After 10 weeks of the season, we’ve begun to see the cream rise to the top of our new Mongrel of the Year Award leaderboard. Designed to give recognition to the lesser lights who are just as influential as any other, the Award is voted on by contributors to the Mongrel Punt, and each week the round’s votes are tallied up and shared on a Monday night.
With almost half the season gone, now seems as good a time as any to look back on all the votes, and this article will show each club’s leaders, where they won their votes, and a surprise bolter from each team. Today’s article will give a wrap of the final set of six clubs alphabetically, as we head into the weekend’s games.
Travis Boak (11)
Scott Lycett (4)
Connor Rozee (4)
Sam Gray (3)
Justin Westhoff (3)
Sam Powell-Pepper (2)
Matthew Broadbent (1)
Tom Clurey (1)
Tom Rockliff (1)
Leader: Travis Boak- 3 votes in Rds 5, 6 & 9. 2 votes in Rd 1.
While former Power captain Boak is a two time-All Australian and a club best and fairest, it’s possible that this season, in which he will turn 31, after giving up the captaincy, and after declining returns since 2014, has been his best one to date. He is currently third in the league for total disposals, and in tandem with Tom Rockliff has kept the club afloat on field while Ollie Wines and Robbie Gray deal with injury concerns as he sits second overall in this award.
Despite all the games in which he has racked up thirty or more disposals, Boak’s first best on ground performance for the season came against the Eagles, in the wet in Round 5. Though other players had more of the ball than him, that’s not necessarily what this award is about, and few were as influential as he was, with his 23 disposals including 13 contested and coming at 78%. He also had a game high eight clearances against the reigning premier, as he made every one of his touches count in what has arguably been Port’s most impressive victory this season.
Repeating the dose in Round 6 on a Friday night against North, Boak was again exceptional, the standout in what was a tighter victory than the Power may have liked. His 38 touches for the night went at 82%, with 15 contested, plus a goal and seven score involvements, 10 clearances, nine inside 50’s, four tackles and 618 metres gained as he was clearly the best player on the ground for the second week in a row.
His third and so far final three vote game came against the Gold Coast in Round 9. With his side trailing at half time, Boak knuckled down, with 22 of his 36 disposals coming after half time. 22 of his touches were also contested in a game that was fought hard in wet conditions, while he also had eight clearances, seven score involvements, four tackles and 501 metres gained to again be hugely significant in a Power win.
Boak has hardly played a bad game this year, though he has been hurt a little bit by his side’s lack of success, and his only other game in the votes came in round 1 against Melbourne at the MCG, in what on another day could easily have been a best on ground effort. His 34 touches translated to a goal, nine score involvements, nine marks, 558 metres gained, five clearances, eight tackles, and seven inside 50’s, as he dominated against a Melbourne midfield that was genuinely scary heading into the season.
Surprise Packet: Connor Rozee- 2 votes in Rds 2 & 3.
Not many would have tipped the South Australian to be the biggest challenger to Sam Walsh for the Ron Evans Medal, but at the start of the year he would have been close to favouritism, such was his impact in the opening month of the season. Though his form has tapered off slightly, he has still managed at least a goal in eight out of his 10 games, to lead the goal kicking at this stage for the Power. His games in the votes came back to back, in Rounds 2 and 3.
His first noteworthy performance came against Walsh’s side, Carlton, in the second game of the season. In what was a tight game, in which the Blues held the lead late in the third quarter, Walsh was critically important to his side’s success. He kicked two goals in the second quarter, while eight of his 16 touches ended up in a score for his side, a remarkable display of efficiency from a player who was at that stage a second gamer. He went at 88% for the evening, with three tackles, to demonstrate his talent for the first time to the football world.
If the week before was Rozee knocking on the Rising Star door, then Round 3 against the Lions was him slamming it down. In a tremendously entertaining game in which the Power led with 30 minutes played in the last quarter, Rozee was his side’s best player in just his third game. His 21 touches (11 contested), included a return of 5.2 and 13 total score involvements, highlighting yet again his efficient work forward of centre. He also dragged down seven marks in a game his side went desperately close to winning, and deserves significant credit for playing what has to be one of the best third games in recent history.
Bachar Houli (7)
Dion Prestia (5)
Nick Vlastuin (5)
Dustin Martin (4)
Shai Bolton (3)
Trent Cotchin (3)
Shane Edwards (3)
Brandon Ellis (3)
Tom Lynch (2)
Toby Nankervis (2)
Leader: Bachar Houli- 3 votes in Rd 10. 2 votes in Rd 6. 1 vote in Rds 8 & 9.
I’m a huge fan of Bachar Houli’s work for the Tigers. While he has had his injury concerns over the last four years, Richmond are a significantly better side when he is on the park compared to when he is off it. Consider, interestingly, the fact that with Houli in the side this year, Richmond are 6-1, while without him they are 1-2. The blemish on his record was the game against the Bulldogs in Round 7, where he managed just 18 touches, and it is clear to see that when the former Bomber plays, and plays well, his side are much improved.
His best game of the season, and potentially the best game of his long career, came in the Dreamtime game against his old side in Round 10. In a game in which the Tigers never trailed, Houli was clearly the best player on the ground, and the rightful winner of the Yiooken Award. His 37 touches went at 76%, a decent return given the atrocious weather conditions, with five tackles, 10 rebound 50’s, six marks, and mammoth numbers in intercepts (13) and metres gained (814).
His second game back from injury, in Round 6 on ANZAC Eve against the Demons was another blinder, as he, in combination with Nick Vlastuin, gave the Melbourne forwards an absolute bath. Houli was the leading possession winner on the ground, with 32, 11 of which came from intercepts, while he distributed the ball at 81%. He also managed to gain 670 metres and rebound the ball from 50 eight times as he was just pipped to best on ground honours by Vlastuin.
In Rounds 8 and 9 he was again an important factor as Richmond continued their winning ways. Against Freo in Perth in the first of those performances he was his side’s leading possession winner in a win as good as any they had had since the 2017 Grand Final. He had 30 possessions at 80%, with seven intercepts, 10 marks, six rebounds and 515 metres gained. Then he managed to back it up against the Hawks the following week, with 35 touches at 86%, with nine marks and four rebounds, in an important consolidating victory. I may well be lynched for saying this, but Houli should have won the Norm Smith Medal in 2017, and if Richmond go all the way again this year, the smart money will be on him to win an award he richly deserves.
Surprise Packet: Nick Vlastuin- 3 votes in Rd 6. 2 votes in Rd 9.
While calling Vlastuin’s rise to prominence this season a surprise is probably disrespectful to a player who has always been handy over the journey, he has taken his game to another level in 2019, becoming a key cog in a backline that has been missing its general before a move into midfield in recent weeks to cover the extended absence of skipper Trent Cotchin.
ANZAC Eve was arguably the best game of Vlastuin’s career, certainly in terms of disposal count and almost definitely in terms of influence. As mentioned above, he combined with Bachar Houli across half back to be a dominant rebounding force, with half of his 28 disposals coming from intercepts, while he also took 13 marks, including three contested. The Melbourne forwards simply could not break down the yellow and black half back wall, and Vlastuin was a significant factor in Richmond’s fourth win of the year.
His move up the ground came in Round 9 against Hawthorn, in another influential display which highlighted his versatility. While he only had 24 disposals this time around, he went at 79% efficiency, with a goal, two goal assists and four more score involvements showing how deadly he could be closer to the forward line. While he also managed four clearances and four inside 50’s, perhaps most notable were his nine tackles, as his defensive pressure in the middle of the ground allowed the creative and offensively minded Martin to go to work and tear the Hawks to shreds.
Jade Gresham (6)
Jack Billings (4)
Rowan Marshall (3)
Tim Membrey (3)
Jack Steele (2)
Jarryn Geary (2)
Seb Ross (2)
Josh Battle (1)
Luke Dunstan (1)
Jack Newnes (1)
Shane Savage (1)
Jack Steven (1)
Callum Wilkie (1)
Leader: Jade Gresham- 3 votes in Rds 2 & 10.
It would likely please St Kilda’s coaching staff and supporters alike that Jade Gresham, a first round pick in 2015, has blossomed into a player of tremendous quality. Though he has the capacity to fade in and out of games, as you may expect from a young player, and Alan Richardson seems a bit unsure whether he is better suited to midfield or forward play, more than once this season he has been hugely influential in a tight win.
In his first such performance, in the Saints’ surprise win over Essendon, Gresham was a clear best on ground as his side led at one stage by more than five goals before being dragged back, running out victors by 11 points. While Jack Billings, who has quietly had his best season yet as he also blooms into the player St Kilda had hoped he would become, had more touches on the day, Gresham’s 25 touches and two goals were critical. He also managed two goal assists within seven score involvements, with five clearances and five inside 50’s as time and again he sent his side forward in their second consecutive win to open the season.
His season in between Rounds 2 and 10 has been solid without being spectacular, in a manner similar to his side as a whole, but he was again clearly the best on ground in their most recent game against Carlton as they squared their Round 10 ledger at 5-5. Rampaging through the middle, Gresham racked up 29 touches, with three goal assists in amongst seven score involvements, six clearances and six inside 50’s as St Kilda were tested but ultimately ran out victors by 13 points.
Surprise Packet: Rowan Marshall- 3 votes in Rd 4.
In what would again be pleasing to St Kilda supporters, a number of their votes have gone to younger players as their rebuild looks to finally have the club trending in the right direction. The ruck spot could have been a problem for the Saints this year though, after losing their first choice ruckman in Tom Hickey to West Coast in the off season. Fortunately though, Rowan Marshall has made the spot his own in eight games this season, as potential contenders for the role in Billy Longer and Lewis Pierce have managed just one game apiece.
After debuting in 2017, Marshall had managed just 13 games to the beginning of 2019, but after missing the Round 1 win against the Gold Coast, continuity in the side has seen him grow strongly into the role. His vote winning game came in the five point win against Hawthorn in Round 4, which I will get to in a moment, but he has also been influential in more games this season than he hasn’t.
Against Hawthorn, Marshall was a huge factor, as the Saints won the clearances 53-40. I suggested in an earlier column that Ben McEvoy may well be the third best ruckman in the comp this season, and though the former Saint in combination with Jon Ceglar won the hitouts 65-30, it was the current Saint’s work around the ground that was perhaps most impressive. He finished with 17 touches at 88%, with a goal, a goal assist, five score involvements, seven clearances and 28 hitouts in a highly commendable performance, one in which he arguably sewed up the number one ruck spot for the foreseeable future.
George Hewett (6)
Josh Kennedy (6)
Dane Rampe (4)
Ryan Clarke (2)
Zak Jones (2)
Tom Papley (2)
Sam Reid (2)
Isaac Heeney (2)
Luke Parker (1)
Leader: George Hewett- 3 votes in Rds 8 & 9.
After the emergence of James Harmes last season as a tagger who can have an impact offensively, and Hewett has grown into that mould this year, while also looking the heir apparent at this stage to Josh Kennedy as the Swans’ premier inside midfielder. While his scalps may not be as noteworthy or frequent as his cross town rival in de Boer, Hewett has been a rare positive out of a season which to this stage has been fairly lacklustre for the ordinarily successful Sydney.
In what was just their second win for the season, an important one at the time to get them back to treading water rather than drowning, Hewett was best on ground in the Round 8 game against Essendon. 11 of his 19 disposals came in the contest, while he also managed five clearances and four tackles, but it was his defensive showing that really won him the honours. The Bombers spent a mint recruiting Dylan Shiel, with the expectation being he would come to the fore in these games, and though the former Giant has been good in his side’s wins this season, he was shut out of this game by Hewett in the first three quarters. At the last break, the Bomber had just eight touches, before more than doubling that in the last when his opponent was switched to the more influential Merrett, who had just five touches in the fourth.
If that was close to as good a game played by a tagger not wearing orange and charcoal this year, his Round 9 game against the Kangaroos was arguably even better, as not only did he manage to keep the contested beast Ben Cunnington quiet, but he was also his side’s leading ball winner. The Kangaroo has averaged a tick under 29 touches this season, with shades under 17 contested possessions and eight clearances, but against the Swans Hewett managed to restrict him to 23, 12 and five respectively. Offensively, Hewett managed 29 touches, with 20 contested, along with six score involvements, nine clearances, and five tackles amid 32 pressure acts, in a performance which went a long way to ensuring his side won their third game of the season.
Josh Kennedy- 3 votes in Rds 2 & 3.
Though in the last section I called Hewett the successor to Josh Kennedy as the Swans’ big bodied presence at stoppages, that should not be taken as a suggestion that their star skipper is over the hill, and his first month of the season reminded the competition of that. In fact, in an admittedly smaller sample size, his average disposals this year are up 2.5 this year compared to last year, while most of his other stats such as clearances and contested possessions have remained largely the same.
His biggest performance of the season came in the Round 2 26 point loss to Adelaide, where his performance was of such a significant magnitude that he was named best on ground. Kennedy had 36 touches in the middle of the ground, with 16 contested, as well as game highs in clearances (eight), inside 50’s (11), goal assists (two) and score involvements (13). Despite the fact his team were outmatched on the night by a significantly more efficient Crows outfit, Kennedy’s performance was enormous and was what kept his side in the game for the most part.
He then managed to follow this up the next week against Carlton, as he went head to head with Carlton’s talismanic captain in Cripps and came up trumps in his side’s first win for the year. Kennedy won 31 disposals to Cripps’ 28, while racking up 13 contested touches, a goal from five score involvements, seven clearances, seven inside 50’s and eight tackles. Though Cripps was one of his side’s best players in that game, Kennedy’s ability to combat his ability to win the ball at the coalface meant the Swans’ outside players were at a far greater advantage than Carlton’s.
Surprise Packet: George Hewett
After waxing lyrical already about Hewett’s capacity as both a defensive and offensive midfielder, but in his fourth season in the AFL he is showing his potential to be a long term player for Sydney. Hewett hasn’t missed a game since the middle of 2016, as he becomes a more and more consistent and more and more important player in the middle of the ground. While at times the Swans can look once paced in the centre of the ground, due to the presence of Kennedy and Hewett around stoppages, John Longmire must love his appetite for the contest.
Thus far in 2019 Hewett is averaging career highs in disposals and contested possessions while nearing his career high in tackles as he takes his game to new heights as a tagger.
Shannon Hurn (7)
Elliot Yeo (7)
Luke Shuey (6)
Brad Sheppard (5)
Dom Sheed (4)
Andrew Gaff (3)
Lewis Jetta (2)
Jack Redden (1)
Leader: Shannon Hurn- 3 votes in Rds 4 & 8. 1 vote in Rd 9.
The fact that Shannon Hurn wasn’t the All Australian captain last season was frankly farcical, and if the selectors don’t rectify their mistake this season they may as well just stop naming a captain, such is this man’s influence over a side which won the flag last year and has won seven games already this season without really breaking out of a canter. Hurn has been exceptionally good for the Eagles this year, and is on track for a career best season in terms of disposals and rebound 50’s. After a relatively quiet opening fortnight, Hurn has hit his strides massively since then, averaging 28.5 disposals since Round 3.
Hurn’s first best on ground nod came in the Round 4 derby, in a game which lacked some lustre but in which the West Coast skipper won a club record equalling third Glendinning-Allan medal. His 32 disposals came at 84%, while half of those disposals came from intercept possessions as time and again he repelled opposition forays forward. Hurn also raked in eight marks, three of which were contested and six of which came from opposition kicks, while he led his team with 480 metres gained in a masterful display.
Hurn’s other best on ground performance came in Round 8 against the Saints, as he again tore an opposition side to shreds coming out of the back half. His 25 touches for the night came at 88%, while he also raked in nine marks and gained 387 metres. While he dropped off a tad after half time, his 17 first half touches were instrumental in establishing a win for his side in a game in which his side never trailed.
His other performance in the votes came in Round 9 against the Demons, in a game in which the Eagles were challenged hard but ended up finding a way to win. Though Elliot Yeo got the three votes for his performance, which I will get to later, the skipper could just as easily have been best on ground, in what may well have been his best performance of the year. Across half back, Hurn had 33 disposals, while running at an extraordinary 94% efficiency. Nine of his touches came from intercepts, six of them led to scores, while three of his 13 marks were contested. He rebounded the ball from defensive 50 seven times, with a game high 590 metres gained, as he continually drove his side forward to an important win.
Elliot Yeo- 3 votes in Rds 7 & 9. 1 vote in Rd 10
Elliot Yeo has been an All Australian in the last two years, while last year he also won a best and fairest in a premiership year. While this year probably hasn’t been to the same standard, his last month has been hugely important for his side, as he racks up tackle numbers that put even the best to shame. In the last five weeks, Yeo has had 57 tackles as he continues to provide the defensive impact that West Coast need for the likes of Gaff, Sheed and Shuey to damage offensively.
Yeo’s votes have all come in the last month, and have all in large part been products of his defensive workrate as much as his ability to damage offensively. In the Round 7 game against the Suns, in a game in which the Eagles played a half of football and then prematurely put their cue in the rack, Yeo was critically important. Though their three aforementioned midfielders had more of the ball than the former Lion’s 28, none of them had more than his 12 tackles. Additionally, he ran at 79%, with a goal, five score involvements, nine clearances, seven inside 50’s and a game high 547 metres gained.
His efforts against the Demons, as I stated above, were also enough to earn him the three votes. Others may have had more of the ball than Yeo’s 26 touches, but 18 of those came in the contest, a game high, while he also managed 16 tackles in a huge performance centred mostly on defensive intent. He did also manage seven clearances and seven inside 50’s, though, as he continued to be a jack of all trades in the middle of the ground.
His other vote came in their narrow Round 10 win over the Crows. In a game in which Shuey was hugely influential, especially in the last quarter, it was again the tackling ability of Yeo that provided the spark for the Eagles. He finished with 27 touches, including 17 contested, with eight score involvements and nine clearances, but he managed another 15 tackles in a display that was arguably every bit as important as any other player on the ground.
Surprise Packet: Brad Sheppard- 2 votes in Rds 4 & 10. 1 vote in Rd 5.
Brad Sheppard has been a tremendous servant for the Eagles since being drafted by them with Pick 7 in the 2009 draft. After tasting heartbreak in 2015, it would have been immensely gratifying for Sheppard to have tasted the ultimate glory in last season’s decider, but he missed with a hamstring injury. Of course, there are hard luck stories every time a team wins the flag, and Sheppard was not alone at the Eagles, with Gaff and Naitanui also missing out.
More than any other this year, Sheppard has looked to provide the hunger to drive the Eagles to back to back flags. Every team needs players like that, and it looks to be where the two premiers prior to West Coast have fallen down. the 164 gamer has been tremendous for his side this season though. In Round 4, in the Derby, he was considered second best on the ground to his skipper, as they create a lethal combination off half back. His 27 touches came at an impeccable 100% efficiency, while he also had 10 intercepts and 14 marks, and though he didn’t provide the drive from half back his captain did, he was also part of a defensive set up that conceded just seven goals.
In Round 10 he was again considered one of the best players on the ground matched up with Adelaide. Sheppard was at times matched up with Eddie Betts, but also managed 16 touches of his own, with eight intercepts amongst those, as well as nine marks, five rebounds and 422 metres gained in another impressive performance.
His other game in the votes came in the Round 5 loss to Port. With their opposition winning the inside 50 count 71-38, there was clearly a lot of ball to be won for a half back flanker, and Sheppard racked up 26 touches of his own, going at 81% while also having nine intercepts, eight rebounds and 568 metres gained to be his side’s best player in their only loss in Perth thus far this year.
Marcus Bontempelli (7)
Caleb Daniel (5)
Tom Liberatore (4)
Aaron Naughton (4)
Jackson Trengove (4)
Tory Dickson (3)
Josh Dunkley (2)
Bailey Smith (1)
Leader: Marcus Bontempelli- 3 votes in Rd 1. 2 votes in Rds 4 & 7.
Who else but the Bont? The future Bulldogs skipper may not have been at his absolute best this season, but when he is on there are few players more enjoyable to watch than the graceful loper that is Bontempelli. He’s averaging career high disposal numbers this season, in part a product of more minutes in midfield and less time spent up forward, though he has still managed nine goals in his 10 games this year.
His performance to open the season against the Swans was classic Bont, as he racked up disposals with ease while distributing with class. 29 disposals went at 72%, and included nine score involvements, a game high 640 metres gained, six inside 50’s, four clearances and a goal. Importantly though, he also had seven tackles as he showed he is just as interested in the defensive aspect of his game as the offensive side.
Though the Dogs haven’t had a large amount of success this season or in the seasons following their famous win, Bontempelli often manages to be influential even in losses. This was the case in Round 4 against the Pies at the G, as he was the leading disposal winner on the ground with 36, at 75% efficiency and including 16 contested touches. He also led the game for metres gained (598), clearances (eight) and inside 50’s (seven) as he was clearly his side’s most influential player as they challenged Collingwood for most of the night, even having the lead about halfway through the last.
Bontempelli’s last game in the votes came in arguably their most famous win since the Grand Final, their Round 7 victory over Richmond. In just about any other game the Dog would have been best on ground, but in this one he would have to cede to a young key forward. Nonetheless, he was absolutely superb in the middle against the Tigers. Though other Bulldogs had more of the ball than him, none were as damaging as when he had ball in hand, as he kicked three goals from 27 touches (14 contested), went at 78% on the night, and had eight score involvements, seven clearances and 496 metres gained to be the most impactful midfielder on the ground.
Surprise Packet: Aaron Naughton- 3 votes in Rd 7. 1 vote in Rd 1.
With big men in such short supply at the Whitten Oval, Luke Beveride must wish he could have about four Aaron Naughtons to plug holes all over the ground. Unfortunately for him, he only has one, but even one is a luxury no other side possesses. The young tall spent the majority of last year down back for the Dogs, and has spent time there too this season, but he looks frankly irresistible when thrown forward. He’s kicked bags of three or more three times this season, all in wins, as his development goes from strength to strength.
Few players could say their best career game came in just their 25th overall, and for most of those who could that would mean unfulfilled potential. For Aaron Naughton, if he doesn’t even get near the heights he reached in Round 7 against Richmond he could still be one of the best key forwards in the game, such was his level of aerial dominance. It is difficult to suggest what his most impressive stat was. While he did manage a bag of 5.3, with a goal assist and 11 total score involvements, and also racked up 400 metres gained, it is hard to look past the nine contested marks he took, out of 14 total, in a display that was just one off the AFL record.
Even though his performance against Richmond was freakish, it wasn’t a total fluke. In the Dogs’ Round 1 win over Sydney, Naughton was again tremendously important, sufficiently so to have earned a vote as his side got off to the best start possible. Three of his six marks were contested, while five of the six came inside 50 as he was clearly the best key forward on the ground. He also managed to kick 3.2 from 15 touches, alongside eight score involvements and 302 metres gained in what, to that stage, was probably his best performance of the season.