MARTIN (ESSENDON)
Bomber fans may think this unfair, but all reports coming out of Tullamarine at the moment indicate that Nic Martin is largely playing his footy in defence, taking kick ins and stationing himself on a flank.
That’s not good news in terms of his potential to win this award.
Whilst I am certain Martin will excel in defence, as well, the Bombers seem to be hell bent on trying something new with him. They moved him from the wing when Nik Cox returned late in 2023, which basically killed his chances of catching Josh Daicos, and with Sam Durham and Xavier Duursma now in the mix to line up on the wing, we could see Martin move away from the position he made his own in 2023.
Seems a bit of a shame, doesn’t it? To move one of the pieces that was actually working for you?
SEED 7 – ERROL GULDEN (SYDNEY)
There is nothing Errol Gulden cannot do! How dare you have him as the seventh seed, HB!
Yes, Swans fans, I know that’s what you are thinking, but I also know that you know I am fair with this stuff, and at points of 2023, Errol was lucky to be considered a wingman at all.
He had a six-game streak where he scored doughnuts in our award due to the fact he played midfield almost all of the time.
He attended 32% of centre bounces in games he played, which still leaves a hefty number of times he played out wide, but the penalties for playing in the midfield hurt his chances and allowed Josh Daicos to put too much distance between them.
As a comparison, Daicos attended 59 centre bounces last season. Errol attended 242.
That’s the difference. That’s why Daicos is seeded first, and Gulden is further down the list. He was great WHEN he played there. He just didn’t play there enough. I expect something similar, or even skewed toward more midfield time in 2024.
But if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
SEED 8 – ED LANGDON (MELBOURNE)
I mentioned him, above.
His numbers took a hit in 2023 and I reckon the Demons’ wingmen were not quite in sync.
Langdon will run all day, but I found that he was often stuck on the dead side of the ground, whilst Lachie Hunter occupied the busier side. Whether this was tactical, or just bad luck, Langdon is far too good a player to be deferring to Hunter all the time.
Was it a battle of wills? Was it Hunter just wanting the footy more? Or was it a pair of elite wingmen not working together to ensure the Dees got the best of both worlds from both?
Langdon was -1.79 disposals on his 2022 numbers, and was down over 50 metres per game in terms of distance covered with the footy. It was his lowest output since 2017 at Freo.
Those numbers don’t fill me with confidence.
SEED 9 – FINN CALLAGHAN (GWS)
The first of two from left field, Callaghan looks set for a big year. Whilst I am sure he will be thrown around a little bit (like my mate Joe Ganino in an intergender wrestling match), I expect him to settle on a wing and use both that big frame and his running power to drive the Giants inside 50 quite a bit.
Likened to Bont, Callaghan will have to do something special to force his way into the GWS midfield with the likes of Green, Kelly, Coniglio, and Ward holding court. It may be another season on the outside for him, but at over 20 touches per game in 2023 (+5.76), he could be on the verge of breaking out, and if he does that in the wing role, watch out!
For the record, he finished tenth in 2023.
SEED 10 – BAILEY SCOTT (NORTH MELBOURNE)
I have him tenth, but I would not be surprised to see Scott leap into the top five if he is able to replicate his 2023 form. More to the point, his form from Round Ten onwards.
In the last 14 games, Scott ran at 25.78 disposals per game, as he found his niche in the North Melbourne side and really worked his backside off to both provide an outlet option, and also worked back deep into defence before pushing hard forward.
I loved what I saw from Bailey Scott in 2023. For a little while, I didn;t know what he was going to be in the AFL, but I reckon we got our answer last year. Keep him on the wing and allow him to own the role.
Might make a good pairing with Dylan Stephens?
BUT WHAT ABOUT…
Steele Sidebottom – will defer more to Josh Daicos now. At 33, will still be serviceable, but won’t win this.
Justin McInerney – might surprise, particularly now that Stephens is gone, and if Gulden moves into the guts. Braeden Campbell may also benefit. James Jordon an interesting case, as well.
Andrew Gaff – not the same player he was a while ago. When was the last time you saw him win a race for the footy?
And there we have it. Are the seedings right? Wrong? Too harsh on Errol Gulden – haha?
The Robert Flower WIngman of the Year Award is a members column that will be updated at least once a fortnight (usually weekly) as the season unfolds, with the best performances of the week highlighted and dissected.
If you know your footy, and love deep dives on the wing positions, The Mongrel Punt is the place for you.