Known for being a little premature at times, The Mongrel has decided there’s no time like the present to start the speculation about the 2018 All-Australian team, and how it’ll shape up.
In previous years, we’ve been a little disappointed that who have had brilliant starts to the year are often pushed aside for those who finish strongly. It’s the AFL’s version of “What have you done for me lately?”
So here we sit, at the conclusion of Round Five, and Round Six barely a day away. How is the All-Australian team looking? More importantly, How is the All-Mongrel team shaping up?
Tom Doedee - Adelaide
Right off the bat – a surprise selection. You have to hand it to Doedee; he jumped right into the vacant Jake Lever spot and the Crows’ defence has not skipped a beat. He is averaging 7.6 intercept possessions per game which is good enough to rank 10th in the league, but has made several big spoils.
I am quite aware that this will be a selection that'll ruffle a feather or two. The next person in line for this spot was Alex Rance, but whilst the 2017 AA Captian has been good, he has also been towelled up by Josh Jenkins and Jake Melksham. Doedee hasn't really lowered his colours. Doedee is well supported by Daniel Talia, but Rance gets just as good, or better aid from Grimes and Astbury. I fully expect Rance to leap into this spot as the season progresses, but for now, Doedee gets the nods.
The quality of Adelaide’s opposition has been high thus far – Richmond, Collingwood and Sydney all testing the Crows, but Doedee has been a real highlight for them deep in defence. If you're wondering why he is in this team, you haven't watched him play.
Alex Pearce - Fremantle
Pearce has been brilliant since his return from injury, and has taken on some of the biggest jobs in footy, performing more than admirably.
Charlie Dixon managed a goal against him, Joe Daniher was held goalless, Tom Lynch managed one and Jeremy Cameron got two. Four of the biggest forwards in the game - 4 goals scored. Robbie Tarrant has a similar record on forwards (albeit playing on Lynch in conditions where most could've held him goalless) but we're going with Pearce as our full back.
Pearce’s ability to halve one on one contests sees him hold down the full back slot in the Mongrel Team of the Year thus far, but things change… quickly. He’ll have Josh Kennedy next week in a game that could cement him as one of the best full backs in the game, or bring him right back to the pack.
Jeremy Finlayson - GWS
This guy has been a revelation down back for the Giants.
He has been getting in the right spots and taking the game on from the back line. He is averaging over 21 touches per game and delivering the ball at 82% efficiency.
When you add that he has been able to gain an average of 468 metres per game (good for 12th in the league), and is willing to take a risk across the half back and centre line to propel the Giants into attack, you have a guy who is making a difference by NOT always taking the safe option - a lesson a few Essendon defenders could learn after their Anzac Day capitulation.
Finlayson is becoming a difference-maker.
THE HALF BACKS
Michael Hurley - Essendon
Hurley just seems to get the ball where and when he pleases. He is the go-to man for first possession from kick outs at Essendon, as they know the ball will be in safe hands, and he makes solid decisions with the ball.
He is currently averaging over 26 disposals and almost 9 marks per game, and seems well on his way to a third AA berth. He does not excel in the contested possession aspect of the game currently, which would indicate he is getting the majority of his disposals as a link in a chain for Essendon as opposed to beating his man and taking possession - something to watch.
Jeremy McGovern - West Coast
Currently leads the competition in contested marks, and sits fifth in intercept possessions, McGovern has been like a wall across half back, all by himself.
He is doing the Alex Rance-role, but he is currently doing it better.
His 16 disposals per game may seem a little light on, but the quality of his marking, particularly in a pack, cannot be downplayed. When you look at the Eagles sitting close to the top of the ladder, there are a few reasons, and McGovern is one of the biggest.
Rory Laird - Adelaide
There’s been a couple of instances this year when I have questioned Laird’s reluctance to put his body on the line, but how can you argue with the kind of numbers he’s putting up across half back?
He is averaging more disposals than any other player in the game after Round Five – yes, even more than Tom Mitchell, and his 36 touches are at a rate of 80% efficiency.
Looking at Laird’s progression over the last few years is very interesting. After five rounds in 2015, Laird had 97 touches. That jumped to 130 in 2016, then 155 in in 2017, and now he sits pretty on 181 in 2018. The way he’s going, in a few years’ time he’ll be averaging 50 off half back.
Stephen Coniglio - GWS
With Josh Kelly not having the start to the season he’d like, Coniglio has been one of two GWS midfield constants, along with Dylan Shiel.
He is sitting at 28 touches per game and amongst them are 11 contested possessions. He is also kicking over a goal a game, and proved to be a match winner when he went forward against Collingwood, slotting three goals, including two in a row to give the Giants the lead.
Coniglio is also averaging six tackles a game, so he continues to improve that side of his game. Looking very likely to claim his first AA guersney at this stage.
Tom Mitchell - Hawthorn
I’m not sure there’s been a better three weeks of midfield footy than we saw from Mitchell in Rounds 1-3. In those games, he averaged over 45 disposals per game, and saw the Hawks win two of the three.
17.4 of his current 36 touches per game come in heavy traffic, and the defensive side of his game is also solid, notching five tackles per game.
Many are tipping Mitchell for the Brownlow, but after his blistering start, he has cooled off somewhat, with Ben Jacobs and Nathan Jones putting extended time into him in consecutive weeks.
Nat Fyfe - Fremantle
We’ve stuck Fyfe on a wing because…. well, we just did. It's midfield... leave us alone.
Fyfe looks to be back to near his beastly best. At 31.4 disposals per game and almost five marks, Fyfe’s ability to cover ground and hurt the opposition in the air appears to be on the cards again.
Warning bells went off for the competition when Fyfe starred in the International Rules series, and he has carried that form over into the home and away season.
He gets a fair bit of help from workhorse, Lachie Neale, but whilst Neale does a lot of the grunt work, Fyfe is Fremantle’s show pony… and I mean that in the best way possible. His 29 touches against Essendon were all class, and he topped that with 38 the next week against Gold Coast. Two weeks later, Fyfe collected a career-high 43 touches as the Dockers rolled over the Dogs.
Fyfe is back and the Brownlow is in trouble… hey la, hey la… you know the rest.
THE HALF FORWARDS
Dustin Martin - Richmond
Yeah, we’re being a bit cheeky here, slotting Dusty in at half forward. He has spent a larger amount of time forward this season, as compared to the last two years, and his goal tally reflects it.
Martin sits 12th on the goal kicking table and is a little less prolific than last season in terms of ball-winning. Martin’s 24 touches per game are down almost five per game from last year but he is still one of the biggest contested ball beasts in the game.
You would leave Dusty out of your team at your own risk.
Lance Franklin - Sydney
Look, there are those players that are just going to be part of the conversation every single season, and Buddy is one of those players. That booming left foot, and his increasing ability to hold onto overhead marks make him a mainstay in any team of the year discussion.
Once again, Franklin finds himself right in the mix for the Coleman medal and his eight goal blast against the Eagles in Round One was almost a lesson in how to play deep forward in the modern game.
Buddy sits second in goals, score involvements, contested marks, and seventh in marks overall. It looms as another quality season from the most potent forward in the modern game.
Robbie Gray - Port Adelaide
Thank god Gray is listed as a mid/forward, because I feel like I am cheating by putting him in at half forward.
At almost 30 touches per game, Gray combines with Ollie Wines to pack a powerful one-two punch. His hands remain some of the quickest in the game, and he is the sort of player that seems to see the game unfold before him before it actually does.
Luke Breust - Hawthorn
He appears to be back to his best, currently, and is putting up elite small forward numbers in the early part of the year.
Breust is averaging over 15 disposals at an impressive 81% efficiency, but is complementing his offensive output of 3.2 goals per game with equally impressive defensive stats.
Breust’s tackling has been a feature, and he is sitting at four per game. If he continues at this rate, he could become the first player ever to amass 100 tackles and 50 goals in a season.
Ben Brown - North Melbourne
Edging out Buddy for the coveted full forward spot is Big Bad Ben Brown. We love our alliteration at the Mongrel Punt, even though Brown isn’t that bad, really.
What he is, is an incredibly accurate shot at goal, and as current leader of the Coleman medal race, it would be a huge disservice to him NOT to have him coming out of the square in this team.
Mark LeCras - West Coast
It’s funny to think that the Frenchman was one of the players people thought were done at the conclusion of 2017.
A full pre-season, and good run into the season, and LeCras has been important in the Eagles’ resurgence.
LeCras has bobbed up for 2.6 goals a game and has laid just over three tackles per contest, which is why he gets the nod over Daniel Menzel. LeCras’ defensive pressure has been a nice surprise, but in the current footballing world, you adapt or you die. LeCras has come back this season with a different attitude to defensive acts.
Last year, in 19 games, he laid 26 tackles. This year he has 19 in 5 games.
Brodie Grundy - Collingwood
The ruckman who plays like a midfielder gets the nod to start in the middle.
Grundy’s best game of the year thus far saw him achieve a milestone only one other ruckman in history achieved. In 1980, Gary Dempsey had 33 touches, kicked a goal and had 42 hit outs. The only player since to have those sort of numbers is Grundy.
Against the Crows, Grundy amassed stats of 33 touches, 40 hit outs and a goal. He is in estemmed company. Add to that disposal counts of over 20 in three of the other four games of the young season, and you have your number one ruckman.
Ollie Wines - Port Adelaide
Quadzilla has really stepped into the leadership role at Port Adelaide this year, and he has done it with force and grace simultaneously. He went head to head with the big Sydney mids in the Power’s stirring win in the Harbour City, collecting 35 touches in a best on ground performance.
His lowest output thus far is 25 disposals and there is already talk of him becoming the next Port Adelaide Captain. Of course, there is that pesky contract to work out first…
Dylan Shiel - GWS
In a team with bonafide young stars, it would be easy to forget Dylan Shiel… if he wasn’t so bloody good!
Whilst Coniglio and Callan Ward average more touches, the hard-running Shiel has added something to his game this season – the goal assist.
Shiel has directly assisted on 8 goals this season, placing him in the top bracket for this stat. His 24.6 possessions per game are nothing to sneeze at, and with 6.2 score involvements per game, Shiel is often the catalyst for the Giants’ forays forward.
Steele Sidebottom - Collingwood
Sidebottom has gone from strength to strength this season. The reigning Copeland trophy winner has increased his output to average 31.4 disposals, but it is his composure under pressure that has been a highlight.
As I type this, we are hours removed from the Anzac Day clash against Essendon. Under pressure several times, it was Sidebottom's poise, and ability to hold the ball for a moment longer than he should be able to, in order to find the right option that made a huge difference.
Max Gawn - Melbourne
Oh Max, had you not completely cost Melbourne a game with your horrid kicking at goal, I might have slotted you in as the number one option. Not really... Grundy has been awesome, but so has Gawn.
He leads the comp in hit outs, and sits third in contested marks. gawn looks to be taking his footy more seriously (about time!) and is reaping the on-field rewards.
Jarryd Lyons - Gold Coast
The Gold Coast Suns sit at 3-2 in no small part thanks to the efforts of Lyons. Now in his seventh season, and second with the Suns, he has made the transition from being a nice back up to the Gary Ablett show to being the number one midfielders for the Suns.
His combination with David Swallow has been promising, and let's face it - nobody saw the Suns having three wins to this point of the season. Lyons has over 27 touches per game and almost 16 of those are contested. If he keeps this up, and the Suns keep winning, he may force his way into the starting 18.
Paul Seedsman - Adelaide
Where has the Seed come from? He is sitting right at 26.6 disposals per game whilst playing on the wing, and is up from approximately 17 touches per game the last three seasons. It's like he's grown another leg!
His outside running and long, penetrating kicks see him send the Crows inside 50 six times per game, and he features in score involvements 5.8 times per contest. he also leads the competition in metres gained in a ripping start to the year.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
The following guys have just missed out on selection this time round.
Clayton Oliver, Stefan Martin, Patrick Cripps, Andrew Gaff, Seb Ross, Bryce Gibbs, Lachie Neale, Nathan Wilson, Patrick Dangerfield, Alex Rance, Jeremy Cameron, Joel Selwood.
We'll be checking back in after Round 10 with an updated list, but in the meantime, if you've got a bit of an issue with our selections, give us a mouthful on our Facebook page, or a follow on Twitter where you can tell us how stupid we are. Or, maybe... just maybe, you might agree with us. Unlikely, I know...