The Team Of The AFL Era – The Forwards

Well, things tightened up dramatically when we started discussing the midfielders. Compiling a list and team like this will no doubt satisfy absolutely no one…

… it makes me wonder what the hell I’m doing.

Alas, I will trek onwards and deal with the inevitable fallout later. For the time being, we have some forwards to discuss. You thought the mids were tough to choose? Wait til you get a load of the wrinkles in here.

We have three absolute all-time greats in the mix here, and the sad thing is, they have all spent significant amounts of time competing in the VFL. You know what that means, right? It compromises their standing in a team only recognising accomplishments from 1990 onwards. It will be interesting to see whether people can put aside the entire package of Lockett, Dunstall and Ablett and concentrate only on their contributions on the AFL era. I know I had trouble.


Here are THE MIDS

Without further ado, let’s get stuck in.



3x Coleman Medals (00, 01, 03), 1x Premiership (00), 5x All-Australian (98, 99, 00, 01, 03), 926 goals

And immediately, we throw a spanner into the works. If we’re going to give the nod to Buddy on the back of his 944 goals in 300 games, then do we have to seriously look at Lloyd’s inclusion? His 926 goals from 270 games at a higher average must be respected when considering this team.

Unlike others we’ll highlight here, all Lloyd’s goals came in the AFL Era, which has to hold some weight. I know he does not have the sentimental support of an Ablett, Lockett or Dunstall, but if we are strictly speaking about the period from 1990 onwards, Lloyd’s record is as good, or better than most.

A serious contender with a flag in tow to help his cause.


4x Coleman Medals (08, 10, 11, 12, 14), 2x Premierships (08, 13), 1x Best and Fairest (08), 8x All-Australian (08, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18), 944 goals

Recently jumped past Matty Lloyd and into seventh all-time for goals kicked in the V/AFL. He is first all-time if we drill down into only the AFL Era, which has to hold him in good stead.

Until the last 12 months, Franklin had been a freak in terms of longevity. His body has started to fail him a little, but the hope is that his first pre-season in five years may remedy this slide. If it does, Buddy could leap over the 1000-mark which will cement him not just as one of the greatest forwards in the modern game, but one of the greatest… ever.

For me, Buddy is a lock. It’s just a matter of where he lines up in this forward six.


1x Brownlow Medal (96), 2x Premierships (93, 00), Premiership Captain (00), 5x All-Australian (95, 96, 00, 01, 03), 1x Norm Smith (00), 343 Goals.

I had a few people ask why I didn’t include Hird in the midfield group, and I see their point, but he was named as an All-Australian half forward on four of the five occasions he made the team (the other time he was named on the bench). I thought it was prudent to stick with where he was judged to have played his best footy, even though there will be plenty of arguments that his best was in the middle. I guess we can’t have him in both categories.

While people love taking potshots at Hird, my memories of him are one of the best big-game players in the game. He wasn’t a real physical force, but I reckon there are plenty who would be happy if I called him a “cerebral player”. He was one of the very few who would visibly change the way he played in the wet, flying for overhead marks with flat hands to tap the ball down in front of him, where he would either complete the mark, or hit the ground running to gather.

That half forward flank is looking very appropriate for his talents, giving him the option to sneak into the midfield here and there. An amazing player.


2x Leigh Matthews MVP Awards (95, 98), 2x Premierships (96, 99), 7x All-Australian (93, 94, 95, 96, 98, 99, 00), 4x All-Australian Captain (93, 98, 99, 00), 4x Best and Fairest (92, 93, 96, 98), Premiership Captain (96, 98), 727 Goals

Like him or not, he has to be a lock at centre half-forward. Hailed as the greatest player of the modern era, no one could change a game like The King in a matter of minutes.

The thing is, if he is locked in at one of the key positions, it makes for a very tight squeeze at the other one. Who is going to be forced onto a flank, the bench or out of the team if Carey occupies CHF?

Or would you be gutsy enough to leave him out entirely? I wouldn’t. Even the edgiest of AFL supporters fishing for upvotes on reddit wouldn’t dare… would they?


6x All-Australian (02, 03, 05, 06, 07, 08), 6x Best and Fairest (02, 05, 06, 07, 08, 11), 700 Goals

We’ve all heard it, right? If Matthew Pavlich played for a Victorian team, he’d be lauded as one of the greatest players in history. Do we buy that?

Pavlich was a wonderful player in a team that struggled for the majority of his career, until they finally hit their straps… just in time for Pav to experience a bit of a decline.

Retiring with a career record of 170 wins and 183 losses, is Pav doomed to be considered a very good player on an overall average team? Or do we look at his own performances as part of that team and marvel at what he was able to produce playing in a team that could have been very poor without him?

As versatile as anyone who’s played the game, Pav has AA selections as both a defender and a forward.


1x Premiership (99), 4x All-Australian (00, 05, 07, 08), 5x Best and Fairest (03, 05, 07, 08, 10), All-Time Games Record Holder (432), 518 Goals

How much value do you place on longevity, and not just longevity, but quality production to go along with that time in the game?

It’s not as though North were carrying Harvey through the last 30 or so games of his career – he was still routinely one of the Kangaroos’ best players when he hung the boots up. I thought he could’ve gone on for another year, easily.

Like others on this list, spent a bit of time in the midfield, but did his best work running toward goal. There were plenty who maligned Harvey at times, but his record well and truly puts him in the frame here.


3x Premierships (91, 97, 98), 3x All-Australian (92, 95, 96), 1x Best and Fairest (91), 386 Goals

A bit of a left field option, and really it may be due to my bias for him (he is one of my all-time favourite players) that he gets a couple of paragraphs, but Jars was a big game/big moment player.

Bulldogs supporters… block your ears. I remember making one of my stellar calls in 1997. With the Dogs up and looking like they were going to their first Grand Final in a while, Malcolm Blight threw Darren Jarman forward. I turned to my buddy – memories of Jars’ Hawthorn finals still relatively fresh in my mind – and uttered the following. “Not sure about that… Jarman isn’t that great in finals.”

And didn’t that one come back to bite?

Jarman was a big game player who could, and would do the miraculous. He had the ball on a string and had the best version of selling the dummy I’ve ever seen. He may not get in, but I have brilliant memories of him tearing games apart, and screw it – I like writing about him.


3x Coleman Medals (93, 94, 95), 4x All-Australian (92, 93, 94, 95), AFL Team of the Year 1990, 1x Leigh Matthews MVP Award (93), AFL Team of the Century, 619 Goals

And we get into the nitty gritty… Gaz Snr has only eight years for us to assess him on. He started in 1982, but everything prior to 1990 cannot be included. Despite three consecutive Coleman Medals (consider the competition for the award at the time) has he done enough in the AFL Era to warrant a place?

What could sway you? Imagine the 1989 Finals Series were part of the equation? He’d almost get in on that alone, but instead we must focus on what he was able to do after it. Is 14.7 against the Tigers enough to sway you? How about 14.5 against the Swans? Or three tons in a row?

Gary Ablett is an all-time great, and many believe he is the greatest natural talent to ever lace boots up, but is half his career enough to get him into the team of the AFL Era?


3x Coleman Medals (91, 96, 98), 5x All-Australian (91, 92, 95, 96, 98), 2x Best and Fairest (91, 95), AFL Legend Status, 784 Goals

As if dicing up Ablett’s career wasn’t tough enough… we now have to do the same to Plugger.

Lockett’s impressive five AA berths in the AFL Era push him ahead of both Ablett and Dunstall, yet still leave him lagging behind blokes like Franklin, Pavlich and Carey. Again, we must consider the quality of the opposition that he beat out for his three AFL Era Coleman medals, as this was truly a golden age for full forwards.

With 1360 total goals to his name, 576 goals have to be stricken from the record when assessing his AFL tenure. Is that too much of a detraction for him to get in?


1x Premiership (91), 1x Coleman Medal (92), 1x Leigh Matthews MVP Award (92), 2x All-Australian (92, 94), 2x Best and Fairest (92, 93), 777 Goals

Wow, this one shocked me a bit. Dunstall won just one Coleman in the AFL Era. It was a huge year, with 145 goals to his name, but with Lockett, Ablett and even Modra (sneaking in for one) taking Coleman Medals home early in the official life of the AFL, someone had to be left out, and it turns out its Dunstall.

Still, he and Gary Ablett are the only full forwards who can lay claim to a Leigh Matthews MVP Award since 1990, and Dunstall was lauded just as much for his unselfishness as he was for kicking goals himself. I’d love to know how many goal assists he had.

So if you’ve got to choose one of the big three to go in, who do you choose? Or do you have all three in at the expense of those who came later? It’s a tough one, but for mine, losing much of their career in what was the VFL… it hurts their chances.


3x All-Australian (96, 99, 08), 1x Best and Fairest (07), 800 Goals

If only he could have kicked straight from 30 metres out… we might be talking about Richo as a lock for this team.

How do you remember Richo? Is it for the powerful contested marks (he has six of the top ten contested marking games in history), or is it for the season where he started to play a little more from the wing, almost netting him a Brownlow?

800 goals is hard to look past, particularly when you take into account that they all came in the AFL Era, but when looking at Richo, I suppose you can do so in one of two ways. Was he fiercely loyal in staying with a team going nowhere at the time? Or is he simply a good stats/bad team performer who was unable to help his team reach the levels they should?

I oscillate between the two, but I also have the memories of the petulant, pouting Richo that clouds my view a little. I’ll have to think long and hard about his inclusion. Maybe you’re of a different opinion?


1x Brownlow (01), 3x Premierships (01, 02, 03), 4x All-Australian (99, 01, 02, 04), 2x Best and Fairest (99, 05), 421 Goals

A few people mentioned he should have been listed as a midfielder, but my greatest memories of Aker are as a devastating forward weapon. Well, he was named at half forward in one of his AA selections, and though that means very little in the grand scheme of things, I’m holding onto it.

I’m not sure there was a better sight in footy than seeing Aker on the run with the goals in sight. Perfect balance, tremendous confidence in his ability, and the belief to be able to do it on the biggest stage… breathtaking. Simon Black may have taken home the 2003 Norm Smith, but Aker’s five goals tore the heart out of the Pies…

… just like one of his goals did the year before.

He is a hard man to ignore, and such will be a difficult presence to keep out of this line up.


6x Best and Fairest (02, 04, 06, 07, 09, 14), 5x All-Australian (04, 06, 08, 09, 14), 1x Leigh Matthews MVP Award (04), 718 Goals

A picture of consistency, Riewoldt’s running game revolutionised the way tall forwards played the game. Although Matthew Richardson was a true mobile forward, and Chris Tarrant was able to employ the tactic as well, no one was able to run their man into the ground and still deliver like Riewoldt. He was revolutionary.

But is that enough? Does his inability to drag his team over the line in the biggest game of the season damage his claims on a spot in this team? Riewoldt was an incredible presence, and the key to St Kilda’s rise to relevant power in the late 2000s, but how much differently would he be viewed had he stood on the dais on the last Saturday in September and held the cup aloft?


3x Best and Fairest (99, 02, 06), 6x All-Australian (99, 00, 02, 05, 06, 07), All-Australian Captain (06), 558 Goals

A sneaky pick, but a quality career topped by an All-Australian captaincy selection, Johnno’s career probably doesn’t get the plaudits it deserves. As a forward pocket, you could do a lot worse than him as a selection. Had a career-high of eight goals once but was a very consistent forward line performer in the second half of his career.

With a knack for pulling miraculous goals out of nowhere, Johnson has a place as one of the best Bulldogs of all time.


1x Premiership (04), 4x Best and Fairest (01, 04, 05, 09), 4x All-Australian (01, 02, 03, 04), 549 Goals

At one point in the early 2000s, Tredrea was the most consistent forward in the game. With Port Adelaide at the peak of their powers (pardon the pun), Tredders averaged 2.52, 3.24 and 2.71 goals in consecutive years.

An amazing physical specimen, Tredrea notched 81 goals, playing between full forward and centre half forward in the 2004 premiership year, and is too often overlooked when the best players of the AFL Era are discussed.


1x Coleman Medal (97), 2x All-Australian (93, 97), 588 Goals

In a group of full forwards consisting of Ablett, Dunstall and Lockett, Tony Modra burst onto the scene in the wake of an injury to Scott Hodges and never looked back.

With a highlight reel to rival the best of the best, Modra become a hero in South Australia. Sadly, injury robbed him of the chance to perform in a Grand Final, but his 129 goals in just his second season speak of just how good he was.


1x Coleman Medal (07), 3x Premierships (01, 02, 03), 2x All-Australian (07, 09), 3x Best and Fairest (07, 08, 09), 3x Most Courageous Player (07, 08,11), 594 Goals

If this were being judged on courage, you’d pencil Browny in immediately. As it stands, he is in contention for a spot against Wayne Carey, Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Richardson. Where does he have the edge over them? Those three most courageous awards and a Coleman are something that holds him in good stead, but is it enough for him to force his way into the team?

Browny is the kind of player you’d love playing alongside you. You know he’d have your back, and you know that if there was a space to protect, Browny would have his body in there, whether it was to your benefit, or to his detriment.


3x Coleman Medals (10,12, 18), 2x Premierships (17, 19), 3x All-Australian (10, 15, 18), 2x Best and Fairest (10, 18), 631 Goals.

An incomplete career to this stage, we could see Riewoldt joining the 700-goal club when all is said and done (injury permitting) and if that happens, we could have our hands forced in terms of recognising just how good Riewoldt has been for so long.

It will be interesting to see what long-term impact the acquisition of Tom Lynch has on the Riewoldt legacy. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind trading the chance of another Coleman to have 3x or 4x next to the number of premierships he’s won…

700+ goals and three or four flags… now we’re starting to get into the territory where his name has to be considered. As it stands right now, he is a level below, for mine.


2x Coleman Medals (15, 16), 1x Premiership (18), 3x All-Australian (15, 16, 17), 611 Goals

So, Eagles won the Judd trade, right? I think now, with the benefit of A LOT of hindsight, we can safely state that. Over the last seven seasons we’ve seen Kennedy have a low of 43 goals for the year (in an injury-riddled 2018) but he has been ultra-consistent for the Eagles.

Had back-to-back 80+ goal years in 2015/16 and at 32 years old, still commands the best defender on any given week. As much as I like JK, I reckon he’s a Coleman away from seriously challenging for a spot in this team… or maybe a Norm Smith Medal. With the Eagles looking like a contender again in 2020, that one may be a little bit more realistic.

For now, however, he remains on the fringe.

Righto, so who makes it? Is the stat-split of Dunstall, Lockett and Ablett enough to keep them out? Can you ignore 900+ goals from Buddy and Matthew Lloyd? And who sneaks into the forward pockets? Should I have thrown Eddie Betts into the mix? Sav Rocca? Barry Hall? Fev? Alastair Lynch? Hawkins? Longmire?

If the mids were tough, this one is an absolute killer. I look forward to hearing your opinions.

And hey, if you want to support our site, please consider becoming a patron. For $4.50 per month you get a heap of additional content and help us grow… or you could be one of THOSE people who reply with “what, you’re not giving everything away for free?” Those people are awesome.

Like this? Become a patron of The Mongrel and get a whole heap more. Plus, I really appreciate the support