The byes have been and gone, all clubs have played 14 games, and we have a level playing field as we start to explore just who is in contention for an All-Australian berth in 2018.
There are several positions that are now seemingly in dispute since the last time we visited the team at the conclusion of Round 13. Injuries have seen players fall from contention, whilst others have bounced back from absences to reclaim places that were looking a little shaky.
So rather than blabber on about it here (I’ll be doing plenty of blabbering later), let’s get stuck into it.
It’s got to the point now where people are looking forward to the Rance-matchup every week.
Things reached an apex this past weekend when Rance squared off against Lance Franklin, and though Franklin received two goals from highly contentious free kicks, Rance could safely say they fought to a draw.
Rance has slowly built into the season. After some early hiccups against Josh Jenkins and Jake Melksham, he has compiled a series of games that has once again seen him clearly lead the competition in intercept possessions. Criticisms of him not taking a direct opponent have been laid to rest in the past month as his direct opponents in isolated circumstances have included Franklin, Dangerfield and Charlie Dixon. Next in line – Shannon Hurn
I have to feel for Harris Andrews. I thought that this was his spot… right up until Jeremy Cameron knocked him out.
Alas, sentiment has no place in the rolling All-Australian team, and as one falls and is ineffective for two weeks, another usurps his place. Someone asked a question when the Power played the Demons as to what was wrong with Jesse Hogan. I had the answer for them – it was Tom Jonas.
Jonas put on a masterful display at half back, taking 11 marks and gathering 20 touches, effectively putting Hogan out of the game. Though he was not in the side that defeated Carlton in round 15, he has compiled the kind of season worthy of recognition.
The absence of Andrews in recent weeks has afforded the opportunity for Jonas to jump past him; an opportunity he has grasped with both hands. Whilst some will know him best for hits like 'Delilah' and 'It's Not Unusual' many more will now know him as The Mongrel's AA Full Back as of Round 15... maybe. Next in line – Harris Andrews
Stewart is fast becoming a stalwart in the Mongrel’s AA team. Should we just be resigned to the fact he's now our permanent back pocket in this side?Geelong fans might say yes.
After a bye in Round 14, he was relatively quiet in the Cat’s loss to the Bulldogs in Round 15, but as is the case with good players, even when they have a down day, they’re still contributing. Stewart had 21 touches off half back and was good when the heat was on.
Stewart has been a revelation for the Cats in 2018, and along with Joel Selwood, has been their most consistent performer. His 22 touches per game, along with six rebounds out of 50 have been vital to Geelong’s success. Next in line – Neville Jetta
Back into the team after a couple of weeks out with a hand injury, and right back to being one of the best half backs in the game, Rory Laird has been amazing this year in the face of the extreme pressure faced by his side this season.
Let’s look at his numbers – he is averaging 32.8 disposals this season across half back, and doing so whilst delivering at 78% efficiency. That's ridiculous for a guy playing down back. I'd have to play against under 12s to get those sort of numbers.
Laird was starting to look vulnerable in this role, particularly given how cut-throat positions have become, but walking back into the Crows' side, there he was, collecting 32 possessions as the Crows moved back onto the winners’ list with a gutsy victory against the Eagles. Next in line – Brad Sheppard
Rarely beaten, and ultra-consistent, Tarrant made our Round 9 team, and then was pushed out by some sparkling form of others.
Well, like a great horror movie villain, he’s baaaa-aaack, and this time he may be making the spot his for good.
Tarrant is probably hurt by the fact he has such able teammates around him, and their ability to kill contests has propelled North into the enviable position of one of the best defences in the league. Names like Thompson and Macmillan regularly pop up in the Kangaroos’ best, but it is Tarrant that takes the job on the big guys and delivers consistently.
That said, he was not helped by the Kangaroos’ decision to allow a free-flowing, run and gun kind of style against the Bombers in Round 15. There are not many defences that will stand up well to that type of offence when the ball comes in so easily. Next in line – Jeremy McGovern (But if he keeps playing forward… nup)
Every time we do one of these teams, we get Swans fans in my ear… or at least in my inbox, sending nudes... actually they just question why Jake Lloyd was being left out. He’s been right on the precipice of selection several times, only to be pipped at the post, but his overall contribution to the Swans’ success is irrefutable.
He is now averaging close to 28 touches per game and is the go-to kicker in the Swans backline, travelling at 81% disposal efficiency. He’s not missed a game, which I rate really highly, and his recent form offers no suggestion that he’s slowing down (28 touches v West Coast and 34 touches v Richmond). Next in line – James Sicily
Another fortnight ticks by and another fortnight without a signature from Andrew makes Eagles’ fans more and more nervous.
I’ll give Gaff this much… he is certainly driving that price up with every performance, but even his herculean effort of 37 touches against the Crows was enough to drag his team over the line.
He was best on ground until three quarter time against the Crows before Adelaide dropped the hammer on the Eagles, and is having to do a lot more this season. Next in line – Devon Smith
Just when you thought it was safe to question the position of Tom Mitchell in this side, he trots out back to back games of 31 touches against the Suns, and another 50 disposal game against the Giants.
Mitchell is now the first man to ever compile three games exceeding fifty disposals, and the first to ever do it twice in the one season.
Oh, he’s also the only player to ever achieve the 50-disposal milestone more than once, and rumour has it that he has thirteen toes... but I don't believe it. Probably because I made the rumour up... just now.
One wonders how many 50-disposal games Mitchell will own by the time he’s done in the league? It’s scary how good he is at finding the footy. Next in line – Ben Cunnington
I’m not sure there is a player more important to his team’s midfield than Higgins is to North. When he is up and about, so are the Kangaroos, and over the last two weeks, he has confirmed his place as an elite mid.
We have him on the wing, here, which is certain to raise the ire of a few, but he is as good through the middle as anyone in the business at the moment and I feel it's better to reward an elite mid than it is to reward a pretty good winger. Gaff is on the other wing, and he IS the best wingman in the game. Others pale in comparison and I'm not about rewarding someone just because they're the best of the rest. Westhoff was the only other option, but this season, he's been everywhere, man.
Remember Higgins' two possessions in the play that won North the game against the Dogs? How about his incredible first quarter against the Bombers last weekend?
It’s taken many in the AFL world a while to catch on… Shaun Higgins is the real deal. Next in line – Tom Phillips.
Five goals over the past two weeks are more than enough to keep Robbie Gray in his position at half forward.
He had an enthralling battle with Liam Jones against Carlton, with a dominant first half seeing him slot three goals, but was then held to just a couple of touches after half time. Against the Dees, he was important both up forward (two goals) and through the midfield (10 contested touches) as the Power put the brakes on the Dees’ season.
He has 24 goals for the season, and is comfortably collecting over 22 touches per game as he works up and through the centre of the ground.
There’s no doubt in my mind that he is at his best close to goal, and he will be enormously important to the Power’s chances as the season enters its final third. Next in line – Tom McDonald
I thought it was a matter of time until Buddy took this spot in the team after returning from injury, and it was an injury to another star forward that ended up opening the door for him.
Darling has been absent from the Eagles’ side since he landed awkwardly in Round 11, and Buddy has been the dominant presence in the Swans’ forward line since as they’ve gone about their winning ways (yes Tiger fans… except against you).
Franklin sits seven goals behind Ben Brown in the race for the Coleman, and it will take only one big game from Buddy to close that gap rapidly. He's still the biggest name in the game, and a lot of what Franklin does is enhanced by his reputation, but on his day he is the most dangerous player in the game. And he also has a nice thrust to the throat move I think I saw in Roadhouse many years ago. He didn't quite get the end bit right... Alex Rance should think himself lucky. Next in line – Jack Darling (Get back, big fella)
If there is one bloke in the league who can play anywhere, it’s Westhoff. Over the past couple of weeks he has added to a stellar year with four goals floating forward, and intercept marks floating back.
Westhoff has become the ultimate gap-filler. If you need someone to pinch a goal, he’s your man. If you need someone to stabilise your defence, he’s the one you go to. He is the most unlikely-looking star in the game currently, and could be a huge key to the Power’s finals push.
He is sitting at just over 20 touches, and just under a goal per game and even takes his turn in the ruck when required. He’s taking the spot of Dustin Martin in this side, so you know to do that, you have to be having a blinder. Maybe we just expect too much from Dusty these days? Or maybe you should shut up and admit that Westhoff deserves hi spot here. Next in line – Dustin Martin
After a month or so where his spot in the team was in real jeopardy, Breust turned it on against the Giants, kicking 3.2 and collecting 20 touches.
Breust has been Hawthorn’s most consistent forward all season, and has even taken on the role of crashing into packs over the last couple of weeks to take big marks.
On a side note, Breust is an outside chance to become the first player to ever have 50 goals and 100 tackles in a season. He is current sitting on 30 goals and 65 tackles with eight games to go. He needs 2.5 goals, and 4.4 tackles per game to get there. Next in line – Josh Caddy
Once again, it’s simple – lead the race for the Coleman and you own the AA full forward position. As it stands, that position belongs to Ben Brown.
After a couple of lean weeks, Brown bagged five against the Bulldogs and added another couple against the Bombers, kicking 2.3 for the game. He currently has a seven goal lead over Buddy and the suspended Jeremy Cameron, so it is definitely his spot to lose. He should probably keep an eye out for the Hamburglar. Next in line – Jack Riewoldt
Look, I was tossing this spot up to either Edwards, or Riewoldt. It’s easy to have a bit of recency-bias, with Jack’s mammoth game against the Swans still very prominent in our minds, but Edwards’ season has been almost perfect for someone in his role.
He is currently equal seventh in the league for score involvements (Riewoldt sits at equal 22nd) and leads the league in direct goal assists, with 1.5 per game.
Edwards’ quick hands and quick thinking are integral to Richmond’s success, and here at The Mongrel, we’re big on the little things. Whilst Riewoldt may have more goals (he sits fifth in the race for the Coleman), Edwards is one of the most creative players in the league, and he makes those around him better. Who wouldn’t want to play up forward with Edwards setting you up? Next in line – Jesse Hogan.
Grundy holds firm again, despite a huge game from Max Gawn on the weekend just past.
Grundy had 20 touches and 34 hit outs despite the close match up against Matthew Kreuzer prior to half time in Round 14. He followed up with a big 23 touch, 49 hit out and nine tackle outing against the Suns and Jarrod Witts.
This is as close a battle between two ruckmen for one spot as I can remember. Sadly, the only time we’ll see them matched up again will be if both Collingwood and Melbourne meet in the finals. Until then we have only one contest between the two we can gauge, and we gave that one to Grundy marginally, hence his spot as the number one ruck. Next in line – Max Gawn
A four-five week hamstring will probably make this the last time we see him in this team, and after watching his interview on 'Bob' last week, I'm kind of glad. Imagine saying you find the game you're paid a heap to play boring? .
Anyway, to date Fyfe has the runs on the board to remain in the side despite having the bye in Round 14 and a very early exit with the hamstring injury in the Round 15 clash against Brisbane. Fyfe’s 28.8 disposals, seven clearances and 16.3 contested disposals per game are close to his numbers in his Brownlow year, and his head to head clash with Patrick Cripps provided a first quarter lesson in winning the ball in close.
Thanks for the memories, Nat… you won’t be back in this side after Round 17 by the looks of it. Next in line – Patrick Cripps
I really struggled with this one. I know there are so many that think Selwood gets into these teams on reputation, however if that were the case, I’d like to hear their arguments as to why he has not been included in any of the teams we’ve put together prior to this one.
The Geelong captain continues to perform at the highest level. As pointed out by one of our readers, his consistency is fantastic – he has not had under 20 touches in a game this season and has been prominent in plenty of tight fourth quarter tussles.
This bloke ticked past 250 games played this season but is playing at the level we’ve become accustomed over the past ten years. He’s the most inspirational captain in the league, bar none, and if you think he’s in this team on reputation, you haven’t watched much of him play this year. In a midfield containing Ablett and Dangerfield, it is Selwood who puts his head over it, and gets his hands on the ball when his team needs it. Next in line – Steele Sidebottom
Gawn had a huge game against the Saints, with 39 hit outs to go along with 25 touches, and 11 marks to be close to the best player on the ground. His back and forth tussle with Brodie Grundy is one of the AA highlights of the season, to the point where one poor week from the Collingwood backman, and one great game from Gawn could see them swap places quite readily.
Also, I like his Foxtel ad where he eats popcorn and watched the Gilmore Girls. I've never watched it, myself... I'm much more inclined to watch Pretty Little Liars, but you have to give it to Gawny - he knows what he likes.
The cavalry looks to be arriving for Gibbs and the Crows, but it might be too late. He has been mighty all season, often taking the centre clearances over in the fourth quarter as he wills his team onwards.
It’s a role Gibbs was not expected to fill this season. He was meant to be the cherry on top of the Crows’ midfield cake. Instead, the cake had half the ingredients missing, and Gibbs was forced to fill the void.
Gibbs’ 27 possessions, and six clearances per game will have him neck and neck with Rory Laird for the Crows best and fairest this season. He deserves a medal for the work he’s put in on a team so depleted by injury.
He’s so close to grabbing a starting spot in this side. He’s here on the bench again after another couple of weeks where he’s averaged 27.5 touches. He just keeps on keeping on at the moment.
For the season, he is just a touch under 31 disposals per game and has started to do a lot more with the footy when he has it. Like his captain, he has demonstrated the ability to see the game unfold before him and create plays with his handball in 2018. He has almost seven score involvements per game, and is looking as though he will be a serious contender for his first AA guernsey.
In addition, I've been told he kind of looks like me. I'm sure the person meant he looks like me, only uglier... right? Right?!?!
The engine keeps running, irrespective of how much damage the chassis incurs.
Fyfe is now hurt. Sandilands is down too, and there’s Lachie Neale, with his hands on the ball over and over again. He does it week in, and week out.The lowest amount of touches he's had this season is 20. The next worst is 28, and he's had more than 30 on eight occasions.
Since the last time we visited the team, Neale has had only one chance to impress due to the bye. The result? 31 touches with 16 contested touches, and six tackles.
He is having an outstanding year, and will now receive plenty of attention from the opposition with Fyfe out injured. How he holds up, and whether he can drive his team to be a) competitive, and b) to a win, will go a long way to cementing his place in the team.
The brightest light of Carlton’s season continues to shine despite the losses piling up. There’s no room for Charlie Curnow in this team, but there is definitely room for Cripps.
He had 29 touches and three goals against the Pies, and followed that with 33 disposals against Port Adelaide. He may have been banged up before the bye, but Cripps has refused to allow it to slow him down.
My hope is that the Blues don’t find a reason to put him in cotton wool as the season winds down.
He is fast becoming the Eagles’ Mr. Fix It… it’s a pity there’s only one of him. He drew the assignment of Tex Walker at full back against the Crows in Round 15 and was released into the midfield late in the game - possibly too late.
Yeo is one of the most accountable mids in the game, often getting the run-with role that stifles his own output. Would love to see him have that one huge game to thrust him into the starting 18.
Please keep in mind, just because these guys are out, does not discount them in any way. They’re not in the ‘knocking on the door’ section because they’re already in the mix.
James Sicily – This was tough. Had a stinker against the Giants, irrespective of what the stats say, but was solid against the Suns. When I look at him and Lloyd side by side over the season, Lloyd has been more consistent and has played two extra games, and I rate consistency. Really hard to leave Sicily out.
Jack Macrae – Twang. That was Macrae’s hamstring a couple of weeks ago, and with it went his spot in the team. With so many mids contending for spots, competition is tight, and it's too difficult to hold a spot whilst not playing.
Jack Darling – As Macrae’s hamstring went twang, Darling’s ankle went crack, and Franklin finally did what I thought he’d inevitably do, and usurped his place in the team.
Dustin Martin – Maybe we set the bar too high for him, but 2018 Dusty is not a patch on 2017 Dusty. Not many versions of anyone have been a patch on 2017 Dusty.
Jesse Hogan – Went missing in the big games. Not a fan of that. Has to get rid of the flat track bully tag.
Harris Andrews – Cameron’s forearm put the brakes on his momentum. Stopped him dead, actually, and have opened the door for other to jump into his spot. Hope he's back soon. He was having a ripping year prior to that.
Jeremy McGovern – Playing forward has been only a moderate success, if a success at all. When he has been back in the last couple of games, he hasn’t been a world-beater.
Jared Polec – Has been solid, but both Laird and Lloyd have been better.
WHO’S KNOCKING ON THE DOOR?
SCOTT PENDLEBURY – Flying under the radar at the moment, but look at his last eight games. 27.3 disposals per game, over five tackles and a goal in each game. And who was saying he was no longer an A-grader? Mike Sheahan... keep watching.
STEPHEN CONIGLIO – The pick of the GWS mids, for mine. Josh Kelly is the gem in that team, but he’s missed a ton of footy. Coniglio has been the mainstay while the team struggled. 28 touches per game and 11 goals for the season.
OLLIE WINES – Has had a ripping last six weeks. Almost 27 touches per game in the middle, and 13 of them coming in the contested fashion.
NICK HAYNES – One of the most underrated defenders in the game. 7.2 intercept disposals per game.
And there we go, Mongrels. How did we do? Quite a few changes this time around, which I am sure will either delight or disgust people depending on where your players sit. Like what you’re getting from The Mongrel? Give us a Like on Facebook or a Follow on Twitter and tell us what we did right, and what we did wrong.