Another topsy-turvy round in one of the most even seasons we’ve ever seen was completed on Sunday, with the top 8 being given a shakeup thanks to some upsets and some beltings. Only four points and percentage separates seventh from 12th, and it is in the spirit of that evenness with which we turn to the Mongrel of the Year Award, in which the runaway top two are being chased down by some stars of the competition hitting their straps in the middle of the season.
The Mongrel of the Year is an award devised by contributors to the Mongrel Punt this year. Those who write match reports for the site give votes on a 3-2-1 basis, though this isn’t meant to be predictive of Brownlow Medal voting. Instead, we want to reward the players who influence contests, rather than rack up meaningless stats. That’s why you’re just as likely to see a tagger poll three votes as their opponent, or to see a key defender given recognition for their work, as was the case this weekend. Here are Round 16’s Mongrel votes:
Hawthorn v Collingwood
3 James Sicily (Hawthorn)
2 Jarman Impey (Hawthorn)
1 Darcy Moore (Collingwood)
It was a real defender’s game on Friday night, with both sides going inside 50 a total of 92 times for just 40 total scores, and as such all six votes have gone to backmen. James Sicily was a clear best on ground for his side, being shifted back to defence after a trial in recent weeks up forward. Down back, he provided an offensive threat in addition to shutting down the Magpies’ most ominous offensive target in Mason Cox. The American managed six touches, the least of any player on the ground, with just a solitary goal. Sicily, on the other hand, led his side for disposals, with 28, contested possessions, with 11, and intercept possessions, with 10. His disposal efficiency for the night was a remarkable 93%, gaining 333 metres, while he also led the game in contested marks, with five, total marks, with 14, and rebounds, with seven. After being widely touted as an All Australian before going down with a hand injury late last year, Sicily would be close to a lock at this stage.
The Hawks may not have had a series of high draft picks over the years, but they have this knack of finding essentially bargain basement players, like Tom Scully and Jarman Impey, and turning them into efficient role-players in a system designed to reward those who know and play their role to perfection. After moving from Port Adelaide at the end of 2017, Impey has done just that, averaging almost five more disposals per game in the brown and gold. Friday night would have to be close to a career best game for the rebounding defender, matching his career high of 25 disposals, while running at 80% disposal efficiency. He also had five intercept possessions, five score involvements, five inside 50’s, three rebounds and 526 metres gained to be the second best player on the ground, in a season in which he has gone about his job with little fanfare, but great success.
If James Sicily is a lock for All Australian selection, Darcy Moore would have to be close too, despite missing a couple of games. The fact he didn’t have as much influence as he may ordinarily do was through no fault of his own, as time and again he repelled Hawthorn forays forward, being part of a defensive combination which restricted the Hawks to nine goals from 57 inside 50’s. He was the other player on the ground to rack up 10 intercepts, keeping the opposition’s most noted goal scoring threat in Jack Gunston to 11 touches and no score. Meanwhile, Moore had the ball 21 times himself, with six marks, five rebounds and 348 metres gained all worthy returns from a player who looks as comfortable as any playing behind the ball.
Essendon v Sydney
3 Aliir Aliir (Sydney)
2 Michael Hurley (Essendon)
1 Darcy Parish (Essendon)
It was a strange, scrappy game on Saturday, being heavily influenced as much by the players who weren’t on the park as the players on it. With both sides missing their first and second choice ruckmen, the Bombers turned to the much maligned Zac Clarke to shoulder their burden, while Sydney maintained the faith with the athletic, if a little undersized, Aliir Aliir, after he played the role well enough in the win over Gold Coast last week. Despite losing the hitouts to a combination of Clarke and Shaun McKernan, Aliir was the most dominant player on the ground after quarter time. Sydney managed to win the clearances 33-26, of which Aliir had eight of his own. Only Josh Kennedy had more, and he’s been a noted contested bull throughout his career. He also managed to send the ball inside 50 eight times, with two direct goal assists as part of five score involvements, as well as 492 metres gained to have the fifth highest tally in that metric, despite having ‘just’ 17 possessions. They may not have got the result in the end, but Aliir’s dominance in the middle of the ground was what kept the Swans in the game for as long as they were.
With the Swans winning the clearances 33-26, the inside 50’s 54-50, and the contested possessions 136-122, you’d probably have expected them to win and, though they had their chances to do so, the under appreciated yet incredibly stoic Essendon defence stood tall, led by their general, Michael Hurley, to ensure the Bombers secured an important win. Hurley has polled six votes in his last five games, a timespan over which his side have gone 4-1 to revitalise their season, and it perhaps isn’t surprising that he has been a key cog in that. He was impassable on Saturday, restricting the Swans to nine goals from their large number of inside 50’s, leading the game for intercept possessions (nine), rebounds (eight), marks (12), all while keeping Sam Reid relatively quiet, a key factor in beating a Buddy-less Sydney side. His 23 touches were also the second most for the Dons, and with them coming at 78% he was a huge factor in them getting over the line.
It may be somewhat controversial to omit Dylan Shiel from these votes. He was important in the win, but his profligacy in front of goals has gotten to the point that I’m genuinely convinced a witch doctor laid a curse on him. A career record of 68.90 would attest to that. In any event, with Dyson Heppell a late out, Devon Smith out for the rest of the season with a knee issue, and Zach Merrett missing a significant portion of the game, it was time for the Bombers’ young guns to stand up, and they did it with great aplomb. Darcy Parish and Andy McGrath were both excellent, especially in the last when the game was up for grabs, but it’s the former who gets the vote, for his 23 touches and a last quarter goal to put the margin out beyond one kick, from which point Essendon never looked back. His six clearances were the most of any Bomber, and were critical in ensuring the midfield battle remained relatively even, and his nine contested possessions were also an equal team high, as he made up for the absence of bigger name mids.
Gold Coast v Richmond
3 Shai Bolton (Richmond)
2 Jason Castagna (Richmond)
1 Kane Lambert (Richmond)
I imagine it would have been a more difficult task in this one to find Tigers not worthy of votes than it was to find those who were. Nevertheless, these three players stood out most prolifically in Richmond’s statement win over the increasingly hapless Suns. Only noted ball winners Trent Cotchin and Dion Prestia had more disposals and clearances for their side than 18 gamer Shai Bolton, who wouldn’t have played many games better than this one. His 26 touches came at 81%, with five clearances, a team high six inside 50’s, nine score involvements including two goals and two goal assists, four tackles and nine marks. Those are the AFL equivalent of video game numbers, as the classy small forward justified his place in the team for a few weeks to come in a position facing fierce competition at Richmond.
It was another small Tiger forward who reaped the greatest scoreboard return in the belting. While Jason Castagna has been in and out of form this year after missing the Round 1 victory over the Blues, he looked back to his 2017 era best, and despite having managed just 12 goals in 13 games before Saturday, is still on track for a career best season haul. In any event, it was a career best haul in a game for the enigmatic little man, who kicked three goals in the first from four marks inside 50 to essentially put the game to bed before it even began. He managed a game high 12 score involvements, including a personal return of 5.2, as well as one direct goal assist, as well as a game high 10 marks, six of which came inside forward 50. If Richmond are to challenge for the flag again this year, then Castagna will be a big factor in that, with his pressure and knack for opportunistic yet timely goals.
This may be a controversial opinion, but Kane Lambert deserved an All Australian selection far more than Shane Edwards did last year. That isn’t to suggest Edwards was completely unworthy of the honour, but Lambert’s last two years have been nothing short of outstanding as he has become a more regular fixture in the senior side. He’s finished in the top 3 in the Best and Fairest in each of the last two seasons, and despite having missed a month of football in the middle of the season, has been ultra consistent again. Only Castagna had more than his 11 score involvements for the day, matching his own three goals with three direct goal assists. His 24 touches came at 83%, with four inside 50’s, four tackles and six marks capping off a pretty handy day for the unheralded jet.
Adelaide v Port Adelaide
3 Justin Westhoff (Port Adelaide)
2 Robbie Gray (Port Adelaide)
1 Scott Lycett (Port Adelaide)
It was a complete second half pantsing by Port Adelaide, in one of the season’s most highly anticipated games, and a number of players could have been in the picture for votes. Justin Westhoff was the best player on the ground though, and while he may not have matched Robbie Gray’s admittedly dazzling stats, his work in his return game, after being dropped following the Round 13 loss to Fremantle, was typical of the Power’s reigning Best and Fairest. His 16 marks were a career high, as well as a game high, while his nine score involvements, including a goal and two direct goal assists, were beaten only by Ollie Wines. His 23 touches for the evening came at 83%, with three inside 50’s and four rebounds showing his workrate up and down the ground, and his ability to at least compete in the ruck when Scott Lycett was off injured typified his workmanlike attitude.
Travis Boak’s season to date has been nigh on unbelievable for a player seemingly on his last legs heading into 2019, and so when he was a late out heading into the Showdown, you’d probably have expected the pendulum to swing in favour of the Crows. Of course, it can be easy to forget that the Power have a player of the quality of Robbie Gray tucked away, ordinarily, in their forward line, and despite having had more than 30 touches in a game just once since Round 5 last year, he managed to top that mark against Adelaide to earn a record fifth Showdown Medal. Only Tom Rockliff had more than his 35 touches, but no one on the ground topped his 16 contested possessions or 10 clearances. He also had an equal game high six inside 50’s, as well as nine score involvements and 472 metres gained. In fact, all that costed him the best on ground nod from this site was his relatively poor disposal efficiency of 60%, though he did lift in that metric after half time as the Power stormed home.
It’s probably unfair to suggest that Port can ill afford to lose a player to injury more than Scott Lycett, given that 2017 All Australian and club Best and Fairest Paddy Ryder is plying his trade in the SANFL. However, given his performances in his first year at Port, after shouldering the majority of the ruck load in the latter stages of last year to take the Eagles to the flag, Lycett is firming as one of his new side’s most important and most influential players. Having rucked alone since the Round 13 loss to Freo, Lycett has polled votes in each of Port’s two wins since then, and despite going off with a knee injury in the first quarter, came back on to be one of the most dominant players on the ground against the ever improving Reilly O’Brien. His 32 hitouts were critical in ensuring his side won the clearances by a massive 45-27 margin, with six clearances of his own. Eight score involvements included a truly remarkable goal from the edge of 50 out, which swung momentum back in Port’s favour. He may not have been quite as dominant as he was in the win over Geelong a fortnight ago, but Lycett has shown that he really is a big game player again this season.
Western Bulldogs v Geelong
3 Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)
2 Aaron Naughton (Western Bulldogs)
1 Jackson Trengove (Western Bulldogs)
It should probably come as no surprise that, in a Bulldogs win, Marcus Bontempelli was the most influential player on the ground. We talk about players outside of Victoria who, if they played for a Victorian club, would receive many more plaudits than they do but, make no mistake, the Bont doesn’t receive nearly as much credit as he deserves. He isn’t a Treloar-style midfielder, racking up plenty of the ball. Instead, the best Bontempelli games are the ones where he has 25-ish touches, proving that some players can do so much more with so much less. On Saturday night the prolific ball winners Macrae and Hunter had more disposals than him, but nowhere near the influence of a man who had 27 touches, a game high 17 contested, an equal game high eight score involvements, as well as six inside 50’s, 651 metres gained, five clearances and six tackles. He was truly irrepressible at times, playing against one of the better midfields in the game, and worked exceptionally hard to get himself into space and get his side over the line.
He might not have had the same impact as he did against Richmond about two months ago, but this was almost certainly the second best game of Aaron Naughton’s young but already impressive career. Against statistically the league’s best defence, Naughton was nigh on unstoppable, taking an equal team high nine marks, including five inside 50 to wreak havoc against an uncharacteristically disorganised Geelong backline. Without Naughton as the focal point, the Bulldogs could not have won this game, as the ball simply gravitated towards him. His four goals all came at vitally important times, representing his side’s first two of the game, before adding another two in the last quarter as the Dogs overran their opposition. It could have been a bigger bag too, with one behind and two shots that failed to score. With the ever-improving Bontempelli in the middle, and Naughton up forward, Luke Beverage could be at the reins of a side even better than the one he spectacularly took to the flag in 2016.
If Naughton was the reason why the Dogs won the game up forward, then Trengove was the reason they didn’t lose it down back. Tom Hawkins has been vitally important for the Cats this season, sitting second in the Coleman Medal race whilst also setting up a number of scores for the other forwards. On Saturday night he had eight touches, including two goals, but with one of them coming when the game was all but over, the points absolutely go to the former Power big man. He managed 14 touches of his own, with six marks and eight intercept possessions, as part of an entire defensive unit which restricted Geelong to their lowest score of the year. Add in seven one percenters and it’s clear to see that the acquisition of Trengove was a shrewd one from the Bulldogs’ list management team.
Fremantle v West Coast
3 Brad Sheppard (West Coast)
2 Luke Shuey (West Coast)
1 Tom Barrass (West Coast)
Look. I don’t want to say that the Mongrel Punt is responsible for Brad Sheppard’s career best year. I don’t want to say that we in some way uncovered him, when West Coast supporters have known about him for so long. All I’m saying is, no other media organisation would have the Eagles’ star firmly entrenched in the top five of their respective award leaderboards (don’t quote me on that, they definitely might). In any event, we love Sheppard’s work here at the Mongrel, and though I’m not sure exactly when this love affair began, I can tell you it won’t be ending any time soon. In a team full to the brim with underrated stars, Sheppard might be the most underrated of the lot, but in the Derby, which was a demolition but not of the same style as 2001, he was a clear best on ground. It may not have been his absolute best game of the year, but it was certainly a very, very good one, as his 25 disposals included a game high 11 rebounds, eight one percenters and nine intercept possessions. Only All Australian interceptor Jeremy McGovern had more. He also had the second most metres gained on the ground, with 512, as time and again he provided drive out of the back half to be the best player in a champion team full of champions.
I might have gone overboard on my love for Sheppard, but another man who doesn’t get nearly enough love in the Melbourne media market is Luke Shuey. He won a Norm Smith Medal last year, and yet is rarely brought up in the same breath as the Martins, the Fyfes and the Dangerfields. Make no mistake, Luke Shuey is in the top handful of mids in the competition, and his last fortnight has shown that, dragging his side almost one handed over the line last week before playing a big role in a comprehensive thrashing. In a game where it would have been easy to play bruise free footy after half time, when the result was a formality, Shuey continued to put his head over the ball, with his 28 touches including game highs in clearances (nine) and contested possessions (19), as well as a team high six inside 50s, six score involvements and 438 metres gained. I can’t speak for the other Mongrels, but at this stage Shuey is absolutely in my rolling All Australian team.
It’s frankly incomprehensible that Fremantle could win the inside 50’s 60-50, and yet kick two goals for the game. While some heat has to be placed on the midfield delivery and forward effort, the West Coast backline simply pumped the Dockers into submission. Brad Sheppard has earned his praise, while we all know how good Jeremy McGovern is, but the addition of Tom Barrass just makes the Eagles even harder to score against, freeing up the aforementioned two as well as Shannon Hurn to play the rebounding, intercepting game. Barrass may have had ‘only’ seven possessions, the equal fewest on the ground, but also had nine spoils, killing off a significant number of Freo entries, and restricting them to the lowest score of any side this season.
Carlton v Melbourne
3 Tom McDonald (Melbourne)
2 Clayton Oliver (Melbourne)
1 Ed Curnow (Carlton)
Tom McDonald kicked 53.20, as Melbourne surged, somewhat surprisingly, into a preliminary final. Heading into Sunday’s game, in a season which has gone from bad to worse to abysmal then back to bad for the Demons, the swingman had managed just 12.13 from his 14 games. Whether this was a return to form or simply him capitalising on poor defence, we won’t find out, given he injured his knee and is out for the rest of the season, but such was his impact in the first three quarters that it would be simply inexcusable not to have him as the best player on the ground. Despite spraying his first shot of the game out on the full, McDonald went on to kick 6.2, dominating Liam Jones to the point of pity, almost. He also had two direct goal assists from 11 score involvements and 20 touches, which is a pretty fair outing in a full game. For McDonald to do it before three quarter time shows exactly why some were tipping him to win the Coleman this year.
There’s absolutely no doubt that McDonald not coming back onto the field after three quarter time hurt Melbourne even more given they were down to one on the bench, with Marty Hore and Harry Petty already ruled out, in addition to having lost Max Gawn before the bounce. It helps, though, to have a player of the quality of Clayton Oliver, who was kept reasonably quiet before half time thanks to Jack Silvagni’s tag, before breaking the shackles in the second half, and especially the last quarter when the game was on the line. Though he hasn’t had the season he did last year, he won the game for Melbourne, intercepting a Kade Simpson kick and finding Jayden Hunt lace out inside 50 for the game winner. His 26 touches included game highs in 19 contested possessions, 10 clearances, and 11 tackles, with his four tackles inside 50 also an equal game high. Add in nine score involvements, including two direct goal assists, and Oliver was a critical factor in a face saving win for the Dees.
Having stepped into the almost unassumable void filled by injured captain Patrick Cripps last week against Freo with aplomb, racking up 16 clearances, the equal ninth most ever recorded, Ed Curnow wasn’t quite as prolific this week. Nevertheless, he was still inspirational, leading his side within a sniff of what would have been a statement win, coming back from beyond 30 points down for the fourth game in a row to take the lead late in the last quarter. He might have had just the four clearances this week, but 10 of Curnow’s 23 touches were contested, while he also stuck an equal game high 11 tackles, along with a game high seven inside 50’s. His 10 score involvements were the most for his team, with three direct goal assists, while only Nic Newman gained more than his 417 metres for his side. While Jack Silvagni was good for the second week in a row, it’s hard to look past Curnow, who looks to be enjoying a new lease on life under David Teague.
North Melbourne v St Kilda
3 Jy Simpkin (North Melbourne)
2 Jack Ziebell (North Melbourne)
1 Todd Goldstein (North Melbourne)
Calling this a breakout game for Jy Simpkin would be a little disrespectful to his performance last week, wherein he racked up 30 disposals for the first time ever. Call it a breakout fortnight then, which is arguably even better, proving that last week was no fluke by tallying a new career high 36 possessions in the middle of the ground. With Ben Cunnington enduring a relatively off day, being tagged out of the game in essence by St Kilda tackling machine Jack Steele, Simpkin stepped into the difficult to fill void, with his 21 contested possessions a game high, as were his nine clearances. His 397 metres gained were the third most of any Roo, while his six inside 50’s were beaten only by Ziebell for his side. He also kicked the game’s first goal, and added a goal assist to five score involvements, which combined makes for an excellent day at the office for a young player who looks to be every bit the star North hoped he would be when they drafted him with pick 12 in 2016.
Jy Simpkin represents the new firm quite clearly at North, which would absolutely be encouraging for their supporters, but the next two vote getters show there’s still life in the experienced legs at Arden St, who could take them to what would have been an inconceivable finals berth just a few short weeks ago. Jack Ziebell has looked like a new man since being moved back into the midfield, and whether Brad Scott or Rhyce Shaw deserves ultimate credit for the shift is up in the air, I suppose. Irrespective of that, he was back to his bullocking best against the Saints on Sunday afternoon, with the normally reliable bull Ben Cunnington dealing with the tag. Ziebell had 24 touches, but it’s his ability to hit the scoreboard and have an impact in the middle of the ground that would be most pleasing for Shaw. He’s kicked eight goals in his last four games, including two in the first half this weekend. Add in eight clearances, eight inside 50’s, seven tackles and 403 metres gained and it was another excellent game for the tough-as-a-cat’s-head skipper.
With apologies to Josh Bruce and Jack Billings, who were hurt by the eventual margin in this one, Todd Goldstein gets the final vote, ahead of Cam Zurhaar and Nick Larkey. Rowan Marshall has been talked up a lot this season, and with Reilly O’Brien has really staked a claim to be the third best ruck in the league. There’s something about an old dog in a scrap, and though Goldstein’s best days are behind him, he’s shown that there’s still some life in him yet. It takes a pretty good effort to beat Marshall, and while the Saints’ man was good, the 2015 All Australian was even better. North won the clearances 47-38, helped largely by their ruckman’s 39 hitouts and seven clearances of his own, while he also laid six tackles, had five score involvements and took five marks, including three contested. He might not be a man mountain like Max Gawn, or a ruck/rover hybrid like Brodie Grundy, but Goldstein is like a talismanic figure at North, and has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance this year.
GWS v Brisbane
3 Lincoln McCarthy (Brisbane)
2 Harris Andrews (Brisbane)
1 Stephen Coniglio (GWS)
Ask a Geelong supporter and they’ll tell you that Lincoln McCarthy was always capable of playing games like this against GWS on Sunday, but that a change of scenery was probably necessary. He was a big factor in their Round 1 win over the Eagles, but has faded in and out of form since then. Sunday was a career best outing though in a number of metrics. His three goals were the most of any Lion, all coming when the game was relatively up for grabs, while his seven clearances were the first time he’d ever had more than two in a game. 13 of his 22 touches were contested, with six marks, nine score involvements, five inside 50’s and three tackles. Chris Fagan’s coaching performance against the Giants might have been the best of the season, seeing his side sitting in the top 4 after 15 rounds, and throwing the relatively untested McCarthy into the middle might prove to be a weapon come September.
If conventional wisdom suggests you never trust a man with two first names, then the inverse suggests you should always trust a man with two surnames. Does that mean Harris Andrews is the most trustworthy player in the league? Well he certainly might be, and I’m sure Fagan almost would trust him with his life at this stage. Andrews is a remarkably unheralded backman, but there aren’t too many two metre tall defenders going around, and he’s one of them. He’s simply impassable at times, as he was on Sunday against the Giants. Opposed to Jeremy Finlayson, who has been a more than adequate third fiddle to Jeremy Cameron and Harry Himmelberg, Andrews simply refused to be beaten. Nine of his 11 touches came from intercepts, showing he’s not particularly interested in racking up cheap ball across half back as some defenders do, while his opponent managed one goal from five touches. The Lions’ Vice Captain also took seven marks, including a game high three contested, along with four rebounds and a massive 15 one percenters, as he continued to put his body on the line for his team. His backline kept one of the highest scoring teams in the league to just 11 goals, despite winning the inside 50 count 58-49, and for that Andrews deserves a lot of credit.
One of the criticisms of the expansion clubs is that they are completely confected, and that no one would be willing to fight or bleed for them. Well, even if Stephen Coniglio chooses to take his talents elsewhere this coming off season, no one could ever accuse him of not working his butt off for the Giants. He was essentially all that stood between Leon Cameron’s side and a thumping loss, with a number of big name midfielders struggling to assert their influence on the contest. Coniglio’s 34 touches, 20 contested possessions, 11 tackles and nine clearances were all game highs, as well as managing five inside 50’s and three rebounds. By the end of the game he looked almost completely wrecked, having turned in one of the best midfield displays we’ve seen this season in a game in which his side were never really in the contest after quarter time. It’s not hard to see why his signature is so strongly coveted.
1. Tim Kelly (18)
2. Travis Boak (17)
3. Marcus Bontempelli (14)
3. Lachie Neale (14)
5. Brad Sheppard (13)
6. Max Gawn (11)
6. Luke Shuey (11)
8. Brad Crouch (10)
8. Nathan Fyfe (10)
8. Brodie Grundy (10)
8. Zach Merrett (10)
While the top two hasn’t changed this week, with Travis Boak a late out from the Showdown and Tim Kelly having a fairly quiet night against the Dogs, the big mover is Bontempelli, who was absolutely dominant against the ladder leading Cats. His last three weeks have seen him poll seven votes, doubling his vote tally from before the bye, as he looks to lead his side to what would be an unlikely but inspiring September berth.
Lachie Neale just misses out on votes for his game against the Giants unfortunately, but another big mover is Sheppard, whose best on ground nod is his second in three weeks. In fact, since Round 10 the Eagle has polled ten votes to catapult him into the top FIVE of this prestigious award. The other mover into the top 10 is another Eagle in Shuey, who has polled five votes over the last fortnight as his side has recorded two statement wins. Just outside the top 10, Stephen Coniglio joins a pack of four players on nine votes.