Picking the best 22 players of the year sounds like an easy task. There are several standouts that you simply cannot forego when compiling those who have excelled, and those who deserve to be recognised.
But what is strange is how our opinions differ when it comes down to just who those standouts are - some opinions markedly so.
We lined up five Mongrel contributors and asked them to compile their teams, and to justify anything that seemed a little out of the ordinary. Please keep in mind that a couple had compiled their teams prior to official squad of 40 being released. Here's what they came up with.
Shannon Hurn as captain?
Deserves to be contention for All Australian captain because of his leadership in West Coast’s backline. The Eagles had the fifth lowest 'points against' and Hurn is heralded for his marks (first with 173), and his rebounds (102) in a career-best year in his 13th season.
Kade Simpson? He didn't make the squad of 40!
Simmo has always been a rock for the Carlton defence and continued this in 2018, not aided by Sam Docherty being ruled out before the season had even started! He was equal-fifth for rebounds this year, and third overall for kicks including 30 in their Round 5 matchup with West Coast.
Gawn over Grundy?
To me, you want your ruckman to assist his rovers and Gawn does this more than anyone else, or team for that matter which is why he pips Grundy. In Round 23, Gawn racked up the coveted 1000 hit outs, which will no doubt prove pivotal to Melbourne’s finals campaign.
While all the hype was on Josh Kelly for the Giants, Coniglio has had to step up after a string of injuries throughout the season to the team and only went under 20 disposals once (he had 19 in Round 21). Coniglio's positioning on the wing is all because of his ability to run forward and get himself on the scoreboard (21.17) including six multiple-goal hauls.
TMac makes the cut?
McDonald is a surprise after finishing equal-sixth on the Coleman Medal race. Of the top 10, he had the third-highest average (2.82) after a career-best haul of six in Round 12 against the Pies. McDonald finished in the top 20 for contested marks, equal-sixth for marks inside 50.
The Tomahawk getting the nod at full forward?
Hawkins gets the nod over Buddy and Brown, due to how dominant he is overhead and his brilliant conversion rate. Went goalless in two of the first four games, but his second half of the year catapulted him into Coleman Medal talks. He finished with 58 for the year, but like Riewoldt, was selfless (24 goal assists – equal fourth). His 146 marks sits him seventh in the competition whereas his 45 contested was the equal-fifth highest and 74 inside 50 was 12 shy of Riewoldt who sits atop that stat.
Dylan Grimes making the cut?
The underrated defender deserves a mention, often taking the best opposition forward, which allows Rance to back off and make more contests. He’s very smart with his ball-use and positioning and his run enables him to rush to kill the one-on-ones and loose balls.
And yes, Jason, we are all quite aware that you added an extra two on the bench... that's cheating!
Blicavs in and no Rance?
Perhaps Alex Rance, in the same vein as Gary Ablett and Lance Franklin, is a victim of his own high standards, but I would argue more likely he has suffered a natural drop off in form after an outstanding few seasons. According the the AFL’s StatsPro, Rance has lost 23 per cent of his defensive contests, while Blicavs has lost just 16.2 per cent. Additionally, Rance has averaged just 5.8 defensive half pressure acts per game, compared to Blicav’s 8.7. And finally, in 388 minutes opposed to Taylor Walker, Jesse Hogan, Jack Riewoldt, Ben Brown and Tom Lynch of the Gold Coast, Blicavs has conceded a total of 3 goals. Not a bad effort from a makeshift defender.
Hawkins at full forward over Buddy and Brown?
Writing this just prior to the last round of the season, it is apparent that Hawkins has kicked fewer goals than both of these players, though with Gold Coast to come you would suspect he would go past at least Franklin, who is in doubt to play against his old side. Further, Franklin may suffer from the same syndrome as Rance, in that the footy public hold him to an incredibly high standard. On the other hand, Hawkins’ work around the ground is far superior to Brown, averaging 8.5 score involvements to 6.0, 7.2 marks per game to 4.5 and 15.7 disposals to 11.1.
Higgins makes it, but Devon Smith doesn't?
This one may seem mildly controversial to some. Devon Smith would certainly have been in my 40 man squad, but I think it comes down to these two and Higgins has been far more influential for his side than Smith. This year, Higgins has kicked 13 goals to Smith’s 17, but averages 5.8 inside 50’s to 3.1, 6.8 score involvements to 4.8, 470.5 metres gained to 360.5, 5.2 clearances to 3.3 and 27.3 disposals to 21.7. While Smith leads the league for tackles, I think Higgins has him covered in every other area and thus deserves the nod.
Jordan de Goey?
Again, perhaps mildly controversial given that players like Brown and Franklin, as well as Hogan, McDonald and Gunston have all kicked more goals than the Collingwood star. However, I think in terms of team balance you can’t pick another tall forward, especially given the presence of two ruck men in the side, and thus picking de Goey, who has kicked 36 goals and can rotate through the midfield to great effect, is the right choice.
Spots for both rucks?
Is this one even controversial? It’s definitely out of the ordinary, having not occurred since 2010 when both Aaron Sandilands and Mark Jamar were selected in the 22. However, I don’t think you can side one way or the other between Grundy and Gawn without splitting hairs, and I’d have thought most punters selecting a 22 would have both players in there.
Dayne Beams as captain?
Dayne Beams’ decision to step down from the Brisbane Lions’ captaincy mid-season indefinitely due to an ongoing mental health battle, was one of the most courageous decisions by a club captain in recent memory, and exemplified strong leadership. Hence, it is more than fitting that Beams is appointed captain of the All Australian team to add to his terrific on-field season.
Dyson Heppell vice captain? Didn't make the 40-man squad.
A surprise inclusion into the All Australian team all-together, let alone as vice-captain, but the Bomber’s skipper has had a terrific year and arguably his best and most consistent at AFL level, ranking ninth in the AFL Coaches Player of the Year Award. One of the competition’s most respected captains who has rediscovered his best form since returning from his year-long suspension last season.
What gets Devon Smith over the line in your team?
Has not made the cut in a few sides but definitely should, certainly if you are picking genuine half forward flankers. Has broken the VFL/AFL record for most tackles in a season since the statistic has been recorded and has been the recruit of the year.
And Michael Hurley? You're on an Essendon rampage!
Has overtaken Alex Rance as the best full back in the competition this year and has narrowly defeated Port Adelaide’s Tom Jonas to be crowned my All Australian full back. A terrific one on one defender who rarely gets beaten while still averaging 21 disposals and 8 marks of his own.
Trent Adam Shields
Nick Haynes making an appearance?
He not only never plays a bad game, he only plays starring roles each and every week, big or small, in the air or on the ground, holding up play, or driving attack from defence – I’m legitimately mystified that the wider AFL media haven’t cottoned on yet, but then again they’d need to pay more than cursory attention to the SuperCoach scores for that to occur.
Quite a few new faces?
Grimes, Macrae, Gunston, Higgins, Smith, Sidebottom, Whitfield, Oliver and Cripps force their way in through sheer weight of performance. Although I expect the dinosaurs on the selection committee to again be swayed by the past and just to select the team on numbers.
HB Meyers... the old mongrel himself
Yes, well they're on top of the ladder for a reason. Grimes is criminally underrated, and Rance steadied after a shaky (by his lofty standards) first third of the year. Riewoldt is a walk-up start and Caddy has been a revelation inside 50. And Dusty... well, it wasn't a 2017-vintage performance, but 2018 is still pretty good. Got better as the year went on.
Grundy over Gawn?
Yep, he just does more around the ground for me. I ebbed and flowed on the two all year, and truth be told, Stefan Martin wasn't far away in the first half of the year either. If we look back at their only head-to-head match up, I reckon Grundy had Gawn's number on the day.
No Ben Cunnington?
Hmmm, yes. I would have liked to have thrown him, Jack Gunston, Lachie Neale and even Bryce Gibbs into the mix. Alas, there's only so many spots. Unless you're Jason Irvine and just add a couple more on the bench!
And I thought you didn't like Rance?
I don't, but I respect the hell out of his game. As far as I'm concerned, I'd much rather be respected than liked. Pity I'm neither. Haha.
So that's it. Whose team do you prefer? Where did we go wrong, and where did we go right?
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