It’s the halfway point of the season (roughly), with each team having played 11 games heading into the first of the bye weekends. In the race for the Mongrel of the Year, an award we at the Mongrel Punt have created this season to celebrate the kind of football we love seeing, it’s starting to look like a two horse race between a hard-nosed veteran and a silky second year player, though there is plenty of football still to come.
After each game this year, the contributor who writes up each match review awards votes on a 3-2-1 basis on their own set of criteria, and they are then compiled and posted each week on a Monday night. Here are Round 11’s Mongrel votes:
North Melbourne v Richmond
3 Cameron Zurhaar (North Melbourne)
2 Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne)
1 Jack Ziebell (North Melbourne)
In their first game under caretaker coach Rhyce Shaw, a number of Kangaroos looked to have a new lease on life, while a significant number of younger players looked to finally be reaching their potential in what was clearly their best performance of the season. Chief among those was Zurhaar. Though he has kicked five goals this year, in Round 7 in their game with Carlton, this was arguably his best performance of the season. Though he had just 11 touches, he had as many tackles, highlighting his capacity to provide pressure, while he was incredibly efficient whenever he had ball in hand. He went at 82%, with four direct goal assists among seven score involvements, seven inside 50’s and 293 metres gained, in what was an incredibly creative and encouraging display.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, Ben Cunnington would have been considered the best player on the ground by many outlets, and it’s not hard to see why. He led his team for disposals (31), and clearances (nine), while he led the game for contested possessions with 20. He also had four tackles, five score involvements and went at 87% as he again showed how much of a midfield bull he is. When the next Mongrel All Australian team is released, Cunnington would have to be extra close to a midfield spot.
Since being shifted out of the forward line and back into the midfield where he belongs, North skipper Jack Ziebell has been a considerably better force for his side, and Friday night was no exception as he had one of his better games for the year. He had 26 touches, with big numbers in clearances (seven), inside 50’s (nine, a game high), and metres gained (473, a team high), as well as a goal assist from five score involvements. There were a number of North players who could have been considered for votes, as many players had their best game for the season, though Ben Brown would probably be the unluckiest. For the Tigers the magnitude of their loss precluded considerations, though Bachar Houli was again outstanding.
Collingwood v Fremantle
3 Michael Walters (Fremantle)
2 Nathan Fyfe (Fremantle)
1 Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood)
For the second week in a row, Michael Walters delivered the winning score for his side in the final minute of a game. This week was arguably more impressive than the last though: to beat Collingwood at the MCG is, with no disrespect to the Lions, a far more difficult prospect than beating the Lions in Perth. Nonetheless it was Walters who was again the hero for the Dockers. He finished the afternoon with 24 touches, including two goals and two goal assists from eight score involvements, alongside four clearances, three tackles, five inside 50’s and three rebound 50’s as he consistently worked hard across the ground to be Freo’s best player in what was arguably their best win since their last victory at the MCG in 2017.
If it’s Freo winning, you can pretty much guarantee Fyfe will be in the best handful of players on the ground, and Saturday was no exception. In the middle, the 2015 Brownlow Medalist was the fire starter for his side, with 32 touches, half of which were contested, with eight intercepts, two goal assists from seven score involvements, six marks including two contested, six clearances, six inside 50’s, four tackles and 568 metres gained in an outstanding performance. Matched up against the side many tipped to have the best midfield in the competition, Fyfe was critical in ensuring his side won the clearances by one, as well as winning the contested ball. Brad Hill was also exceptional for his side, and in a more substantial win likely would have received the one vote.
As it stood, Collingwood went exceedingly close to winning a game they in reality didn’t deserve to, with Freo having more scoring shots and inside 50’s as well as essentially breaking even in the middle of the ground. A big factor in that was Pendlebury, who continued his fine season in the Pies’ first loss since the Grand Final rematch in Round 3. 14 of his team high 29 touches came in the contest, while he also booted two goals and had an equal game high nine total score involvements, along with a game high eight tackles, an equal game high six clearances, a team high 504 metres gained, and four inside 50’s in a dominant performance. It’s rare that a player can keep up with their career averages after turning 30, but somehow Pendlebury seems to have gotten even better as he looks to add another Premiership medal to his already fairly full trophy cabinet.
GWS v Gold Coast
3 Stephen Coniglio (GWS)
2 Sam Reid (GWS)
1 Jeremy Finlayson (GWS)
At this stage me saying that a great number of Giants could have received votes is bordering on a cliche, but it was again the case this weekend as they flexed their very impressive muscle against fellow expansion side Gold Coast. Of course, having said that, Stephen Coniglio was a clear best on ground in what may have been the best of his sparkling 130-odd games. I don’t think I need to report anymore than his incredible statline: 36 disposals at 83%, three goals, four goal assists, 15 score involvements, 13 marks, 564 metres gained, three clearances, eight inside 50’s and eight tackles in what could easily have been the best all round midfield performance in the AFL this year. It’s absolutely critical that GWS resign him for next year, but there wouldn’t be many clubs who wouldn’t love to nab the West Australian’s signature.
Sam Reid is the kind of player who would rarely win plaudits from many media outlets, but we love his work here at the Mongrel and I’m sure Leon Cameron and his coaching staff would love it too. It was his best game for the season on Saturday, though he has been close to votes in games gone by. Offensively, he had 17 touches at 88%, with nine marks and seven intercepts, as well as four rebounds, while he also managed to defensively restrict the Suns’ main scoring threat, and leading goal kicker this year, Alex Sexton, to just one goal from five kicks, with no further score involvements, as well as turning the ball over three times in a tremendously quiet performance for which Reid deserves a lot of credit.
For the second game this year, Finlayson polls a vote after first receiving one in their Round 3 win over Richmond. Against Gold Coast, he was again outstanding, even if his personal scoreboard return of 2.2 didn’t necessarily reflect that. However, in amongst his 23 disposals, he also managed four direct goal assists, 11 score involvements, 12 marks including two contested, and 433 metres gained in what was about as good a game you could have expected from a second key forward. Though Jeremy Cameron and Harrison Himmelberg kicked eight goals between them, neither had as much of an impact on the game as Finlayson.
Geelong v Sydney
3 Mark Blicavs (Geelong)
2 Tim Kelly (Geelong)
1 Tom Stewart (Geelong)
After Alex Rance went down injured, a spot in the All Australian team instantly opened up, given his mortgage on the full back spot over the last five years in spite of form. This season, it looks like being a four way race for the two key back spots, between Alex Pearce, Darcy Moore, Harris Andrews and Blicavs. The two-time Geelong best and fairest has been a rock down back for the second season in a row in the league’s stingiest defence, and Saturday evening was no exception. Opposed to Buddy Franklin, Blicavs was impassable, conceding just a goal from 12 touches to his direct opponent, the best forward of the modern era. He himself had 16 touches, going at 94%, alongside nine one percenters and six marks in a best on ground performance.
It may not have been current Mongrel frontrunner Tim Kelly’s most prolific game on Saturday, but he worked his way into the game excellently after shedding George Hewett’s tag. 15 of his 25 touches were contested, while he also managed a goal, five score involvements, six clearances, four tackles and three inside 50’s as he again demonstrated his class in an at times dour slog. His form at the moment is almost Brownlow worthy, as he continues to develop into the best midfielder in a side two games clear on top of the ladder.
While a few Cats, including most predominantly Dangerfield, and a few Swans too, like Hewett, Rampe and Lloyd, were all worthy of votes in this game, the final vote goes to 2018 All Australian Tom Stewart. It’s almost stunning that he is just in his third season of football, as he plays with all the grunt and experience of a 200 gamer. He was again tremendous against the Swans as he looks likely to add to his team of the year selection again in 2019, racking up 23 touches at 83%, with five intercepts and a team high 579 metres gained plus six rebounds.
Brisbane v Hawthorn
3 Jarryd Lyons (Brisbane)
2 Lewis Taylor (Brisbane)
1 Darcy Gardiner (Brisbane)
In what was a truly impressive comeback victory for the Lions on Saturday, it was the performance of arguably their least heralded midfielder, and potentially the most underrated player in the competition, Jarryd Lyons, which in large part got them over the line. With 10 of his game high 33 touches coming in the last quarter, as his side ran over the top of the Hawks, it’s not hard to understand why he was best on ground, as he also racked up game highs in clearances (eight), contested possessions (13) and inside 50’s (nine), alongside a team high 542 metres gained, plus four tackles, in a performance that highlighted just how deep Brisbane’s midfield runs.
Playing largely on a forward flank and a wing, Lewis Taylor played what could well be his best game ever, and certainly his most prolific since 2015. After being in and out of the side on the basis of form, he delivered in spades against Hawthorn to likely retain his place in the side for at least a few weeks. He had 28 touches, with a goal and six score involvements, seven marks, three clearances and 416 metres gained in an important role to nab his side the win, lifting after having just three touches in the first quarter. While it is right to question whether he truly deserved the Ron Evans Medal in 2014 ahead of Marcus Bontempelli, if he can perform like this on a regular basis it will go a long way to ensuring September footy in Queensland.
While Harris Andrews will get plenty of credit, and rightly, for his role in keeping Jon Ceglar quiet, Darcy Gardiner had an absolute day out against the Hawks, and receives the one vote for his efforts. Jack Gunston kicked six goals last week against Port, and despite an otherwise disappointing year on the scoreboard is still a threat when sent forward. Gardiner managed to keep him goalless though, forcing him to earn his touches up the ground, while managing 21 touches himself, 11 of which were contested and 10 of which came from intercepts. Also raked in seven marks, had seven rebounds, and four score involvements in an excellent return for a key back.
Melbourne v Adelaide
3 Tom Lynch (Adelaide)
2 Brad Crouch (Adelaide)
1 Max Gawn (Melbourne)
Adelaide are the first team this season to have two players collect 25+ disposals and three or more goals in the same game, and they both feature in the votes in a game the Crows won, even though it could be argued Melbourne were the better side. Lynch looks back to his best form, receiving votes for the third game in a row, after missing last week’s loss to West Coast, with arguably his best game of the season coming on Saturday night. His 26 touches came at 69% and translated to three goals, 10 score involvements, 13 marks, four inside 50’s and 525 metres gained to be clearly his side’s most influential player in a critical victory that sees them keep in the top 8 halfway through the season.
Brad Crouch’s return from injury has been a key factor in Adelaide’s improved form this season, after missing all of last year, and while he has had more prolific games in terms of disposals, never before has he kicked more than two goals in a game. Never a well renowned goal kicker, on Saturday night Crouch managed three goals from nine score involvements, and had 29 touches, 13 of which came in the contest, alongside seven clearances, five tackles, three inside 50’s and four rebounds in a strong all round performance that also included 593 metres gained. These numbers had him as his side’s second best player on the night, ahead of Brodie Smith and Rory Laird.
Though he was beaten in the hitouts by relative novice Reilly O’Brien, who is in fairness growing into the role in the continued absence of Sam Jacobs, Max Gawn’s dominance around the ground on Saturday night was critical in nearly netting Melbourne their fourth win. Last year’s starting All Australian ruckman had 25 touches, of which 13 were contested, and four clearances, while three out of his seven marks for the evening also coming in the contest. While he kicked two behinds from his two scoring shots, he also had eight score involvements for the night and, while he missed a critical shot on goal late in the last quarter, he was not the only culprit of bad kicking, as Melbourne’s last 12 shots on goal netted them a return of 1.11. As such he gets the nod for the last vote just ahead of Clayton Oliver, who was again exceptional in defeat.
St Kilda v Port Adelaide
3 Travis Boak (Port Adelaide)
2 Jarrod Lienert (Port Adelaide)
1 Xavier Duursma (Port Adelaide)
It’s not particularly unreasonable to suggest that Travis Boak, a two time All Australian, has never had a season as good as this, in his 13th year of senior football. China has been a happy hunting ground too for the former captain, having received five out of his 12 Brownlow votes over the last two seasons in Port’s two games there. On Sunday against the Saints he proved the opposition was no factor, as he had another outstanding game to see him just one vote back from Tim Kelly in second place on the leaderboard. 19 of his 33 touches and both of his goals came in the first half, when the game was up for grabs, while he finished the day with three goal assists, 11 score involvements, eight clearances, seven inside 50’s and six tackles, in a display that had him clearly best on ground.
While in yesterday’s match report I suggested that Robbie Gray would receive the two votes behind Travis Boak, on reflection the games of these two young guns shouldn’t be ignored. Firstly, Lienert has quietly grown into one of the better rebounding defenders in the league this season. After not playing the first five rounds of this season, he has essentially gotten better every week, with the best of his 12 games coming on Sunday against St Kilda. His 31 touches went at 84%, while he raked in eight marks and had six score involvements off half back, but arguably his most impressive stat was the game high 675 metres gained, including a massive 11 rebounds, as time and again he repelled St Kilda’s forward entries.
The second player worth noting was Xavier Duursma, who has been impressive all season but never more so than in this game. Playing on a forward flank, out of his 23 touches, 10 led to scores for his team, while he operated at 87%, took 10 marks, gained 386 metres, sent his side inside 50 four times. He also managed to rebound the ball from defensive 50 twice, with two clearances, in a game that highlighted his workrate across the ground. Of course, Gray was excellent, though his performance was most notable in the second half, while Dougal Howard was also desperately unlucky to miss out on votes after an excellent display up forward.
Essendon v Carlton
3 Dylan Clarke (Essendon)
2 Dyson Heppell (Essendon)
1 Michael Hurley (Essendon)
For the second time in three weeks, Carlton’s talismanic midfield bull Patrick Cripps had next to no impact on a game in which his side was belted, and the man who deserves the credit for that, Dylan Clarke, gets the three votes as a result ahead of the seven Bombers who had more of the ball than him. In just his second career game, Clarke was close to unbelievable. While Cripps managed just 11 touches and two clearances, his direct opponent had 23 touches, at 78%, with six clearances, five inside 50’s and 10 tackles in a performance that went a long way to securing his side a victory against a team they have struggled against in recent times.
For the first time this year, in what was one of his best games in his career, Dyson Heppell receives votes. His performance in the middle of the ground against Carlton was simply superb, racking up 36 touches, including a career high 22 contested, with a goal and two goal assists among seven score involvements, seven clearances, five inside 50’s and 459 metres gained in a display that was clearly his side’s most influential offensive performance..
While Darcy Parish was excellent, and Cale Hooker and Andy McGrath both had more of the ball than him, Michael Hurley was, by the look of things, back to his All Australian best against Carlton on Sunday. Patrolling the back half, he was a wall at times, as Carlton managed just four goals for the afternoon despite breaking even in inside 50’s. Hurley had 28 touches himself, going at 79%, with 11 intercept possessions and 12 marks including four contested. He also rebounded the ball from defence nine times and gained 333 metres in a dominant defensive display that went a long way toward securing victory for his side.
West Coast v Western Bulldogs
3 Jack Darling (West Coast)
2 Brad Sheppard (West Coast)
1 Andrew Gaff (West Coast)
It was a statement win from West Coast, beating up on the up and down Bulldogs at their home ground in a four quarter performance that reminded the AFL world of how they won the flag last year, and equally it was a statement performance from the oft-maligned Darling, who has been inconsistent this year but capitalised on an undersized Footscray backline in his best performance of the year so far. Darling managed six goals from 15 disposals, with two goal assists also part of his 10 total score involvements, while he also clunked four contested marks from six total. All of his marks came inside 50, and dominated a forward line that his opposition simply had no answer for.
Brad Sheppard has received plenty of plaudits in this column over the season, and with his two votes on the weekend became the Eagles’ equal leading vote getter for the year, tied with good company in All Australians Shannon Hurn and Elliot Yeo. Defensively, he was outstanding, breaking off forward entries, while his ball use was once again phenomenal. His 22 touches came at 91%, while he also raked in 10 marks, rebounded five times and gained 388 metres. With the Eagles resting inspirational captain Hurn through the last quarter as a precautionary measure relating to his hamstring, Sheppard ably stepped into the void, highlighting the side’s embarrassment of riches down back.
If Sheppard has been the player without a premiership medal most hungrily driving the Eagles’ premiership defence, then Gaff deserves some credit too. Though there have been questions over the functionality of their midfield with the star wingman in there, Gaff’s numbers have been great again, averaging just under 33 touches after missing the first two weeks of the year with a carry over suspension. While he hasn’t necessarily been well known for his contested ball winning ability over the years, 12 of his 36 touches came in that fashion against the Dogs, and he also went at 78% efficiency, with five of his six clearances coming from the centre, suggesting Adam Simpson is willing to use him all over the ground and not just on a wing. He also sent the ball inside 50 seven times, in what was almost certainly his best game for the year.
1. Tim Kelly (15)
2. Travis Boak (14)
3. Lachie Neale (10)
4. Stephen Coniglio (8)
4. Nathan Fyfe (8)
4. Brad Hill (8)
4. Alex Keath (8)
4. Zach Merrett (8)
4. Scott Pendlebury (8)
4. Tim Taranto (8)
With Kelly and Boak both polling votes this weekend, they’ve just pulled ahead of Neale, who was again good in the Lions’ win but missed out on a nod for the top three players on the ground. The new Lion still sits outright third, two votes ahead of the seven players sitting in equal fourth.
New additions to that grouping have included Coniglio, who continued his magnificent season with arguably his best ever game against Gold Coast; Fyfe, who was instrumental in his side’s excellent road win over the Pies; and Pendlebury, who polled votes in the same game as Fyfe despite his loss given the magnitude of his performance.