It’s been two rounds since we explored who is playing the best individual footy in the AFL, and as we are about to enter bye-rounds, the waters become a little more muddied. Already both Port Adelaide and Gold Coast are a game behind, and with strong performances from others, positions in the Mongrel’s All-Australian team are under threat.
Round by round, injury by injury, and performance by performance we’re seeing players both emerge and fall from contention.
Some are incredibly stiff to miss selection this time around, but there are multiple contenders for quite a few positions, currently. The backline talent is making selection a nightmare, as is the running power through the middle. Up forward, injuries threaten to derail what looked like certain selections, and some of the big guns may not have fired as accurately as was expected.
The big issue is in the ruck, with each round of footy seeing players jostle for position not only for hit outs, but in terms of positions in this side. Currently, I feel pretty safe in saying that there’d have to be two ruckmen included in this team. There’s no way you could select one clearly over the other, with the other contenders now seeming to fall back to the pack.
Just who is sitting in the Mongrel’s rolling All-Australian team at the halfway point of the season?
Read on to find out
I’m sorry, Rance haters… I held off as long as I could. Early season hiccups against Jake Melksham and Josh Jenkins are now behind him. He has been immense the last two weeks, with performances akin to his 2017 best.
What kept him out of the Round Nine team was his less than perfect effort against the Eagles, but he had plenty of mates that day. I’ll tell you what, though – if he dives again like he did in the Essendon game, I couldn’t keep him in on principle. Still, as much flack as he gets, he has compiled a solid body of work this season and his results against the St Kilda and Essendon forwards were excellent.
Leads the competition in intercept possessions and was integral in the yellow and black wall that stopped the Bombers in their tracks in the Dreamtime clash.
Next in line – Robbie Tarrant
Welcome to the team, Harris. He has had an amazing year, and continued his form over the last two weeks as the standout backman in the game. He now holds the record for most spoils in a game, with 23 against the Swans in Round 10. He backed that up on the weekend just gone, with a brilliant defensive effort against the leader in the Coleman race.
If he’d been great up until the last couple of weeks, how does more than holding your own against two of the best forwards in the game sound as a way to solidify your place in the game as an emerging star? Playing a significant role in limiting two of the best forwards in the game to three goals between them over two weeks is all the proof I need to bump him over the unlucky Alex Pearce and Daniel Talia.
Next in line – Daniel Talia
He has been in our Round Seven, and Round Nine teams, and has done nothing that would see him lose his spot. 29 touches and 12 marks against the Blues in Round 10, and another 28 touches and 10 marks this weekend are numbers you can’t argue with.
In the past month, Stewart has been off the boil just once, with an ordinary outing against the Bombers. Other than that he has been a brilliant, running contributor for the stingy Geelong defence.
Next in line – Shannon Hurn
This is one of the true locks in the game. Laird has been an absolute rock in defence for the Crows – a defensive unit that has been under plenty of defensive pressure over the last few weeks.
He was one of the very few Crows able to hold his head high after their thrashing at the hands of the Demons in Alice Springs, and he followed it up with what is becoming a standard for him – 30 touches against Giants.
Laird is not your standard running half back. He’s averaging almost 12 contested disposals per game, showing that he can hold his own when the going gets tough.
Next in line – Jeremy Howe
A couple of dicey moments late in this week’s game were not enough to unseat the Gov from his commanding position across half back. Despite a few anxious moments, he was able to provide the Eagles with nine intercept possessions as part of his 21 touch, 12 mark performance.
The week prior against Hawthorn, he was a little more subdued, with the Hawks’ youngster, Mitchell Lewis playing a largely negating role on him.
Next in line – James Sicily
We had him as next in line in the Round Nine team, so this is not coming out of nowhere – he is taking his game to the next level.
Since last we checked in, Phillips has had back to back games in Collingwood wins where he has had the ball on an absolute string. 36 disposals against the Bulldogs were followed up by that number again as the Pies rolled over the Dockers – this time he ran forward to slot three goals as well.
Last season, Phillips received one vote in the Rising Star award. If they re-cast their votes now, he’d be the runaway winner.
Next in line – Tom Phillips
This was difficult. I had Lachie Neale in here last time and he really hasn’t done much wrong since. He was quieter against the Kangaroos, but was good against the Pies. But Gaff has been wonderful, and his run and carry have been integral to the West Coast success. The fact he’s playing a genuine winger’s role puts him over the top.
Gaff has had 29 touches against the Saints on the weekend, but his 35 touch, 12 mark game against the Hawks was a best on ground effort in Round 10.
Next in line – Lachie Neale
Under 30 touches in both games since we last visited the AA team, but the body of work he has compiled has been so impressive, that you can’t really question his inclusion.
He is still the best clearance player in the game, averaging almost nine per game, and leads the league in disposals, averaging 34.1.
All that said, there are now others creeping up, and for the first time this season, Mitchell’s stranglehold on this spot is loosening.
Next in line – Clayton Oliver
Keeps going from strength to strength. He had another pair of 30+ disposal outings since last we checked in.
Macrae is averaging at 33.5 touches per game and keeps running when everyone else stops. He continually finds space and is carrying a pretty ordinary Dogs midfield. His work in the first quarter against the Dees saw Gawn's ruck work rendered largely ineffective.
Next in line – Bryce Gibbs
He is still the most dangerous close-to-goal player in the game. I’m not talking about the power players, rising to take the big marks; I’m talking about the guys who makes things happen when the ball is at ground level.
After a week off due to their China trip, Gray bounced back with a four goal performance against the Hawks. He was clearly the best forward on the ground, and used his foot speed to create havoc in the first half.
A big test looms this Friday evening against the reigning premier and their much vaunted defensive unit. At over a goal a game, and 24.2 disposals per week to his name, Robbie Gray is a handful for any team.
Next in line – Jeremy Cameron
The hearts of Eagles’ supporters leapt into their mouths as Darling crashed to the ground clutching at his ankle in their win over the Saints this weekend. Whilst he was in a lot of pain, Darling looked better in the change rooms, and the Eagles were right not to try to get him back out there.
The week before, Darling was goalless, but was still a solid contributor with two direct goal assists as West Coast beat the Hawks on the road.
The Eagles have the bye this week, which will allow him time to recover, but the shadow of Buddy Franklin looms large in this spot. The fact Franklin hasn’t set the world on fire the last two weeks allows Darling to breathe a little easier.
Next in line – Lance Franklin, despite the missed games.
He’s not having the same kind of year he had last year – I mean, another Richmond player actual won an award this weekend just past. Last year, Martin won basically everything!
Still, whilst he might not be at 2017’s lofty levels, over the past two weeks he has compiled 54 touches and three goals. He is still so damaging in the forward half, and he gets an extra point or two in my books for using the fend off against Jake Stringer, pushing him right in the face and getting away with it.
Next in line – Patrick Dangerfield
What a couple of weeks Josh Caddy has had.
Ten goals against the Saints and Bombers to sit equal fourth in the race for the Coleman is good enough reason for me to bump Luke Breust out of the forward pocket slot he’s held in both the Round Seven and Nine teams.
Caddy has appeared in our good, bad and ugly reviews a few times this year – a great indicator for me that he is consistently providing a good avenue for the Richmond midfield, as well as being adept at creating his own opportunities to kick goals. \
It’s funny – you can teach guys to mark better, run harder, be quicker with their hands, but knowing where the goals are… that’s something that’s innate. And that’s what Josh Caddy has.
Next in line – Luke Breust
This is a simple selection for the third straight time. If you’re leading the race for the Coleman at this stage, you’re a lock for the full forward spot.
Brown has endured a couple of leaner weeks, with only four goals coming from that period, but there is, sitting atop the goal kickers table, and you can’t argue with numbers, and Ben Brown leads all players this season.
Next in line – Josh Kennedy… he’s coming.
What a fortnight for Hogan.
He had two bags of five goals in consecutive weeks and was already holding down this slot in our previous team. He is now sitting second in the Coleman and is part of a potent forward combination with Tom McDonald.
Still, even after their demolition of Adelaide, people will argue that Melbourne haven’t played anyone. This coming week against the in-form Pies will be interesting. Hogan against an in-sync backline and another duel to salivate over. We’ll get to that one.
Next in line – Mark LeCras
Last time around this spot was held by Max Gawn, and Grundy was squeezed out of the side by the excellent form of Stefan Martin.
Well, Grundy has been excellent since, and given this race was so close, he has managed to jump from third to first in the matter of just two weeks. He had 18 touches, 48 hit outs (17 to direct advantage) and eight tackles against the Dockers to follow on from 26 touches, 38 hit outs (18 to direct advantage) and nine tackles against the Dogs.
As per last time, the race for this spot is intense, and may come down to the head to head clash between Grundy and Gawn in Round 12 to decide just who reigns supreme as the number one ruckman in the game.
31 disposals with 24 contested touches against Ben Jacobs is nothing to sneeze at. Nat Fyfe’s first quarter against the Kangaroos in Round 10 was a sight to behold. Jacobs fought back well, but in a game where people were waiting to see how Fyfe dealt with the close attention of a tagger, Fyfe made a bold statement early.
He was less impressive this week, with Scott Pendlebury running opposite him, and taking the chocolates. Still, Fyfe has been outstanding this year. He trails only Patrick Cripps in contested disposals, and has been wonderful overhead all season.
Sidebottom has successfully retained his spot in the midfield with 71 touches over the past two weeks.
He continues to be a reliable and very clean with his hands both at stoppages and in gathering loose ball around the ground. It looks as though he has taken a leaf out of Scott Pendlebury’s book, and has started to create time and space for himself when he takes possession.
Many speculated that Sidebottom would be the next Collingwood captain. Watching him this season, it seems as though Pendles has found his successor.
Stiff to be bumped out of the starting ruck spot, but the race is so tight.
He was huge in the Demons’ win over the Crows, with 12 touches and 49 hit outs (24 to advantage) to render Sam Jacobs obsolete. He followed up with 19 touches (many late) and an enormous 57 hit outs (15 to advantage) against the Bulldogs.
I actually thought he didn’t do a great job in feeding his mids against the Dogs. Now, whether that is the fault of Gawn, or the mids, is a matter for discussion. It seems to me, particularly early, that Gawn’s hits went straight down the throat of Bulldog players. Of his 15 hits to advantage, I would guess that not many came in the first quarter when the Dogs applied the pressure.
Gawn could be back in the tiop spot with a big game against Grundy in their Queen’s Birthday clash. Man… I am looking forward to this.
Cunnington keeps toiling away, and the Roos keep winning.
Often overshadowed by the efforts of Shaun Higgins (who was excellent this week), Cunnington is an absolute workhorse who is also excellent overhead. He doesn’t look quick, and he doesn’t look flashy, but he is effective.
He currently averages almost 16 contested disposals per game. He is as hard as you can get, and he shirks nothing. As people marvel at the polish of Higgins, stop and give credit to the grunt of Cunnington. He is the Greg Williams to Higgins’ Gerard Healy at the moment.
He just keeps on keeping on. I would ask where Carlton would be without him, but as they’re sitting on the bottom of the ladder, I guess they’d be in the same spot.
Here’s Cripps’ last two weeks. 31 touches with 22 contested touches amongst them against the Cats, and 17 touches with 11 contested touches against the Swans.
That second game provided season lows in both categories, and in a cut-throat season, puts him at risk of dropping out of the Mongrel’s AA team.
I really wanted Gibbs in the starting 18 due to his immense impact on the centre bounce clearances when the game was on the line against the Giants, but I couldn’t justify him over the influence Gaff is having for the Eagles.
Gibbs has to be in the top couple for Adelaide’s best and fairest at the moment. I’m not sure he expected to play this significant a role for the Crows this season, but injuries have meant a lot has been asked of him. He has answered, and then some.
It seems a West Coast best and fairest isn’t enough to make a believer out of some, so Yeo has gone about his business this season, hurting teams by running both ways.
Following his best on ground against Dustin Martin, he had 28 touches (16 contested) in a win against the Hawks, and followed up with another 20 touches against the Saints at home.
His game against the rampant Magpies was a sliver of light on a very dark day for the Dockers.
He collected 29 touches (14 contested) and banged home a couple of Fremantle goals to follow on from a rare quiet game against the Kangaroos the week where he managed just 20 touches.
Jeremy Howe – Hurt and had little impact against the Dogs, and out against the Dockers.
Robbie Tarrant – Doing his job, and unlucky to drop out.
Daniel Talia – Like Tarrant, still doing well, but beaten on the way back a few times. Didn’t have a great day against the Demon forwards.
Paul Seedsman – Out against the Dees and quieter against Giants despite two goals.
Luke Breust – One goal in the last two weeks. Need more from him.
Stefan Martin – Beaten by Todd Goldstein… automatic out. Was expecting more.
Jack Riewoldt – Knocked out early in one game, and quiet on return.
WHO’S KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
Other than those who dropped out this week – Tom Jonas, Scott Pendlebury, Lance Franklin, Clayton Oliver, Stephen Coniglio, Jake Lloyd, Shaun Higgins, Dylan Shiel, Shannon Hurn, Nick Haynes, Jared Polec, Devon Smith, and an addition courtesy of Sean Wicker... Neville Jetta.
And there we go. As the season goes on, we’re seeing more and more tough situations with selection. A few are very stiff to miss out here, and there’ll always be a few irrespective of who is chosen.