It’s the first round back from the byes, and we’re genuinely onto the home stretch now. With just eight games remaining this season, a number of things remain up in the air. Who will make the Top 8? Does any side actually want to finish 8th? With just one win separating that spot from 14th, we could be in for one of the most exciting runs home in years.
Having said that, the prestigious Mongrel of the Year Award is also still up in the air. This year, we at the Mongrel Punt established our own award to recognise the kind of footballer we want to see; not just the flashy midfielder, but the dour key defender, the humble tagger, the role playing half forward. After each game, the Mongrel reporter who writes the review for the site gives votes on a 3-2-1 basis, although unlike the Brownlow these votes are predicated more on influence than on pure weight of numbers. Here are Round 15’s votes:
Essendon v GWS
3 Shaun McKernan (Essendon)
2 Zach Merrett (Essendon)
1 Josh Kelly (GWS)
It hasn’t been a good year to be a big man at Essendon. Tom Bellchambers went down on Thursday night with a calf strain, Joe Daniher is already out for another season and highly touted, uncapped youngster Sam Draper tore his ACL in the VFL. It was, then, as good a time as any for Shaun McKernan, brother of Corey and at times injury prone himself, to stand up and play one of the best games of his stuttering career. His two goals both came at critical junctures of a seesawing contest, to level the score both times, while his ruck work after half time was critical after Bellchambers went down. Five of his team high eight marks were contested, and he added in five inside 50’s in a performance that would suggest he will be one of the Bombers’ first choice tall forwards even when Daniher is back.
When the Bombers have won this year, it has been largely on the back of Zach Merrett in the middle of the ground. Though four Giants had as much as or more of the ball than him, Merrett’s influence around the contest could not possibly be questioned, and in a game played largely on the outside, the 2016 Crichton Medalist’s team high seven clearances allowed other players like Shiel to get the ball on the outside. He also sent his side inside 50 seven times, another team high, alongside 446 metres gained, six marks, and a goal assist in among four score involvements. If the Bombers are to push for finals, and that now seems more likely given they’re level on points with Fremantle in eighth, then Merrett will be a huge factor therein.
Despite their loss, and despite the prolific ball gathering of Stephen Coniglio, Jacob Hopper and Zac Williams, Josh Kelly’s performance was clearly worthy of at least one vote. Kelly’s proficiency on the outside is complemented by the inside grunt work of predominantly Hopper and Coniglio, meaning he doesn’t always have to bang his body up by winning his own ball. 22 of his 28 possessions were uncontested, and though he didn’t win a clearance, he gained 624 metres with his disposals. He kicked a goal to go alongside seven score involvements, sent his side inside 50 twice while rebounding from defence five times, and laid five tackles as he demonstrated his undoubtable class.
Geelong v Adelaide
3 Tim Kelly (Geelong)
2 Gryan Miers (Geelong)
1 Jed Bews (Geelong)
There aren’t many players in the competition who can go around winning 30 touches a game, kicking a couple of goals, and gaining countless metres for their side. When you think of the players who do, you think of Brownlow Medalists, like Ablett, Fyfe, Martin and Dangerfield. There’s a reason, then, that Tim Kelly is so prominently in the conversation for the Fairest and Best Medal in 2019. Three times this year Kelly has had 30+ disposals and 2+ goals in a game, and the third came on Friday night against Adelaide. His 33 touches came at 82%, with 13 contested, and game highs in score involvements (10), clearances (nine), and metres gained (652). He sent the Cats inside 50 four times, and booted two goals in a clear best on ground performance. If it’s a given that Kelly leaves the Cattery at the end of this year, then all he’s doing at the moment is adding dollars to his contract and value to his price tag.
The Rising Star conversation this season has become more and more interesting as the year has gone on. In reality Sam Walsh should be unbackable to win the Medal, though Connor Rozee and, increasingly, Sydney Stack, have thrown their names in too. Ask a Geelong supporter, though, and Gryan Miers should be just as close to the top. After a quiet performance last week against Port, Miers was outstanding on Friday night both offensively and defensively. His work on Rory Laird, one of the Crows’ most important players in terms of providing drive from defence, went a long way to securing the win for the Cats, with Laird having 23 touches, down on his season average of 28, and 163 metres gained, down on 382. Meanwhile, the young Cat kicked two goals in the third quarter, winning ground balls and dodging would be tacklers both times, along with 20 touches, two goal assists, eight score involvements, eight inside 50’s and 497 metres gained.
There was some talk as to whether Eddie Betts has gone past it after his nine touch, no goal performance against the Cats. However, it’s possible that Jed Bews is actually Betts’ kryptonite. Betts has kicked just 6.4 in his last six games opposed to Bews, while averaging just over two goals a game in all 80 matches over that period. In his first game for the season, Bews’ performance would have been encouraging for Geelong supporters. His 18 touches came at 83%, with seven intercepts, eight marks, four tackles, four inside 50’s, and four rebounds, while he also managed to creep forward and kick his seventh career goal, alongside a direct goal assist and five score involvements.
Hawthorn v West Coast
3 Luke Shuey (West Coast)
2 Jack Darling (West Coast)
1 James Frawley (Hawthorn)
The Eagles have won their last five games at the MCG, shedding a hoodoo that stretched back a fair distance, and a big factor in that resurgence has been Norm Smith Medalist Luke Shuey. Though his Grand Final heroics will never be forgotten by Eagles supporters, his performance on Saturday in the wet against a determined, if wasteful, Hawthorn side, who they hadn’t beaten at the MCG since 2006, was arguably more impressive. Though he had just 12 touches in the first half, as the reigning premier opened up a 20 point lead, it was his second half, when the opposition came hard at the Eagles, which had him clearly best on ground. He doubled his disposal tally in the third quarter, kicking his side’s only goal, then added 15 touches and six clearances in the last quarter as West Coast scraped over the line. His final stats were 39 touches with 20 contested, 11 clearances, 11 inside 50’s, four rebounds, nine tackles and 758 metres gained in a truly masterful display.
Arguably just as important in the win was the often maligned Jack Darling, who returned to the site of his horror 2015 Grand Final performance against the same opposition. In conditions not especially conducive to a dominant key forward display, Darling was the most dangerous forward on the ground, with his first quarter setting the tone for the Eagles’ win, kicking 3.1 from six touches, He could easily have had five goals at the first break, but had to settle for five for the day, and despite going quiet in the middle two quarters, his two last quarter goals went a long way to winning his side the game. His eight score involvements were an equal game high, as were his four contested marks, an exceptional number in the conditions. With Josh Kennedy kept goalless for the first time since the 2015 Grand Final, the impetus was clearly on Darling to have an impact, and that he did.
It may seem strange to give votes to a Hawthorn player who wasn’t Jaeger O’Meara in this one, and while that’s a fair criticism in a sense, the former Sun’s disposal efficiency of 32% was the worst of any player on the ground. Instead, the final vote in this one goes to the unheralded James Frawley. As mentioned above, it was the first time since the 2015 Grand Final that Josh Kennedy had been kept goalless, in a game in which he was also opposed to Frawley, and ending his streak at 68 games. Admittedly conditions played some of a factor in that, but with partner in crime Darling taking six marks and kicking 5.2, it was clear that the former Demon was hugely significant in keeping the two-time Coleman Medalist quiet. The Eagle kicked one behind from seven disposals, and took just one mark, his equal lowest tally ever. Meanwhile, Frawley may have had just eight touches, but four of those came from intercepts, raking in three marks and freeing up the likes of Sicily and Impey to intercept.
Sydney v Gold Coast
3 Josh Kennedy (Sydney)
2 George Hewett (Sydney)
1 Isaac Heeney (Sydney)
In what was as comfortable a win as you probably would have expected from the Swans to get over the struggling Suns, it was their stars who stood up, even in the absence of Buddy Franklin. Chief among them was their co-captain and three time best and fairest Josh Kennedy, who hadn’t polled in this award since Round 3, having missed three games in that timespan. While young players like George Hewett and Jordan Dawson, and older heads like Luke Parker, have stood up over that period, it’s clear that the Swans are at their best when Kennedy is in the side and playing well. After a relatively quiet comeback in their win against Hawthorn last week, the former Hawk was back to his best this week, with 12 of his 27 touches coming in the contest, alongside eight tackles, a goal and six score involvements. When Kennedy is at his best, his side look increasingly competitive, and are now an outside chance of playing finals.
As stated a number of times, Hewett is Kennedy’s heir apparent in the Swans’ midfield. Playing more as a tagger as a result of his captain’s presence around the contest, Hewett completely shut down Touk Miller, who was tremendous earlier in the season when the Suns were winning game, restricting him to just 12 touches and one clearance. Meanwhile Hewett himself racked up 22 touches, including nine contested, going at 82% while laying a game high 12 tackles and having five clearances of his own. It’s a luxury not many sides can afford to deploy a player of Hewett’s quality as a negater, but with his ability to win his own ball around the contest and outbody his opponent, the Swans’ midfield future looks set for years to come.
Speaking of the future of this Sydney outfit, Isaac Heeney’s performance on Saturday evening against the Suns suggested once again that he is a future star of the competition, if he isn’t one already. John Longmire has at times seemed reluctant to deploy him further up the ground, but with the rise to prominence in the forward line of Tom Papley and Nick Blakey among others, he has been used in the middle a lot more frequently over recent weeks, and his ball use has been exquisite. Against Gold Coast, his 25 touches came at 88%, with 11 contested, as well as an equal game high 11 marks, and his impact forward of centre was also prominent, kicking two goals and having two direct goal assists as part of nine score involvements, beating out Luke Parker and Aliir Aliir for votes.
Collingwood v North Melbourne
3 Jack Ziebell (North Melbourne)
2 Jed Anderson (North Melbourne)
1 Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne)
Wow! Who saw that one coming? This was as dominant a display as we’ve seen in years from North Melbourne, and it came fully on the back of their hard-nosed midfielders, with all six votes going to them ahead of Robbie Tarrant, who now must fully be in All Australian calculations, among others. It was Jack Ziebell who set the impetus for his side early, laying a huge bump on Brayden Sier to indicate his side would not simply lay down. Ziebell has been a much greater contributor since being shifted into midfield, but has still managed to hit the scoreboard, kicking 3.1 against the Pies from 25 touches, among seven score involvements, with his accuracy becoming even more important as Mason Wood and Ben Brown kicked just 1.7 between them. He sent his side inside 50 five times, and was one of four Kangaroos to have over 500 metres gained, with 539. Add in seven clearances and five tackles and it was a dominant, typically tough performance from the Roos skipper.
Arguably just as tough and hard-nosed, Jed Anderson has become an increasingly important contributor for North this season. With Cunnington, Simpkin and Ziebell setting the tone on the inside, 21 of Anderson’s 26 touches for the game came uncontested, with six inside 50’s, 375 metres gained and a direct goal assist in among eight score involvements his reward for his hard running. More importantly, however, than all of his offensive stats were his seven tackles, an equal game high, as North won the tackles 59-51 despite also winning the disposals 420-393. If tackles are indicative of effort then it has become increasingly clear that most of the Roos players are enjoying playing under Rhyce Shaw, and they put in a mountainous effort on Saturday to beat one of this season’s best sides.
Where’s Ben Cunnington, I can almost hear North Melbourne fans screaming. Trust me, we don’t hate him here at the Mongrel, and when our next Mongrel rolling All Australian side is posted in a fortnight’s time I imagine he will feature in there, possibly in tandem with Tarrant. He was unfortunately just pipped by Ziebell and Anderson, but receives the final vote nonetheless. Only Adam Treloar had more than his 37 disposals for the game, but his 17 contested touches were an equal game high, going at 86% with ball in hand. His 10 score involvements were also a game high, while he won seven clearances, laid four tackles and sent his side inside 50 four times in another dominant big bodied midfield display.
Port Adelaide v Western Bulldogs
3 Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)
2 Travis Boak (Port Adelaide)
1 Jackson Macrae (Western Bulldogs)
If votes could be given purely on the basis of one quarter, then Marcus Bontempelli would receive three for his display in the first against Port Adelaide. If he had have gone off injured at quarter time, his 12 disposals, including 11 contested, six clearances, four inside 50’s and four tackles would have held him in good stead. There was still almost a full game of footy to be played at that point though, and to question Bontempelli’s influence would have been off the mark. He finished the game with 27 touches, including 18 contested as the rain continued to pour down, as well as a team high nine clearances, game highs in 619 metres gained and seven inside 50’s, and big numbers in tackles (10), adding in four rebounds and seven intercepts to show his defensive workrate. The Bont has taken his game to another level this year after a few plateau seasons following the premiership, and increasingly looks likely to be the best player in the competition sooner than later.
Bontempelli is not the best player in the competition yet, though, and if form is indicative of anything then Travis Boak would have to be firmly in the conversation at this stage. In 14 games, the former Power captain has had less than 30 disposals in just three of them, including a best on ground performance in Round 5 against the Eagles with just 23. He was again outstanding against the Dogs in torrential rain on Saturday night, with his 32 disposals a team high, as well as having game highs in 21 contested touches and 10 clearances. Add in five tackles, four inside 50’s and 476 metres gained and it isn’t hard to see why some are tipping this man to take out the Brownlow at season’s end.
Jackson Macrae gets votes for the third week in a row after his performance against Port, and rightly so. In a number of other midfields he would be the main man, but with the prevalence of Bontempelli thus far this year, he and Josh Dunkley have had to settle for a series of subsequent fiddles. Nonetheless, he is becoming a seriously good player, and is arguably underrated despite his clear talent. He had a game high 36 touches on Saturday night, while only Boak had more than his 20 contested touches. He also kicked a goal to go with six clearances in a great display that perfectly complemented Bont’s efforts. Just as noteworthy, though, was his defensive effort, with six tackles and a massive 12 intercept possessions as he time and again made sure Port’s midfield, with the exception of Boak, couldn’t get any run going.
St Kilda v Richmond
3 Sydney Stack (Richmond)
2 Dustin Martin (Richmond)
1 Mabior Chol (Richmond)
If, as mentioned before, Gryan Miers deserves to be in the Rising Star conversation, so too does Sydney Stack, who’s story has been hashed and rehashed, rightly, over the first half of this season. Sunday afternoon, though, was the most damaging game of his young career, deployed as a forward instead of behind the ball as he has been for the majority of this season. He’s a bit of a cult hero, is Stack, and he looks just as comfortable as a small forward as he has as a running back. The hanger he took, as good as it was, is almost becoming par from the course for him, but his bag of four goals was a new career best, and they weren’t cheap ones either, with three goals in the first half to keep his side in the contest after a sluggish start. He finished the afternoon with eight score involvements, four tackles and four inside 50’s being adequate representation for an excellent small forward game.
It might not be the most prestigious award he has won over a much decorated career, and he won’t be adding to his haul with a second Brownlow this season, but in winning the Ian Stewart Medal for best afield, Dustin Martin reminded many in the competition of his eminent quality. His 36 disposals included good tallies in all the key metrics, with 13 contested touches, 10 score involvements, two goal assists, seven marks, six clearances, five inside 50’s, three tackles and a game high 712 metres gained. While he did butcher the ball at times, going at just 50%, Martin was simply irresistible at times on Sunday, and if he can keep this kind of form up, Richmond could go further than some might expect them to.
In just his third game, Mabior Chol showed that those worried about Richmond’s big men stocks need not worry. Having missed Jack Riewoldt for a significant chunk of the year, and now going without Toby Nankervis since Round 8, it was brave of Damien Hardwick to drop the impressive young Noah Balta. However, with Chol backed in for his third career game, he repaid the faith with his clear career best performance. Roaming the ground with Ivan Soldo back to shoulder the majority of the ruck workload, Chol reeled in nine marks, including two contested, as part of a 16 disposal, three goal performance. He finished the afternoon with seven score involvements, four inside 50’s and 329 metres gained, in a hugely encouraging performance.
Brisbane v Melbourne
3 Lachie Neale (Brisbane)
2 Dayne Zorko (Brisbane)
1 Eric Hipwood (Brisbane)
It’s been a good weekend for those in and around the leaderboard of this award. On Friday night, it was Tim Kelly, on Saturday night it was Travis Boak and then on Sunday afternoon it was new Lion Lachie Neale who dominated his encounter and earned his side an important win to keep them in touch with the Top 4. Neale’s season may have tapered slightly after a hot start, with two votes in between Rounds 7 and 14, but against the Demons he showed his undoubted talent and reminded the competition of why he deserves to be one of the Brownlow favourites. His 38 touches, 23 contested, 13 score involvements and 12 clearances were all game highs, while he also laid five tackles and four inside 50’s in one of his best displays in maroon, blue and gold.
Not far behind Neale, both in terms of quality and performance on Sunday, 2017 All Australian and star Lions captain Dayne Zorko had his best game for the season, winning votes for the first time and reminding other teams of the depth of the Lions’ midfield. Zorko’s talent has always been his work forward of the ball, and Sunday was no exception. His 31 touches included a scoreboard return of 3.2, with a goal assist, six inside 50’s and 10 score involvements rounding out a damaging day. His 607 metres gained were a game high, while only Neale had more than his seven clearances and 16 contested possessions.
Before Sunday afternoon, no player in the competition had kicked four or more goals in a quarter this season. That changed in the third quarter at the Gabba, as the mercurial Eric Hipwood kicked four goals in the third quarter to turn a nine point deficit into a 14 point three quarter time lead. His first goal came from a fairly straightforward set shot, following a great effort from Dayne Zorko in the pocket to set him up, but his next three all came from perfectly executed set shots from long range, and his fifth coming from a nice contested mark and snap on the goalline, highlighting his exceptional talent. There’s something similar about Hipwood and Joe Daniher, in that they always look to be enjoying their footy, and with nine marks, including three contested, it’s not hard to see why.
Fremantle v Carlton
3 Marc Murphy (Carlton)
2 Jack Silvagni (Carlton)
1 Sam Switkowski (Fremantle)
Not many, including myself, would have given Carlton much of a sniff on Sunday evening, on the road against Fremantle without their talismanic captain in Patrick Cripps. Of course, the talent on Carlton’s list can easily be glossed over, especially in Cripps’ glow, but it has to be remembered that Marc Murphy is a former captain and number one draft pick. He reminded us of his quality in Perth on Sunday, in one of his most prolific performances in years, and probably the most inspiring of a long career. 14 of his game high 34 touches came in the contest, with his eight score involvements including the game winning goal in the last minute, a goal which demonstrated his experience, smarts and talent. Only Ed Curnow had more than his seven clearances for the game, as well as having the fourth most metres gained on the ground with 429.
Two things that David Teague has to receive credit for after having taken over from Brendon Bolton is that he is:
1. Not afraid to change things up midgame
2. Willing to employ a tag when needed
While Ed Curnow was used to attempt to negate Nathan Fyfe in the first half, the Freo skipper had 15 touches and four clearances to half time. Despite Curnow’s efforts around the ball, racking up 16 clearances, when Jack Silvagni was shifted onto the 2015 Brownlow Medalist the latter’s impact was diminished significantly. He had 14 touches in the second half, but just two clearances, while Silvagni had four clearances of his own, ending the day with 15 touches and a goal, as well as five score involvements and seven tackles. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the shift of Silvagni onto Fyfe at half time swung the game in favour of the Blues and earns him votes over Curnow and Walsh.
In a game that came truly alive in the last quarter, Sam Switkowski’s efforts were what earned him the final vote, ahead, most notably, of Fyfe. It wasn’t just his goal, which was so close to being the game winner for his side. His rundown tackle of Paddy Dow running into the Blues’ forward line was a team lifter, ending the game with five tackles, two inside 50’s and five intercepts in among 14 touches. If you want evidence of how we at the Mongrel reward influence, at times, over statistical output, you need only look at Switkowski’s efforts on Sunday evening.
1. Tim Kelly (18)
2. Travis Boak (17)
3. Lachie Neale (14)
4. Marcus Bontempelli (11)
4. Max Gawn (11)
6. Brad Crouch (10)
6. Nathan Fyfe (10)
6. Brodie Grundy (10)
6. Zach Merrett (10)
6. Brad Sheppard (10)
It was a big week for the top five in this award. Tim Kelly had his fourth best on ground performance of the season on Friday night against the Crows to move back into the outright lead, while, despite his side’s loss, Travis Boak managed to poll two votes to remain just one vote back of the lead. After a relative lean patch, Lachie Neale’s dominance in midfield against the Demons earn him his own fourth best on ground performance of the year, staying in touch with the runaway top two, while Marcus Bontempelli was best on ground in the Dogs’ inspiring road win in Adelaide to earn him three votes in what shapes as a career-best season for the young star.
Further down the leaderboard, there was considerably less movement. Zach Merrett’s two votes against the Giants on Thursday catapults him into the top 10, but apart from that, none of the other top 10 receive votes. On nine votes, though, are Hewett, Kennedy and Shuey, who are evidently close to being recognised on here.