The Mongrel Pre-Season Player Power Rankings 40-31

So if you missed the first reveal of our 2019 Pre-Season Player Power Rankings, I’d suggest stopping now, clicking the link below and coming back to this section once you’re done. In doing so, not only will you find the players ranked 50-41, you’ll also find the criteria (as vague as it is) for our ranking system.

THE MONGREL PRE-SEASON PLAYER POWER RANKINGS 50-41

And if you’re still reading, I’m going to assume you’ve already got yourself up to speed with where we’re at. Let’s get going.

Now, before we continue the countdown, I should make something clear – there are going to be some decent players that miss this list. There is going to be some consistently very good players who don’t get a look in, and some players who had pretty good patches over the last two years who don’t make the cut. There might even be a great player or three who don’t make the list this pre-season.

It doesn’t mean I don’t rate them as players. Not at all. And it doesn’t mean that they won’t feature heavily in this coming season’s rolling Power Rankings once we get a few games under our collective belts. It just means the formula we’re using hasn’t worked for them, and as a result, they find themselves outside the top 50.

As an example, I’d like to narrow the focus onto one player who will NOTbe making an appearance in this pre-season ranking, much to the surprise of many.

Nat Fyfe.

There was a point in 2018 where Fyfe looked to be the front-runner for the Brownlow. By Round 13, he’d amassed six games where he’d gone over 30 touches, and the Dockers had won four of them, but then the wheels fell off his season. He was suspended for a week, and then missed six weeks with a hamstring. He missed All-Australian selection. He missed selection to the AA squad, which was quite amazing, and he had one more 30+ possession game for the season – in a loss.

For a player of his stature, 2018 ended up being a poor year. Couple that with a poor win-loss record (5-10) and a 2017 season that saw him fail to make the All-Australian squad on a team boasting an 8-13 record with him in the side, and you have a player whose last two years have not reaped anything near the kind of rewards they should, particularly given his immense talent.

In our system, Fyfe finished in 56th place. Now, to say he is the 56th best player in the comp is ludicrous, but based on the last couple of years only, that’s where his performances, and the performances of his team have left him.

I have no doubt, health permitting, we will see Fyfe feature prominently in the 2019 in-season Power Rankings. He is a contested ball beast and when on-song, can tear a game to shreds. At this point, playing for a team that has been going nowhere for two seasons, and with a flat lining trajectory at best for his own performances, Fyfe is the sort of player we would be adding to the list on reputation alone. He has a bit of work to do in order to be a Power-Player in the league once more, and that all begins with a big 2019.

Now, on with the countdown.

 

40 – Rory Sloane (Adelaide)

Sloane slots into the number 40 slot thanks to an inspired 2017 season. Sadly, he was unable to follow up with a similar season in 2018, but I guess that’s the thing, isn’t it? Doing something special once is pretty difficult; backing up and doing it again the very next year is a very tough ask, particularly when the injury bug bites.

Sloane’s body betrayed him in 2018, and saw him have an extended stay on the sidelines early in the year. Before his absence, Sloane struggled through the first four rounds, and looked slow and banged up in most of them.

His return in Round 15 saw a version of Sloane Adelaide supporters were a little more accustomed to seeing. His 31 touches that round were a season high, and his re-signing with the club, amidst mooted turmoil behind closed doors, was exactly what the Crows needed.

Sloane’s rating would be much higher had he played more games in 2018, but given his ordinary season, making the list indicates just how good he was in 2017, and just how good he can be again in 2019. With a full complement of midfielders available to start the 2019 season, Sloane will get a little more freedom than he experienced in 2018. I expect him to be a fixture in the top half of the in-season power rankings.

 

39 – Shaun Higgins (North Melbourne)

Higgins has got better with age, and his last two seasons for the Kangaroos have been the best of his career. As good as his 2017 was – and it as good enough to snare him the Syd Barker medal as North’s best and fairest, his 2018 was far superior.

As his peers start to slow, Higgins has raised his game to become one of the premier midfielders in the game.

With Cunnington already named as one of our top 50 power players, Higgins joins him and does it on the back of his first ever All-Australian selection. He raised his game in 2018, going +3.9 possessions per game compared to his 2017 totals. With more support in the form of Ben Jacobs, the reinvigorated Jed Anderson, and the developing Paul Ahern,  Higgins became the number one man at North when it came to score involvements, punishing opposition teams whenever he got the ball, particularly late in games when all the hard work started to pay off.

More than just an outside player, Higgins was second only to Cunnington in clearances, and was third at the club in contested possessions. Often called a “Rolls Royce” on the field due to his smooth movements (unlike my friend Joe Ganino who has been having problems in that area), Higgins has also provided much of the grunt for the Kangaroos. As the young talent at Arden Street continues to develop, there is a strong sense that North will only go as far in 2019 as Shaun Higgins can take them. If his improvement over the past two years is any indication, Higgins would be eyeing off finals for the Kangaroos in 2019.

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38 – Kane Lambert (Richmond)

Often relegated to the back blocks when we speak about the elite players in the Richmond midfield, Kane Lambert has made a name for himself over the past two seasons as someone who will win the hard ball, run all day, and provide an option, irrespective of what the scoreboard reads.

Whilst there are many who believe that it is superstars that win flags, there is as many who believe that organic growth within a list is the most important aspect in building a winner, and the growth of Lambert over his four years in the AFL system has been exemplary.

Given the opportunity to play midfield minutes in 2017, Lambert leapt at the chance, averaging 21.5 touches. He bettered that in 2018, with 22.5 per game but also improved his efficiency from 68% to 75% - it’s that sort of improvement that will see him featured heavily in the Tiger midfield rotation going forward, and would have Riewoldt, Lynch and Caddy licking their chops.

Lambert is not the kind of player you’d expect to see on a list like this, which is what makes him dangerous. He is not Trent Cotchin, doing the little things that are supposed to go unnoticed but are noticed more and more. He is not Dustin Martin, with highlight plays and fend offs that sit opposition players on their backsides. He is not the supremely skilled set-up man ala Shane Edwards, with floating handballs into the path of teammates to set up goals. He is a worker bee, a foot soldier in the Tiger Army, but it is these foot soldiers that carry out the orders of the generals to a tee, and it is these foot soldiers that carry teams to wins when the marquee players are having down days.

Kane Lambert is a good, honest player on the verge of becoming something a whole lot more. Richmond supporters know what they have in this hard-working, team-oriented player. It’s about time the rest of the football world took some notice, too.

 

37 – Josh Kennedy (Sydney)

Kennedy slots in based on an electrifying 2017, but there were signs in 2018 that his run at the top of the midfield bunch may be coming to an end. On three occasions last season, Kennedy was held to 16 touches or less. For context, a disposal total that low occurred just once in the three years prior.

Kennedy’s crash and bash midfield presence can still be an ultra-effective weapon for the Swans, who are watching their tried and trusted mids start to fall apart. Kennedy was -2.8 disposals per game in 2018 compared to his 2017 numbers, which were -3.29 on 2016. On the whole, Kennedy is -6.09 disposals per game over the past two seasons. Though he is statistically trending in the wrong direction, he is still able to find times when he is the best player on the ground, albeit for shorter periods

In an unlikely comeback win on the road against Geelong at Kardinia Park in Round Six, Kennedy amassed 13 disposals and six clearances (three from centre bounces) to power the Swans home from a 22 point deficit to win by 17 points.

The Swans need more than cameos from Kennedy now. As they bring in new blood to a midfield that is obviously in a state of change, they’ll require someone in there to steer the ship. Kennedy has to be that man for one more year. The Swans need his strong body and ability to get first hands on the ball as Hewett, Heeney, Florent and co. find their own way as a midfield unit.

It’s safe to say that a replica of his 2018 season would see Kennedy off this list this time next year.

 

36 – Callan Ward (GWS)

In a team absolutely decimated by injury (hey, the other day I learnt that the term ‘decimated’ means to lose ten percent… doesn’t sound that bad, really does it?) Callan Ward continued to provide the stability and leadership required in the GWS midfield. With troops dropping like flies around him, it was Ward, combined with Coniglio and Dylan Shiel that held the Giants on-ball division together in 2018.

That said, Ward benefits from an excellent 2017 as well. He has been an excellent finals performer for the Giants, picking up votes in the 2017 edition of the Gary Ayres medal, as well as playing a starring role in the 2018 demolition of the Swans.

If you want a man who will not shirk a contest, Ward is your man. For someone who plays such a physical style, he is incredibly durable, playing 20+ games in each of the past eight seasons. The Giants may have lost Shiel and Scully in the off-season, but with several young stars looking for more midfield minutes (led by Tim Taranto), the presence of a veteran like Ward is invaluable. He will fly the flag, he will put his head over the ball when it’s his turn to go, and he is the kind of leader men follow into battle.

 

35 – Trent Cotchin (Richmond)

Speaking of leaders, this bloke was voted as 2018’s best captain. And for good reason.

If you want to know what makes Cotchin so valuable, don’t watch him play. Don’t look up his highlights and don’t analyse his stats. Do yourself a favour (Thanks Molly) and listen to his speech after accepting the award for best captain at the conclusion of last season. Here is a bloke who puts others first. He mentions those who never get mentioned. He gives credit to those who never receive it. He understands the value of the whole as compared to the individual. He’s like Shannon Noll or Moving Pictures. He takes a step back and sees the little people.

In short, he gets it. Trent Cotchin gets it.

In an era where people focus on the big things, it’s the little things that make Trent Cotchin stand out. He halves contests he has no business being in. He makes 30-70 situations into true 50-50 contests. The little things – from which big things grow. Premiership captains don’t grow on trees. In the game right now there are only five of them, and one of them sits at the helm of the Richmond Footy Club. Discount him at your peril.

Also, he is one of Mrs Mongrel’s favourite players after she saw footage of him cleaning up the change rooms before leaving because he didn’t think he was above leaving a mess behind him to make the cleaners’ lives more difficult. Forget Luke Hodge - Trent Cotchin is where the “good bloke” discussion should begin and end..

 

34 – Josh Caddy (Richmond)

Surprise packet of the 2018 Richmond forward line. 46 goals for the year was the perfect foil for someone playing second fiddle to Jack Riewoldt, and those who read our site regularly will know I am absolutely intrigued as to how the Tiger forward line will function with Tom Lynch entering the fray as well. Surely Caddy can’t replicate his 2018 performance, can he?

There was a time when I thought Caddy would end up one of those players who bounced around from team to team and be gone from the AFL relatively quickly. Why not, right? It happened to plenty of other high Gold Coast draft picks. But Caddy has found his niche at Richmond, and is as dangerous around goals as any mid-sized forward in the game. His return of 46.15 indicates that when chances do arise, he capitalizes.

The marquee game for Caddy in 2018 came with Jack sidelined due to a late spoil (to the head by jake Carlisle) in the first quarter of the Richmond v St Kilda clash. With their number one option out for the game, it was Caddy who stepped to the fore, slotting six goals in a season-best performance.

Caddy may find it hard to retain a place on this list going into 2020, particularly given the expected shared load in the Tiger forward line, but as of right now, he is in the top handful of mid-sized forwards in the game, and he is performing in a team that was, for most of the season, the best team in the game.

His combination with Lynch and Riewoldt in 2019 will be a story in and of itself. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

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33 – Matt Crouch (Adelaide)

A superb 2017 season would’ve had Crouch rated very highly going into 2018, but last season was derailed early due to injury. With both Crouch brothers, as well as Rory Sloane sidelined early, the Crows were up against it in the middle, and they never really found their way in 2018, stumbling into hurdle after hurdle as the weight of expectation continued to drag them down.

Crouch rallied in the second half of the season to re-establish himself as one of the premier ball-winners in the game. From rounds 10-23, Crouch averaged an incredible 33.61 touches, including a record-breaking 35 handballs in the Round 22 clash against North Melbourne.

Crouch’s excellent finish to 2018 was lost on many given the dismal run by the Crows, but looking forward, his consistent presence in the middle (5.33) clearances per game) and ability to win his own footy (12.72 contested possessions per game) make him incredibly difficult to stop.

With a full pre-season under his belt, and no injury hiccups, people will once again be taking notice of Crouch in 2019. He may be one of 2-3 players capable of breaking Tom Mitchell’s record for most disposals in a season. After all, he did hold that record prior to Mitchell’s superb 2018 effort.

 

32 – Jordan de Goey (Collingwood)

When I put this list together, I was openly wondering how I could manipulate the formula in order to get this guy higher. He is one of my favourites to watch, and there’s a heap of reasons he’s a great in the making. There’s one move he pulls that I just don’t see anyone else do at the moment. He attacks the bouncing ball, hits it hard and stops dead, only to launch sideways to avoid either an oncoming opposition player, or leave the trailing defender in his wake. It demonstrates amazing agility, and combined with taking a bobbling ball so cleanly, and a burst of power few possess… it left me shaking my head when I saw him do it a couple of times in 2018. It left opposition coaches, players and supporters doing the same.

He is now heading into year five of his career, coming off a season where he kicked four or more goals on six occasions as a more permanent forward than midfielder. As much as we talk up the power forwards, de Goey is the sort of player that can revolutionise the forward set-up in the modern game. He is powerful, nimble and has explosive speed off the mark. He’s the sort of player my dad would call a footballer’s footballer. I heard Nathan Buckley call him an “alpha-male” recently, which I think is both a little homo-erotic in a footy club, as well as an indication as to how he carries himself within the team. he looks like he believes he can do anything on a footy field. maybe he can…

What’s his ceiling? Could he win a Coleman? Place top five? I think the latter is a definite possibility. I’m a big believer in organic improvement powering a club, and the improvement from de Goey was a big factor in Collingwood’s rise up the ladder in 2018. Any improvements in 2019 will see him make the leap from borderline star of the game, to genuine superstar.

He’s a game-changer. And he’s only 22.

 

31 – Shane Edwards (Richmond)

I’ve often heard basketball commentators speak about players seeing the game a little slower than others, as though it moves in slow-motion to them. They see opportunities others simply miss, and whilst the game goes on around them, their peripheral vision, and solid decision making allows them to distribute the ball to teammates in the ideal situations to score. I look at Shane Edwards in the same way.

If the Richmond forward half were a movie in 2018, Edwards would not command star-billing, but when he entered the shot, all eyes were drawn to him. When the awards were handed out, he probably wouldn’t be nominated for best actor, but he’d be a shoe-in for best supporting actor. He’s less like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, and more like Sylvester Stallone in Creed. He doesn’t need to be the main attraction in order to stand out.

Edwards is the sort of player that turns things to gold at a touch. With the ball in his hands, Richmond are a far more dangerous team. His inclusion in the 2018 All-Australian team cemented him as a player respected by his peers, and those looking beyond the statistics.

With 31 direct goal assists to his name in 2018, in addition to the 14 goals he kicked himself, Edwards is a handful in a forward line choc-full of top-end talent, and doesn’t need to be the focal point in order to be very effective. In a team with Riewoldt, Lynch and Caddy all vying for the ball, Edwards is the perfect man to have skirting the packs. He’ll happily hand off to others. If the team wins, Shane Edwards wins.

JUMP TO PLAYERS 30-21 HERE.

 

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