In the infancy of The Mongrel Punt, I was searching for things to write about, and as a new site, there was plenty to cover, even in the off-season.
One of the ideas I floated, and ran with was to offer a list of players from each club whose loss would significantly impact the team. I just spent a few minutes reading back over the list, and had reactions that ranged from “what was I thinking?” to “well, yeah that one was obvious.”
Well, not one to be easily deterred by a mediocre writing style and less than well-thought-out articles, I’m doing it again, fresh with a season of attentiveness and a somewhat more comprehensive knowledge of team lists.
Will some be painfully obvious selections? Yes, that’s what I tend to do – point that stuff out. Will some be wrong? Perhaps; I often am. But will the absences of these players absolutely gut the teams they belong to?
All I know is my gut says… maybe.
How very neutral of me.
So without further ado…
We’re a big wrap for Doedee at The Mongrel. Through the first six rounds of 2018, we had him pencilled in as one of the best six defenders in the game. With the absence of Jake Lever, there were quite a few who looked at the Adelaide defence and expected it to leak goals, and whilst they had their moments where the floodgates opened (against Melbourne in the Northern Territory leaps to mind), Doedee’s presence in defensive 50 was one of the genuine highlights for the Crows.
With news filtering through that Daniel Talia has had knee surgery, and will miss the next couple of months of pre-season training, the pressure on Doedee to not only match his 2018 output, but top it, is rising. No longer do the Crows have the luxury of throwing Mitch McGovern behind the ball to stop the bleeding, and whilst Kyle Hartigan is a big body, he is not much more than that.
Tom Doedee standing up and doing more than was expected in 2018 was a nice surprise, but the Crows now require more from him. It has gone from being a nice surprise to an expectation. If he improves on his 2018 form and is able to hold the fort until Talia is back to full fitness, the resurgence of the Adelaide Crows (which I fully expect) will be in full swing.
Prior to an errant elbow from Jeremy Cameron, there were plenty of pundits and experts alike (they’re basically the same thing – stay tuned for a review of the “experts” pre-season picks over the past ten years coming soon on The Mongrel… some are laughable) that had him as front-runner for the full back position in the All-Australian team.
In just his fourth year, Andrews made the leap to be counted amongst the elite defenders in the game, working in concert with Luke Hodge to stabilise what was thought to be a suspect Brisbane back six before the commencement of the 2018 season.
Many have speculated the Lions are certain to improve on their five-wins last season. Not without Harris Andrews up and about, they don’t. His ability to read the flight of the ball and kill contests will be absolutely vital to the Lions taking the next step. This’ll be the last year for Hodge – Andrews needs to suck him dry (settle down, fellas) in terms of knowledge and footy nous. He’s done a great job thus far, and with him patrolling the defensive 50, the Lions are an infinitely better side.
It was just twelve months ago when an injury to Sam Docherty prompted me to wonder which players each team could least afford to lose. Fast forward 12 months and here were are again. It’s like déjà vu… ALL OVER AGAIN!
Last week, Sam Docherty’s knee betrayed him again like the one ring betrayed Gollum… only in a much more painful way, and with another year on the sidelines upcoming, pressure once again transfers to Cripps. Luckily, he’s already shown that those big shoulders can carry the weight.
Improvements are expected from the Blues – really, they can’t win just two games for the season again, can they? But if Cripps goes down injured, they may as well shut up shop and concentrate on 2020. There is no other team whose fortunes rely so heavily on one player.
Yes, the Blues have added some quality in Mitch McGovern, and they have Charlie Curnow looming as one of the next big things up forward, but their clearance work and burst from packs begins and ends with Patrick Cripps. Without him, the Blues are a shell of a team. His presence is vital.
Told ya some were bloody obvious!
Sorry Dees fans, but for mine, Grundy is the best big man in the game. In a midfield packed with talent, Grundy adds to the depth, and at times sits head and shoulders above others in terms of his work ethic and commitment to the cause. He is a clearance beast, often following up his own work, and with new ruck rules meaning he can take the ball cleanly from the bounce without being penalised if he gets caught, his presence at stoppages becomes even more dangerous.
His running power, and willingness to lay some big tackles sees him ranked as elite by anyone who watches the game. And I haven’t looked whether Champion data rate him as elite as yet… if they don’t they should be shot. The thing about Grundy – he passes the ‘eye-test’. When he plays the game, you can see the impact he has. His running goal against Adelaide is simply the kind of thing a ruckman should not be doing, but Grundy did it, and he’ll do it again.
The Pies were a kick away from the flag in 2018, and to get close again, they need Grundy on the park. In a team full of stars, he is probably the most important piece of the Collingwood puzzle.
I’m getting a little sick of writing about Joe Daniher and how important he is to this team. I’m also a little concerned with the news trickling through that he’s nowhere near as progressed in his rehab from osteitis pubis as the Bombers would like at this stage. He’s been missing since Round 7 last season, and is still struggling… I’m concerned.
Another who missed a bit of footy last season, but showed glimpses of what he was capable of, was Fantasia. Not only does he have what would be a great female porn star name, he has an x-factor about him that can tear a game to shreds. Looking at the role he plays, he has the potential to be an All-Australian forward pocket in 2019. A forward set up of Daniher, Stringer, McDonald-Tipungwuti and Fantasia would give defences fits, but Orazio needs to string games together.
He missed nine games in 2018, with several stints on the sidelines to set him back just as he was finding his feet. Essendon are tipped to make a big leap in 2019 – we’re pretty bullish on them at The Mongrel, but so much depends on the health of this potentially potent forward set up.
Daniher is paramount to the Bombers’ success, but Fantasia… he is the one that can break teams’ hearts.
Yeah, I had Jesse Hogan pencilled in here until I was ready to write, but to have anyone other than Fyfe in this spot is just ludicrous. Much like Matthew Pavlich over his tenure with the club, Fyfe IS the Fremantle Dockers right now.
He is their best clearance player, their best overhead mark, and quite simply, their best player by a long stretch. With Lachie Neale moving on, demands on Fyfe increase yet again. Can he pull off another amazing season, and can his body stand up under the weight of expectation?
Prior to his hamstring injury in 2018, he was a lock for All-Australian selection, and but for an undisciplined act half way through the season, was Brownlow favourite.
Aside from Cripps at Carlton, there is no one who is as irreplaceable as Fyfe is at Fremantle. If he is hurt, the season is shot – it’s that simple.
The ‘Holy Trinity’ didn’t quite live up to expectations in 2018, and whilst I am hopeful we haven’t seen the best of that combination, there is a man in the back half for the Cats who did some big jobs in 2018, and was rarely beaten.
Whilst Tom Stewart slotted into the All-Australian, the defensive work of Mark Blicavs was a genuine highlight of the Geelong season, and those in the know saw just what he was doing on a weekly basis.
He now has two Carji Greeves medals under his belt, highlighting just how highly he is rated internally at Geelong. To put it in context, Hawkins has one, Ling has one, Scarlett has one, and Chapman has one. There have been only 25 multiple recipients in the rich history of the Cats.
His closing speed, and ability to recover once the ball hits the deck see Blicavs as almost the perfect running rebounder. He has elite endurance and doesn’t try to do too much.
With Harry Taylor turning 33 next season, the importance of Taylor as a defensive pillar becomes more important. If he is able to replicate his 2018 form, the Cats are far from a spent force.
It’s hard not to list players who actually left as those the Suns could not afford to lose, but that would be a little shallow, and really… I’m better than that, damn it. You know what? Good bye to bad rubbish – if they didn’t want to be part of the club, then good riddance.
There were some bright spots for the Suns last season, despite the litany of bad news that came their way as the season drew to a close. Perhaps the brightest was the form of Alex Sexton, who provided a reliable avenue to goal when all others were closed off. Sexton had three or more goals in a game on five occasions in 2018, with his three against Sydney pivotal in one of the biggest upsets of the year. He is one of those players who seems to simply find a way to score. If he had a basketball background (like all great players, right?) he’d be termed a player who can find his own shot.
The other player I wanted to mention was Jack Bowes. There was a game I watched last season where every time Bowes went near a contest, it resulted in something positive for the Suns. Many are looking at 2019 as a pending disaster for Gold Coast. They’re fielding one of the most inexperienced sides in history, and the learning curve for Lukosius, Rankine and Ben King will be very steep, but there are others on that side that will make their games worth watching. For mine, those three kids, as well as Bowes and Sexton will raise a few eyebrows in 2019.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
There are some players who make others walk taller, and in 2018, I saw some of that from Phil Davis. There was an interview on AFL 360 just before the Giants v Swans Elimination Final with Davis, and I think it may have been Leon Cameron? Makes sense… he is the coach and all, but if there was one take away from that interview it was the steely resolve evident in the eyes, and responses of Davis.
He sat there as Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber launched question after question about Buddy Franklin at him, and you could just see that he was up to the challenge of answering those questions with actions, not words. Whateley and Robinson asked what every journo would’ve – how would the Giants curtail Buddy. Phil Davis knew how, and he would show the world.
Game time rolled around, and Davis gave Franklin a complete bath. Yes, there have been those, and you can count me amongst them at the time, that gave Franklin a pass because he was banged up. His eight disposal, zero goal performance was one of his worst for the year, and he received a free pass because he was struggling…
… but he wasn’t struggling two weeks prior, in Round 22 when he kicked 5.4 against the Giants, was he? He had a fortnight to rest before Phil Davis exacted some retribution. Not enough credit was given to Davis for his efforts in the final. He destroyed the best forward in the game and led his team to a great win. That’s the sort of player you want on the park, and that’s the sort of player you want on your team. It’s also the sort of player you can’t afford sitting on the sidelines.
I’m not sure there is a more polarising player in the game than Sicily. He is right up there in terms of possessing the most punchable face in the league, and at the same time, he is the key to whether the Hawks remain the kind of team that can push for a top four spot, or fight it out with the others to make up the numbers.
Whilst Rance and McGovern collect all the accolades for their intercept work, Sicily possesses many of the same aerial attributes. Slighter and more agile than both McGovern and Rance, Sic’s strength is his ability to drift forward and slam home long goals – his kicking is absolutely beautiful. Prior to the beginning of the 2018 season, we wrote a piece on The Mongrel asking whether it was time Sicily grew up? He was then suspended in the first couple of weeks, and then again – both for very avoidable incidents.
Sicily looks like a spiritual leader of the Hawthorn Footy Club at times, and at others he looks like a petulant child – picture Jack Riewoldt about eight years ago in terms of attitude. If he has his head on straight, plays on the edge without falling over it, and can stay on the park, the Hawks will give plenty of teams fits. If he can’t stay out there, Hawthorn is much, much worse off.
There was a lot to like about the Dees in 2018, and the emergence of TMac as their number one forward paved the way for Melbourne to cut ties with Jesse Hogan.
In doing so, it narrowed the focus on McDonald, and his importance to the Demons. With Sam Weideman backed in as his help inside 50, the health of TMac becomes paramount to the Dees not only maintaining their position in the top eight, but improving on it.
It was a gutsy move by Melbourne, and flags are rarely won by sitting still in the off-season, but all moves of this type come with an element of risk. The Dees will get help up forward from Melksham and Petracca (who really needs to pull his finger out and stamp his authority on games, rather than play cameos) but if McDonald goes down… it could spell huge trouble.
Weideman is a backup full forward/half forward. Without McDonald in there drawing the heat, I’m not convinced he can give Melbourne what they need as a key forward as consistently as required. The variable here is Aaron vandenBurg. Whilst listed as a mid/forward, he has great hands, and is an absolute bull at ground level. I think as a bustling forward, he could definitely add another dimension to the Dees forward set up.
In 2019, as goes Tom McDonald, so go the Dees.
I’ve written about this a few times, and why stop now? North Melbourne are a better side with Ben Jacobs in the team. There are some players who have the ability to make those around them better – they’re consistently acknowledged as great players in every sport, but I can’t quite put my finger on how Jacobs does it. He’s not the major ball winner. He’s not a creative genius when the ball lands in his hands. He’s a link man, at best. I don’t know how he has this kind of impact on the rest of the team…
But he does!
North’s record since the beginning of the 2014 sits at 47 wins and 41 losses. With Jacobs on the park for North, they are 38-19 for a win percentage of 66.6%. With him sitting out. They are 9-22 to sit at a measly 29%. You can look at that any way you like, but numbers simply do not lie. When Jacobs was in the North side at the conclusion of Round 12, the Roos were sitting inside the top eight, finals bound. It’s no coincidence that with the absence of Jacobs, North Melbourne fell away.
What you get from Jacobs is a stopping presence, an opposition midfielder stifled, and a vital link in the chain going the other way.
In simple terms, if Jacobs plays, the Roos usually win. If he misses, the Roos usually lose.
There was a point in 2018 where Tom Jonas almost snuck into All-Australian selection… at least in the eyes of The Mongrel. He was doing big jobs (as were quite a few at that point) but just as he had a surge in form, and was establishing himself as one of the premier defenders in the game, his body betrayed him and he missed games, effectively putting him behind a few others in the pecking order.
And in the end, selectors went with their default selection and gave the spot to Alex Rance. Not saying it was undeserved – Rance played every game, and I respect the hell out of durability, but had Jonas been healthy for the whole year, things may have been different.
Aaaaanyway, enough with my Rance hate, huh? With Dougal Howard continuing to emerge as a quality defender, and Tom Clurey and Dan Houston adding plenty in the back half as well, the presence of Jonas as the glue to hold that backline together is vitally important. Howard can fly and spoil, but it is Jonas’ ability to read the play, and provide a reliable option both in the air and on the deck that’ll allow Port to settle and deliver the ball out of defence.
I know Tiger fans will say I’m knocking the club, or hoping they fall over – it’s not the case. After all those years without success, you got it, and you deserved it. No supporters are more passionate than Richmond supporters. No supporters are louder. No supporters are as incessant with their constant badgering of other supporters than the Tiger Army. So when you land the biggest free agent in the game just over 12 months removed from a flag, people are well within their rights to speculate, and speculate I will.
Tom Lynch comes to Richmond with bells and whistles attached. At his best, he is a dominant forward. In 2016, he was an All-Australian, averaging three goals and, importantly, 2.82 contested grabs per contest. Dermott Brereton rated him as the best forward in the comp at one point. Let that sink in – Franklin, Riewoldt, Hawkins, Kennedy… yet Derm rated Lynch as the best in the business?
As we head into 2019, that 2016 season is starting to seem like a distant memory. Lynch, at 26 years old has strung together two seasons that have seen his averages drop across the board. He managed just 10 games in 2018 before pulling the pin and ending his season. If the Tigers, who have parted ways with several fringe players to make room for Lynch, can’t get their recruit to reproduce the kind of form he displayed three years ago, Lynch as a Tiger might be looked at as a poor move.
Again, I am not hoping he fails, gets injured, or in any way brings the Tigers undone – I just think that Richmond have recruited 2016 Tom Lynch, and they may receive 2018 Tom Lynch with another year on the books. They ned him on the park and performing to justify this move.
Between him and Jack Riewoldt, 110 goals is the pass mark. Seem a little steep? They got 116 from Riewoldt and Caddy. I expect more from the Lynch-Jack combo.
Also, in the back half, Dylan Grimes is criminally underrated.
Seriously, I looked at the Saints as a collective and thought ‘you know what? There’s no one in that team worth writing about as indispensable. Jack Steven? Hard running mid. Seb Ross? Skilful mid. Jake Carlisle? Wonderful… when he’s on. Membrey? Too hit and miss. Billings? More miss than hit.
And then we get to Gresham. If the 2018 St Kilda season was a dark tunnel, the form of Gresham was the light. It may have been just a torch burning brightly to light the way, but it was a bright spot nonetheless. In year three, he didn’t miss a game and returned 35 goals for the year to lead the team.
Imagine that forward line without him? Billings shanking more shots than any small forward should. Membrey being caught up in a tussle with his own goal kicking demons, and McCartin… well, for a number one pick, I’d be expecting more goals than concussions. At the moment, it seems they’re running neck and neck.
The St Kilda forward line without Jade Gresham is like Alan Richardson on AFL 360 without a sombre look on his face – you just can’t picture it.
I “ummed” and “ahhed” on this one. Buddy was the obvious choice, but with the addition of Menzel, and the return of March-champion, Sam Reid, the burden on the big fella may be eased somewhat.
The return of Callum Mills and Lewis Melican to the back half adds some stability to a unit that looked suspect at times in 2018. However, it is in the middle that Sydney started to look a little slow last season. Their tried and tested performers were a few steps off the pace, and their trajectory is not looking promising. Whether it is time catching up with them, or just one less than great collective season, the Swans have to address the slide in the centre of the ground. Moving Heeney into the guts is one way to combat the downturn, and the other is to ride those who are on the upswing. At the head of that group is George Hewett.
Largely charged with lockdown roles, Hewett emerged as a clearance player in 2018. Not only would he nullify his direct opponent, he’d win contests with the ball in dispute in the centre of the ground. In a season Swans fans may describe as forgettable, Hewett’s development was worth remembering.
There are plenty of players who contain their opponents, but Hewett has the potential to move away from a defensive role to become a power in the midfield in his own right. If he does that, the Swans once again prove people wrong. If he doesn’t, and Heeney into the middle isn’t enough to reverse the Sydney midfield malaise, things could get a little messy for the Swans.
Swans' midfield decline
WEST COAST EAGLES
If you ever underestimated the value of McGovern to the Eagles, look no further than the closing stages of the 2018 Grand Final. With the game on the line, and his body faltering from cracked ribs and internal bleeding, McGovern set the wheels in motion for the play that gave the Eagles the lead.
People look back at heroic grand final moments – the heroics of both Dermott Brereton and Robert Dipierdomenico in the 1989 Grand Final are the stuff of legend. They played through pain, and perhaps to the detriment of their own health. McGovern did as well, yet the fanfare about his exploits has been minimal. It deserves better.
McGovern is a bull, and the best intercept mark the game has seen (stats don’t lie). Whilst others have adopted the name ‘The General’ across half back for the way they set up their teams, McGovern’s exploits could easily afford him the same mantle. He is an aerialist, but in the same vein of Jeremy Howe. He is a contest killer, but different to Alex Rance. He is a difference maker, an ace up the West Coast sleeve, and he adds the ability to sneak forward and kick match-winning goals.
In a team with an embarrassment of stars (JK, Darling, Yeo, Gaff, Hurn), McGovern stands head and shoulders above them all. He is a star, and he is vital to this team saluting again in 2019.
Our first e-book! A compilation of our West Coast articles for the year.
This epub works with e-readers. We tested it on HB’s Kobo Arc and everything worked surprisingly well. Not fab with phones but it’ll do.
I am a huge rap for Naughton. He reads the ball so well, isn’t afraid of a bit of body contact, and there were games in 2018 where h looked like the most experienced defender on the park.
Of course, there were times when he looked like a first year player as well, but that was because he was! The potential for Naughton to become a great player at either end of the ground is so apparent that you would have to be completely blind, or utterly stupid not to see it (shout out to my friend, Joe Ganino who is in a real box-ticking kind of position when it comes to that last statement).
The test for Naughton will come when he is forced to match up on the gorillas of the competition, whether that be contests against Franklin, Riewoldt and Hawkins, or even if he is taking on the second forward on those teams (Dale Morris will have a lot expected of him at 36 years, and Easton Wood needs to stay on the park). With Morris and Wood combing to miss 21 games in 2018, and Jordan Roughead moving to Collingwood, Naughton’s role should be vital to the success of the Dogs.
If he stands up, particularly with Morris in need of help, the Dogs could launch many attacks from defence as a result of Naughton’s involvement. He is the future of this club.
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