Hide and sneak
Power forwards love lapping up the attention that comes with clunking down big contested marks and booting long goals. Yet, a successful team often relies on a mosquito fleet of small offensive weapons who penetrate the scoreboard from the pockets.
The Mongrel defines ‘goal sneak’ and lifts the lid on who fills the position best in today’s game.
Defining a ‘goal sneak.’
Statistically speaking, I like to think of a goal sneak as a player who consistently accumulates the following numbers:
· 14-18 disposals
· 1-3 goals
· 4-6 marks
· 8-12 pressure acts
· 4-8 tackles
In layman’s terms, a goal sneak is effectively a player who spends a majority of their time in the forward-half of the ground, applying offensive pressure and kicking the occasional goal after a ball bubbles away from a contest.
The 21st century AFL landscape has been blessed with an array of crafty goal sneaks, many of whom have had a huge impact on the clubs they have played for.
While it’s never easy to split the best from the rest, I’ve narrowed down the list to five potential candidates – each of who would be worthy of recognition as the best goal sneak in the league.
Luke Breust (Hawthorn, 188 games)
Breust career stats
Breust has been a terrific contributor to the Hawks forward line for a number of years now. His game style fits the goal sneak mold, crumbing the footy off the back of contests and booting goals from all different angles. The veteran Hawk also applies constant pressure in the forward end, with an impressive average of 3.94 tackles across his 188-game career. Perhaps Breust’s biggest downfall has been his running engine, with the 28-year-old often struggling to run out games with a wet sail. Regardless, Hawthorn have benefited from the balance Breust has provided to their forward-line, and his presence will be sorely missed once it comes time for him to hang up the boots.
Eddie Betts (Adelaide Crows, 298 games)
Betts Career Stats
With a pocket at Adelaide Oval named after the wily veteran, it’s fair to say that Eddie Betts is well and truly one of the greatest goal sneaks of all time. One of Eddie’s strength is his knack of capitalising on any opportunity to snag a goal or apply forward-line pressure. His best season came in 2016, when the forward averaged over 3 goals and almost 4 tackles per game. While Eddie may be past his prime, there is no doubt he’ll go down as a genius in the small forwards department.
Jamie Cripps (West Coast Eagles, 145 games)
Cripps Career Stats
Jamie Cripps’s importance in the Eagles premiership success last year was certainly underappreciated. Yes, Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy are the key cogs in the blue and gold attack, but Cripps pressure acts, cleanliness with the ball and goal kicking capabilities are superb. After starting his career with a couple of dry seasons, the Eagle has come of age in the goal sneak position, proving a constant threat to opposition teams. His career tackle average of over four is superb, and his scoring prowess has begun to rise steadily in recent times. After kicking four goals from eighteen touches in his first outing of the 2019 season last week, it seems as if the former Saint is showing no signs of slowing down his rapid rise as one of the competitions best small forwards.
Charlie Cameron (Brisbane Lions, 87 games)
Cameron Career Stats
With only 87 AFL matches under his belt, it is scary to think how good Charlie Cameron could become if he continues to develop his game. The Lions forward is emerging as a serious forward threat to opposition teams. His forward pressure is evident with strong career tackle averages, his score board impact will only continue to get better as his teams midfield strengthens. When Cameron kicked the sealer against the Power last week, the goal affirmed his position as one the better goal sneaks in the game. A pick up of the footy, a twist and turn through on-coming traffic, a terrific snap at goal to kick truly and a double fist pump celebration to boot. Almost…almost, enough to make a grown man cry (and no, there were no tears shed…)
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti ( Essendon, 70 matches)
'Walla' snags a spot as one of the games prime goal sneaks. His performance on the weekend, a lazy seven goals and 20 touches, speaks volumes of the talent that the Don possesses. McDonald-Tipungwuti is one of those players who makes the difficult look easy. While he needs to work on his defensive game a tad, and is prone to go missing at times for a long stretch, the small forward lays a ripping tackle. If the Bombers can continue to generate quick ball movement into their forward line, dare I say the man they call 'Walla' is a Coleman medalist smokey.
Daniel Rioli (Richmond Tigers, 58 games)
Daniel Rioli Stats
He may average less than a goal a game, but the wow factor of Tiger Daniel Rioli is enough to get him the nod as top goal sneak. Considering the young man has only played 58 games, goals will come with more frequency as he builds his confidence in front of the sticks. Regardless, his pressure acts played a huge role in the Tigers premiership success in 2017, with his tackling and pace a constant threat to defensive units from opposition sides. His banana goal against the Eagles was amazing and trademark of a pure goal sneak. Wet conditions at the MCG, Rioli gathered the footy cleanly, shrugged off a tackle and kicked a remarkable goal on the run, from the tightest of angles. Further, the magic moment went on to win the 2017 Goal of the Year award. His cousin, in Will Rioli, seems to be following suit after a damaging debut season with the Eagles last year. Could you imagine both Daniel and Will playing on the same team? It may never happen, but gee, it would be breathtaking.
COMPARISON GOALS PER GAME
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
The retired Bulldog was a strong contributor playing as a small forward. What Daniel lacked in size, he made up for in his offensive pressure and goal kicking ways. What the Bulldogs would pay to have somebody of his caliber and experience in their current forward-line, particularly considering the recent retirement of Liam Picken.
Ooh, ahh, Mark LeCras. How I miss that chat echoing around Subiaco Oval after the former Eagle had kicked one of many superb goals across his career. Constantly a threat up forward, LeCras was most damaging in his aerial pursuits but also with his snap shots at goal, often threading the needle from impossible angles.
The Saints pocket rocket never tasted premiership success, but he was adored by the St Kilda faithful, and rightly so. Milne loved playing on the edge and baiting his opponents, but he equally loved booting a goal or laying a tackle. While Milne will never be considered an absolute superstar of the game, he was a player that opposition teams could not treat with any sense of disrespect. He retires wearing the badge of solid goal sneak.
Retiring at 28, Rioli was the qunitessential low-possession/high impact player. His run-down tackles, and ability to control the ball either in the air or on the ground was… well, special. A three-time All-Australian, and 2015 Norm Smith medallist, Cyril left a huge hole in the Hawks’ forward line when he called time on his career earlier than anyone expected.
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