Mongrel of the Year 2019 - Round 17
It shaped as one of the rounds of the season, and in large part the seventeenth weekend of 2019 lived up to expectations. Four games were decided by eight points or fewer, with the top 8 continuing to take shape with just six games left before finals, and with the season being as even as it is, we’re no closer to knowing just who will taste the ultimate glory come the last Saturday in September. We’re also no closer to knowing who will take out the inaugural Mongrel of the Year.
In devising this award, we at the Mongrel Punt are attempting to recognise the kind of player we like to see play the game. It’s not just midfielders; this week we’ve seen wingmen, half back flankers, key forwards and tall defenders all feature in the votes. Each week, those of us who write game reviews for the Mongrel site award votes on a 3-2-1 basis, centred on our own individual criteria, but predominantly looking at the influence of players rather than their statistical output. Here are Round 17’s votes:
West Coast v Collingwood
3 Brody Mihocek (Collingwood)
2 Steele Sidebottom (Collingwood)
1 Elliot Yeo (West Coast)
It was a gutsy and important win for the Magpies, away from home on the big Friday night stage against a team to whom they’d lost their last five encounters. Nathan Buckley would have to have been pleased with their performance, especially in the second half, and would also have to be pleased that Brody Mihocek looks back to his best. It wasn’t just the equal career high four goals which he kicked, all of which came at critical junctures, though they were no doubt important. His ten marks and five contested marks were both game highs, as were his eight score involvements. He sent the Magpies inside forward 50 four times, the equal third most of any Pie, while his 447 metres gained had him ranked fourth on his team. Mihocek has no doubt played some good games for his side this season, kicking four goals in three games, but having managed just 5.9 in his previous six games, it would no doubt be a happy sight for Pies fans to see the second year forward dominating again.
If it was a 32 gamer who stood up most prominently up forward for the Magpies in what was certainly their most important win of the year, it was a 227 game jet standing up in the guts to make sure the star studded West Coast midfield didn’t get the ascendancy. Steele Sidebottom’s shift out to the wing to compensate for other big names in the middle has led to decreases in his stats across the board, but on Friday night he was back near his classy best. Only renowned ball winner Adam Treloar had more disposals and contested possessions than Sidebottom’s 33 and 14 respectively, while he also had five score involvements, an equal team high eight intercepts, six clearances and five inside 50’s. His 550 metres gained were the third most of any player on the ground as time and again he and captain Pendlebury drove the Pies forward to get them over the line, and thus he gets the votes ahead of Crisp.
He might not win as many disposals as Andrew Gaff, nor look quite as flashy as Luke Shuey, but it’s probably fair to suggest Elliot Yeo is the Eagles’ most important midfielder. Having managed just seven goals for the season before this game, he kicked multiple goals for the first time since Round 20 last year, kicking the first goal of the second quarter and then what proved to be the Eagles’ last goal of the game, 10 minutes into the third quarter. He also had two goal assist, for a grand total of eight score involvements, the equal most of any player on the ground, with his nine inside 50’s also a game high. His eight tackles were a team high, as he once again showed his willingness to crack in and do the dirty work when others look less interested, and with his 499 metres gained also a team high, it would have been hard to look past the former Lion for best on ground honours if the rest of his team had have managed to crack in as much as he did.
Sydney v Carlton
3 Nic Newman (Carlton)
2 Jake Lloyd (Sydney)
1 Marc Murphy (Carlton)
Nic Newman was traded from Sydney to Carlton at the end of last year’s trade period for a future fourth round draft pick. While undoubtedly there have been bigger steals in the long history of AFL player movement, this was a true robbery, as Newman in the space of one offseason went from a fringe player in John Longmire’s side to an integral part of a Carlton backline which has looked shaky at times, but better with every week. Against his old side on Saturday afternoon he was irrepressible off half back, with team highs in 32 disposals, nine rebounds and 711 metres gained, as well as game highs in 12 intercepts and 13 marks. With his disposals coming at 88% efficiency, it was a career best outing for the former Swan, who showed why the Blues’ list management were so keen on bringing him into the side.
It’s been a funny year for reigning Bob Skilton Medalist Jake Lloyd. He continues to rack up ball across half back better than any other defender in the competition, doing so at fairly high efficiency, and yet very few teams seem willing to throw a defensive forward at him to curtail his influence. On Saturday against the Blues he was again prolific, his side’s best player, and yet he couldn’t get his side over the line. He nailed a rare goal with almost no time left on the clock to give the Swans the slightest of sniffs, but his work across the game was what earned him votes, with game highs in 34 touches, 12 rebounds, and 771 metres gained, as well as six score involvements and three inside 50’s as he consistently turned defence into attack.
I’m not sure whether it’s been a masterstroke by David Teague to move Ed Curnow and Murphy back into the midfield, or whether it shows how stubborn Brendon Bolton was in his commitment to youth. As with all things, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but Murphy looks a revitalised man under the new coach, playing what is close to career best footy in his 14th season in the AFL. His 29 touches were the third most of any player on the ground, with 11 contested possessions, six clearances and 475 metres gained. No Blue had more inside 50’s than his six, as well as a goal just before three quarter time to hand the young Carlton side some breathing room and some hope heading into the final break. His experience is unmatchable and crucial in this young Carlton side, and he now looks revitalised enough to continue into another season.
Hawthorn v Fremantle
3 Ricky Henderson (Hawthorn)
2 James Worpel (Hawthorn)
1 Nathan Fyfe (Fremantle)
It’s almost hard to believe how good Ricky Henderson has been for Hawthorn this year. In a game marred by horrible disposal at times, he stood above everyone else. Whenever he had ball in hand, it was almost as if Hawthorn supporters could breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that he would use it well enough to create some kind of damage. His 25 touches came at 80% efficiency, with his six score involvements including two direct goal assists at critical junctures of the game. He had game highs in inside 50’s (seven), rebounds (five), metres gained (654) and marks (11), as he ran harder than most other players on the ground. There are few players who reach their peak after age 30, but in his 10th season the former Crow shapes as, at this stage, a certain inclusion in the All Australian squad and as good a chance as any other wingman to take the spot.
While all attention turned to Jaeger O’Meara after Tom Mitchell went down with a broken leg in preseason, James Worpel has flown under the radar a little. After an encouraging start to his career last year in 11 games, he has improved out of sight thus far in 2019, having more than 20 touches in every game bar one, and five or more clearances in ten of those games after reaching that mark once last year. It was a career best outing on Saturday afternoon against Freo, with his 33 disposals, 15 contested possessions, nine clearances, and seven score involvements all either team or game highs. Only Henderson managed more than his 580 metres gained, while his goal assist to Mitch Lewis in the first quarter was a thing of beauty, roving a tap from Ben McEvoy to perfection. The Hawks may just have found another one here, after drafting him at Pick 45.
In a game in which his team looked entirely insipid for large patches, the class differential between Nathan Fyfe and a lot of his teammates is blatantly obvious to see at times. While he struggled to break the Howe tag early, after going off the ground injured he looked like changing the game up forward for his side. With Taberner and Hogan missing, and Lobb and McCarthy struggling to have an impact, Fyfe’s second quarter was a thing of beauty, as all of Fremantle’s forward entries gravitated toward him. He kicked three of his side’s first four goals, on a day where they struggled to convert for the entirety. His eight tackles were an equal game high, while no one had more than his 16 contested possessions, and no Docker was involved in more scores than his five. Three of his six marks for the day were contested, as he managed to be one of the best players on the ground in spite of the rest of his team’s mediocrity.
Essendon v North Melbourne
3 Ben Brown (North Melbourne)
2 Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (Essendon)
1 Robbie Tarrant (North Melbourne)
It doesn’t happen very often that the losing team have two of three players in the votes, but with Essendon snatching victory in the last 30 seconds, courtesy of a goal which I’ll get to later, it’s also probably fair enough. With Michael Hurley going off injured early in the third quarter, Ben Brown exploded, kicking four of his six goals for the day after that point to get the Kangaroos within a sniff of victory. It will be tough going, clearly, for Essendon without Hurley, but that is to take nothing away from the man who is now second in the Coleman race. He could have managed a bigger bag too, with 6.1 and three shots on goal that failed to register a score, combined with nine total score involvements, 12 marks including a massive six contested, and 380 metres gained. He's a hard man to stop when he’s in full flight, and though North’s finals chances now look slimmer than they did heading into this game, Brown is still a decent shot at a first Coleman Medal.
Find me someone who loves footy who doesn’t love watching Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti play, and the odds are they’re a North Melbourne fan. Honestly his two votes here are just as much for his last minute of gameplay as they were for the 119 before it. The level of difficulty on that snapped shot, under pressure, was immense, with so little room for failure, and yet Tippa managed to spin, turn, and finish truly to see Essendon in the eight after 17 rounds. His 11 score involvements were a game high, while only Brown had a greater scoreboard impact than his 4.2. Two of his four tackles came inside forward 50, as he managed to put the pressure on North’s backline, and so he gets the votes, just ahead of Dylan Clarke, who kept Ben Cunnington quiet for the third week out of four.
It’s quite incredible that Robbie Tarrant has never been in an All Australian team, let alone an All Australian squad. 2019 looks to be the season in which that changes, even after Josh Bruce got a hold of the North backline last week. Of Tarrant’s 22 disposals, only one was ineffective, and while those stats for defenders can sometimes be misleading, they weren’t on Saturday evening. Tarrant gained 465 metres, the most of any Roo on the ground, along with a game and career high 12 rebounds. He also took 11 marks, the second most of any player on the ground behind Brown, as well as a massive 14 intercepts, another game high, and 11 one percenters, a team high, as time and again the Essendon players seemed to be picking him out inside their forward 50.
Gold Coast v Adelaide
3 Wayne Milera (Adelaide)
2 Rory Atkins (Adelaide)
1 Brad Crouch (Adelaide)
It would be more difficult to pick out Crows who didn’t deserve votes in this one, in a game which at times looked more like Adelaide’s tropical midseason training run than a game of high level football. Daniel Talia had just eight touches, but was part of a backline that conceded just eight goals. In the end, it was the role-players who got the greatest recognition out of this one. Wayne Milera had some time in midfield and managed to show his talent in one of the better games of his still young career. His 27 touches came at 85%, with a goal and a massive four goal assists in among 12 score involvements. Only Rory Sloane had more, while only Brodie Smith had more inside 50’s than his seven. Milera was drafted with the pick Geelong traded for Patrick Dangerfield, and though he may not be a player of the same quality, his talent very much came to the fore on Saturday night.
Rory Atkins was another of Adelaide’s lesser lights who managed to dominate against the Suns and get some valuable form into his legs as the Crows look to secure a home final. He was one of many, many Crows who was less than adequate last week in the Showdown, as Port belted their crosstown rivals in the second half, but he was excellent on Saturday night. Only once in his career has he managed more than the 35 touches he racked up, and he was one of eight Crows to have double digit score involvements, with 10. Two of those were direct goal assists, while he also sent the ball inside 50 seven times, and had a game high 687 metres gained, as he and Brodie Smith time and again drove the Crows out of defence and into attack.
Since totalling six votes in the three weeks leading up to the bye, Brad Crouch’s form had tapered slightly, in losses to the Cats and Port. While he wasn’t totally prolific with ball in hand against the Suns, with just 25 touches and seven score involvements, he gets the final vote as much for his defensive work as anything else. In blowouts like this it can be easy for players to start playing bruise free footy, and so while other Crows had more of the ball than him, and more than his three clearances as well, no one on the ground had more than his massive 16 tackles. Crouch’s desire to crack in hard against the young Gold Coast midfield was one of the more pleasing aspects of the Crows’ win, as they managed to be just -6 in tackles despite winning the disposals by 174.
Geelong v St Kilda
3 Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong)
2 Mitch Duncan (Geelong)
1 Luke Dunstan (St Kilda)
By no means has Patrick Dangerfield had the impact he did across 2016 and 2017, a two year span across which he was the best player in the competition, in 2019. Still, Geelong are two games clear on top of the ladder, and requiring less output from their superstar midfielder. On Saturday night, when they needed him to, he flicked the switch, playing what was arguably his best game of the season. A game high 23 of his 32 disposals were contested, as he managed to win the ball on the inside and feed the Cats’ outside runners, including predominantly Duncan. His nine clearances, eight score involvements and three contested marks were also equal game highs, while his 553 metres gained were an outright game high and his seven tackles were an equal team high, as he busted his gut to ensure the Cats wouldn’t slip up, adding a goal halfway through the third quarter to ensure their two game lead on top of the ladder would be restored.
With Tim Kelly’s further rise to prominence this year, Mitch Duncan has had to take another step back in Geelong’s star studded midfield. Ask a Geelong supporter though, and they’d probably tell you he’s been the club’s most consistent midfielder across the entirety of the year. It was arguably his worst game of the season in last week’s loss to the Dogs, which demonstrates his importance to the midfield, and on Saturday night he, in combination with Dangerfield, rebounded strongly into form with a game high 33 touches. He kicked a goal as well in time on in the third term to put breathing room between the two sides, as part of eight score involvements that also included a direct goal assist. His 491 metres gained were the third most of any player on the ground, with four clearances, four tackles and five inside 50’s rounding out a solid night for a gun player.
In a year in which consistency has been relatively hard to come by, Luke Dunstan has been more than handy since his return to the senior side in Round 8. Since then, he’s averaged 24 touches a game, well up on his career average of 19. In Geelong on Saturday night he provided the spark St Kilda needed as they looked capable of scoring a massive upset before running out of legs halfway through the third quarter. His 30 disposals were the most of any Saint, as were his 17 contested possessions, and he more than any other player for his club reaped the benefits of Rowan Marshall’s domination in the ruck, finishing equal with Dangerfield with nine clearances. He also managed six score involvements and 328 metres gained as he took it right up to the Cats’ much vaunted midfield.
Richmond v GWS
3 Tom Lynch (Richmond)
2 Shai Bolton (Richmond)
1 Dylan Grimes (Richmond)
On a day on which three time, reigning Coleman Medalist Jack Riewoldt returned for the Tigers after playing just three games in the first 16 weeks of the season, it was Tom Lynch who played one of his best games in yellow and black, if not his absolute best. He may have kicked ‘just’ the three goals, the same amount he’s kicked in each of his last three games now, but his 18 disposals were a season high. He sent his side inside 50 four times, with his 11 score involvements an equal game high. Opposed to Phil Davis, he was the most influential player on the ground, an event which doesn’t happen very often, and his 13 contested possessions were a team high for Richmond. With Riewoldt fairly quiet, understandably, in his return game, Lynch stood tall and got his side over the line in one of their more convincing wins of the year.
If any young player has flown under the radar this year more than Shai Bolton, I’m not aware of them. It might surprise everyone, but he’s actually Richmond’s leading vote getter in this award this season, which probably speaks as much to the Tigers’ even spread of contributors as much as it does to Bolton, but in any event he was hugely influential in their road wins over Fremantle and Gold Coast, and backed that up this week with another tremendous performance against the Giants. After not having crossed 20 disposals at any point in his first 17 games, he’s done so in each of his last two weeks, with his 29 on Sunday a new career high. He kicked a goal and added a goal assist for seven total score involvements, with four clearances and five inside 50’s as he showed he could be a new midfield weapon for Damien Hardwick’s men.
While plenty of Giants racked up plenty of ball, it was Richmond’s replacement Rance in Dylan Grimes who earns the final vote. The Giants actually won the inside 50’s, 60-59, and yet managed just 22 scores to Richmond’s 29. In a forward line led by Jeremy Cameron and Harry Himmelberg, as well as Toby Greene and Tim Taranto rotating through, the Giants managed just eight marks inside 50 to the Tigers’ 11, and while conditions played a part in that, so too did Grimes. The Tiger’s 15 touches included 10 intercepts, which allowed Bachar Houli and Jayden Short to provide drive off half back. He was involved in five scores, a pretty good tally for a deep defender, and only Short had more rebounds for the Tigers than him.
Western Bulldogs v Melbourne
3 Josh Dunkley (Western Bulldogs)
2 Jackson Macrae (Western Bulldogs)
1 Steven May (Melbourne)
In what shaped as a banana peel game for the Dogs, who have beaten Richmond, Brisbane, Port Adelaide and Geelong, yet lost to Carlton and the Gold Coast, Josh Dunkley played one of the best games of the season by any player. If, as we keep threatening to do, the Mongrel Punt compiles a list of the year’s best individual performances, Dunkley’s would have to be near the top. According to @SirSwampThing on Twitter, who I strongly recommend following if you’re a fan of obscure and necessary footballing stats, no player in recorded history had had 35+ disposals, 20+ contested possessions, 15+ tackles and 2+ goals in a game before Sunday. Against the Dees, Dunkley recorded a statline of 39, 24, 15 (all of which were game highs) and 2.0 respectively, to go with a game high 10 score involvements and an equal game high nine clearances. His 494 metres gained were the third most of any Dog on the ground, and with Marcus Bontempelli quiet before going off with an ankle injury that clearly hindered him, Dunkley was exceedingly important.
With Matt de Boer out for an extended period of time, since suffering a fractured shoulder in Round 13 against North Melbourne, there’s been discussions around who the best tagger in the game is. While that honour probably falls to Essendon’s Dylan Clarke or St Kilda’s Jack Steele for their shutdown ability, Jackson Macrae has been outstanding since the bye in a run with role. Since the bye he’s polled eight votes in five games, having shut down Patrick Cripps in round 13 and now Clayton Oliver in head to head matchups. While he had 30 touches at 77%, with six tackles, three clearances, five score involvements and four inside 50’s, he managed to keep Oliver quiet in one of the most important aspects of the Dogs’ win, the Demon having just 17 touches at 53% efficiency, and though he managed eight clearances, he only had four score involvements, highlighting his diminished impact.
The influence of Aaron Naughton on this Bulldogs’ lineup in just his second season has been truly remarkable, with his dominance in games against Richmond and Geelong, as well as a notable performance against Brisbane, all key contributions to important wins for his team over the course of the season. There’s a school of thought that if you shut down Naughton, you close down the Dogs’ avenues to goals, and while that wasn’t necessarily the case against the Dees, Steven May deserves a lot of credit for his best game in red and blue. The young Dog managed just 10 touches, with four marks and, most notably, just the one score involvement, a behind, as his possessions came largely up the ground. May, on the other hand, had 16 touches at 81%, with three score involvements, 484 metres gained and a game high eight rebounds, to keep his new side in the contest.
Port Adelaide v Brisbane
3 Jarryd Lyons (Brisbane)
2 Charlie Cameron (Brisbane)
1 Mitch Robinson (Brisbane)
It’s scarcely believable that Jarryd Lyons is at his third club in four years, after having been let go for peanuts by Adelaide, and delisted by Gold Coast last season. Sure, Adelaide could probably afford to let go of some midfield depth, but with the way the Suns are tracking this year, they would love a midfielder of Lyons’ quality. Regardless, they let him go, and though Lachie Neale has received a lot of plaudits for his year thus far, the former Sun’s year has been excellent as well. It was arguably a career best performance on Sunday evening, as the Lions won their second consecutive game on the road against a top eight contender to cement their top four spot. His 36 touches, nine tackles, eight score involvements, and 654 metres gained were all game highs, while he also kicked the Lions’ fifth goal in a run of seven to open the game. Only the ever prolific Neale had more than his nine clearances for the game, and only 2017 All Australian Dayne Zorko, who was desperately unlucky to miss out on votes, had more than his six inside 50’s. In short, it was one of the performances of the round by Lyons, shaded only by Dunkley in my opinion.
Charlie Cameron is exactly the kind of enigmatic small forward the Lions need to:
1. Play an exciting, winning brand of footy.
2. Bring fans in through the Gabba gates.
In his 100th career game, he kicked his third bag of four or more goals for the season, polling votes for the third time. Sure, he’s the kind of player who doesn’t need to have a bunch of disposals to impact a game, but with a goal in every quarter against the Power, and 15 touches, he was a big factor in ensuring the Lions soared to third spot on the ladder. All three of his marks came inside 50, while he also laid two tackles and sent his side inside 50 twice, as the dominant forward on the ground.
Mitch Robinson’s year has been a huge factor in the Lions’ astronomical rise up the ladder. He hasn’t always been the most reliable player, and you do still need to take the good with the bad, but his leadership against the Power came to the fore, and was a big part in ensuring his young side wouldn’t be bullied by their more experienced opponents. His vote here is as much for standing up for Lachie Neale in the first quarter as it is for his work with ball in hand, though he was more than handy when he was in possession. Nine of his 21 disposals were contested, with eight intercepts an equal team high, as well as a first quarter goal he earned by running hard which really put the Power to the sword. His 585 metres gained were the second most of any player on the ground, with five inside 50’s to boot, in another excellent performance from one of the Lions’ most important players.
1. Tim Kelly (18)
2. Travis Boak (17)
3. Marcus Bontempelli (14)
3. Lachie Neale (14)
5. Brad Sheppard (13)
6. Patrick Dangerfield (12)
7. Brad Crouch (11)
7. Nathan Fyfe (11)
7. Max Gawn (11)
7. Luke Shuey (11)
Another week with no movement at the top of the tree, with Tim Kelly well held by the Saints’ Jack Steele and Travis Boak great again in a big loss to the Lions. Lachie Neale was also handy, although Power debutant Cam Sutcliffe subdued his influence on the contest a little. The Bont was clearly impacted by an ankle injury he sustained in the second quarter against the Dees, even if his influence was diminished by Jordan Lewis in a run with role before that point. Brad Sheppard was handy enough against the Pies, though ultimately not influential enough for votes.
The big movers all came in the bottom half of the top 10 of this leaderboard. Dangerfield polled three votes for the first time since the Round 12 game against Richmond, with another best on ground performance against the Saints. While Gawn and Shuey weren’t as dominant as they ordinarily are in narrow losses, Fyfe’s second quarter was largely what got him in the votes, despite his team’s loss to Hawthorn, and Brad Crouch’s 16 tackles against the Suns had him in the upper echelon of an excellent team performance.