As Nic Martin kicked his fifth goal in the opening round of the 2022 season, he must have been wondering how easy this AFL caper would turn out to be. Just three disposals short of joining the Elite 30-5 on debut, Martin scored career-high numbers in his first game in the league.
But reality soon hit him, and his Bombers hard.
Martin would not get close to having 30 touches in a game again in 2022, nor would he kick any more than two goals in a game. The 30-5 Club remained elusive for him… and everyone else in 2022.
The AFL has seemingly experienced a golden age of mids that can go forward and hit the scoreboard.
That’s what they tell us, right? Bont, Danger, Dusty, Stringer, Fyfe… they can all go from the middle to the forward fifty and take over a game, but how often have they put it all together to create the perfect game?
Ah yes… the perfect game – it is only in the eye of the beholder that you can truly claim someone has played the perfect game of footy. This is not bowling, where 12 strikes gets you a score of 300, or gymnastics, where your floor routine gets scores of ten across the board. It’s not even like basketball, where you can have a game where you don’t miss a shot and don’t have a turnover (check out the maligned Christian Laettner’s game in the 1992 NCAA tournament where he went 10-10 from the field, 10-10 from the line and hit the game-winner as time ran out – pretty much a perfect game of basketball and if he wasn’t such a hated player, people would talk about it a hell of a lot more).
No, unlike those sports, footy is a game that is largely assessed on impact at points in games, and overall numbers to back it up. It is difficult to say someone played a perfect game considering how many little actions and events would have to go absolutely right in order for it to be considered so.
Given that, what would the criteria be for a mid/forward to obtain a “perfect game”? What would those numbers look like, and how would they impact the game?
After perusing stats like some sort of overly-committed Champion Data employee, I came to the conclusion that 30 touches and five goals in a single game would be a feat that few have accomplished. It would translate to a player having a dominant impact both through the guts and inside 50. However, as I continued to peruse the numbers, it became more apparent that it was just as good at isolating iconic games from pure forwards as it was combination mid/forwards.
While we celebrate the modern hybrid mid/forwards and their ability to play dual roles, the number of players in recent history to hit this mark have been few and far between.
Jeremy Cameron torched the Tigers in 2019 for 30 touches and seven goals as he used his superior tank to get on his bike and kill his opponents as he doubled back to goal.
The next best is Robbie Gray, who hit the marks in 2017, with 30 disposals and six goals. Michael Walters also provided us with something special that season, notching 32 touches and six goals against the Saints in Round 15. Jack Billings the third man of the 2017 season to hit the necessary markers, notching 30 touches and five goals against the Blues in Round Eight, and prior to that, it was Patrick Dangerfield in 2014, gathering 33 touches and slotting five goals for the Crows against GWS. Hell, he even spent some time launching at the footy as the third man up in ruck contests, notching four hitouts.
Then we have to go back to 2011 and the peak of Steve Johnson to see another player top this mark.
What, no Dusty? Nope, he hasn’t had this combination. No Fyfe? I hate to break it to you, but he has never kicked five goals in a game. Bont? Same as Fyfe. Petracca? Nup, four goals is his best as well.
So, whilst we have these excellent hybrid players in the game at the moment, we have to dive into the history books to uncover those who elevated their games to scale this mountain.
And I love doing that.
Let’s start with the blokes who managed it once.
BOB SKILTON – ROUND 1, 1968. 42 touches and seven goals in a WIN
Skilts is probably a bit stiff, as there are only official records kept for disposals in a single game after 1964. When you consider he was playing on-ball, and notched 5+ goals on 15 occasions prior to that, he’d probably be up there near the top of the list if disposal stats were recorded for the duration of his career.
WAYNE JOHNSTON – ROUND 1, 1984. 43 touches and five goals in a WIN
They didn’t call him “The Dominator” due to his efforts in the B&D community… or maybe they did – I don’t know what he got up to in his private life.
Known for his huge efforts in finals, Johnston was a monster to deal with and this outing would be one of his absolute best.
ROD ASHMAN – ROUND 14, 1984. 30 disposals and six goals in a WIN
One of the best rovers of his time, Ashman is often left out of the conversation when the greats of the game are discussed, but his ability to hit the scoreboard used to drive me nuts as a young fella who genuinely feared my team playing against the Blues sides of the early 80s.
WAYNE CAREY – ROUND 17, 1996. 31 disposals and 11 goals in a WIN
The King recorded 31 touches and 11 goals as North Melbourne whacked the Dees by a whopping 113 points. He also dragged in 15 marks to lead his team on their merry way to the premiership.
This was probably Carey’s most complete game in terms of dominating both in the air and on the deck.
MATTHEW LLOYD – ROUND 19, 1996. 30 touches and seven goals in a WIN.
Not to be outdone, it was just three weeks later that Matthew Lloyd emulated the feats of Carey, collecting 30 touches and seven goals playing deep forward and leading up between half forward and wing.
Is there any doubt that Lloyd should have been the next in line to kick 1000 goals in the game? Geez, Matty Knights’ appointment at Essendon really screwed him over.
ANTHONY KOUTOUFIDES – ROUND 11, 2001. 38 disposals and five goals in a WIN
The man who could do anything DID do anything against the Kangaroos, notching five snags in another in a long line of incredible performances.
MARK RICCIUTO – ROUND 20, 2001. 35 disposals and five goals in a WIN.
Five years between drinks until Roo unleashed against North Melbourne. His 35 disposals and five goals gave the Roos fits as his Crows ran out winners by ten goals.
JASON AKERMANIS – ROUND ROUND 13, 2005. 35 touches and five goals in a WIN.
After the period of dominance of the Lions, Aker was still a force to be reckoned with. Playing more forward than midfield at points, the soon-to-be ex-Lion opened up on the Cats with one of his greatest games.
He collected 35 touches and five goals as the Lions won by 69 points.
MATTHEW PAVLICH – ROUND 19, 2007. 30 touches and six goals in a WIN.
Pav could literally do it all – an All-Australian in both attack and defence, his monster game saw him record 30 touches and six goals against the Bombers.
He’d go onto kick 72 goals that season with nine bags of 4+ to his name.
MICHAEL TUCK – ROUND 21, 1983 – 31 touches and six goals in a WIN
I reckon people forget just how good Tuck was. Yes, we all remember the flags and his wiry old body and bearded mug standing with premiership cups, but at his peak, Tuck was an unbelievably gifted running machine.
BRIAN WILSON – ROUND 10, 1988 – 32 touches and five goals in a WIN
A Brownlow Medallist who is not often spoken about, Wilson became much of an enigma, capable of doing the extraordinary. I remember seeing him as a North player in the early 80s, but his best footy came as a Demon.
ADAM COONEY – ROUND 20, 2006 – 33 touches and five goals in a WIN
Cooney’s five snags dragged the Dogs home against the Crows with a clear best-on-ground performance. These days, Coons is viewed more as an affable lad, but he was a serious player – Brownlow Medals don’t just happen… unless you’re Shane Woewodin, I guess.
DAYNE BEAMS – ROUND 11, 2018 – 32 touches and five goals in a LOSS
The only time Beams snagged five in his career, and look what happened! He played a lone hand for the Lions, who were obliterated by the Kangaroos to the tune of 54 points. One wonders what the margin could have been had it not been for the efforts of Beams?
ROBBIE GRAY – ROUND 2, 2017 – 30 touches and six goals in a WIN
No list of freakish players is complete without the Port Adelaide great. Gray has been known as one of the best forward/mids in the game for ten years, and this game was one of his absolute best, combining the forward craft he is famous for with elite ball-winning in the middle.
ROBERT WILEY – ROUND 3, 1982. 33 touches and seven goals in a WIN
If you don’t know much about this guy, you should really learn. Wiley was a monster for the Tigers in their early 80s run, with some of his games returning astounding numbers. This was one of the best of them.
DANE SWAN – ROUND 18, 2012. 37 touches and five goals in a WIN
Renowned for the patented 25 chip kick and follow up disposal, Swan’s only five-goal game of his career was accompanied by 37 touches in typical Dane Swan fashion.
MICHAEL WALTERS – ROUND 15, 2017. 32 touches and six goals in a LOSS
Oh Freo… you had to go spoil the win-streak, didn’t you? You get a monster game like this from Walters and squander it in a nine-point loss to St Kilda.
It was a career-best game for Walters, who put it all together for one day and has not threatened the mark since.
JACK BILLINGS – ROUND 8, 2017. 30 touches and five goals in a WIN
I did not expect this, and had it pointed out to me by a reader. Billings always struck me as an “almost” kind of player, but he put it all together in this one and tore the Blues apart.
And now, the blokes who did it twice
WAYNE RICHARDSON (check out this pair of games!)
ROUND 22, 1970. 47 disposals and five goals in a WIN
ROUND 11, 1971. 45 disposals and five goals in a WIN
He was before my time, but from everyone I have spoken to, Richardson was a ball magnet, and with the ability to head forward and hit the scoreboard, was a weapon for the Pies. His 1971 season saw him average over 32 touches per game, and he had five or more goals on five occasions in his career.
ROUND 7, 1985 – 30 touches and five goals in a WIN
ROUND 13, 1986 – 30 touches and seven goals in a WIN
Another vastly under-appreciated small man, Royal (in my memory at least) was this nuggetty little midfielder that would rest in the forward pocket and torch teams with his clean hands and good decision-making. Later in his career, he spent three seasons as a permanent small forward, averaging over two goals per game in those years.
That would make him a true elite in the modern game.
ROUND 6, 1974. 36 touches and six goals in a WIN
ROUND 1, 1978. 32 touches, six goals in a LOSS!
Yep, you read that right. The Lions had a player notching those types of numbers and still lost. Far out, Fitzroy…
Wilson was prolific in his day, stretching from the 70s into the 80s. I remember vividly his hip and shoulder on Jimmy Jess… that was incredible, but with dozens of games with 30+ disposals and 10+ occasions with 5+ goals, it is no surprise that he slots in here.
ROUND 15, 1971. 35 touches and seven goals in a WIN (he also kicked eight behinds that day)
ROUND 16, 1981. 34 touches and six goals in a WIN
Two massive games, ten years apart for two different teams in two very different roles, Quinlan was a true star of the game for the Dogs and Lions. My memories of him are more of his prodigious kicking at goal as a Lion, which saw him win a Brownlow and a Coleman.
ROUND 21, 1991. 32 touches and five goals in a WIN
ROUND 12, 1993. 30 touches and seven goals in a WIN
Is it fair to say that if Paul Hudson had a second name like… let’s say Meyers, he’d be remembered a lot more fondly than he is? I mean, it’s a pretty good name – people like it.
Hudson was absolutely robbed of an All-Australian selection in 1991. Kicking 60+ goals whilst averaging over 20 touches per game, he was beaten out by Garry Hocking and Tony Francis for a spot in the team. Francis averaged 0.7 goals per game. Hocking was probably more qualified, with over a goal per game.
ROUND 19, 2011. 34 touches and seven goals in a WIN
ROUND 20, 2011. 31 and six goals in a WIN
Nice little fortnight for Stevie J. Not sure there has ever been back-to-back games this complete. Was this his peak? Whilst he had huge games in finals and has the Norm Smith Medal to prove it, having 65 touches and 13 goals in two weeks is the type of output you’d expect playing a video game.
ROUND 16, 1987. 31 touches and five goals in a WIN
QUALIFYING FINAL, 1987. 32 touches and five goals in a WIN
Pretty handy finals series for Bucky, when you think of it. Had this massive QF and followed it up with the kick after the siren to sunk the Dees in the Prelim.
Then we have the three-time mountain climbers.
GARY ABLETT SENIOR
ROUND 15, 1984. 30 touches and five goals in a WIN
ROUND 9, 1989. 30 touches and 14 goals in a WIN
ROUND 4, 1992. 36 touches and five goals in a WIN
How ridiculous is that Round 9, 1989 game from Gaz? He used to love beating up on the Tigers more than any other team.
Amazingly, a couple of his more famous outings didn’t make the cut here – his 14 goal game in a losing side against Essendon was a bit short on disposals.
ROUND 19, 1989. 53 touches and six goals in a WIN
ROUND 8, 1991. 37 touches and five goals in a WIN
GRAND FINAL 1995. 31 touches and five goals in a WIN
What’d you expect from Diesel?
The highest number of disposals whilst kicking five goals and a 31/5 game in a Grand Final. Williams may have been stocky and slow, but there is simply no replacing footy smarts, and he had them in a bucketload.
And the four-timer
ROUND 10, 1974. 32 touches and six goals in a WIN
ROUND 9, 1977. 34 touches and six goals in a WIN
ROUND 22, 1977. 33 touches and five goals in a WIN
ROUND 22, 1978. 32 touches and six goals in a WIN
Many have forgotten just how good Kevin Bartlett was. Life after footy can diminish just how great a players was, and I reckon this may be the case with KB, however, there can be no disputing his record. One of the greatest finals players of all time, he was capable of tearing teams apart.
An elite runner, incredibly elusive, and a player that was probably more intelligent, footy-wise, than most around him, he played the game at another level.
And finally, there is Leigh Matthews. Just the lazy ELEVEN occasions with 30+ disposals and 5+ goals for Lethal Leigh.
ROUND 2, 1973. 41 disposals and 11 goals in a WIN
QUALIFYING FINAL, 1976. 33 disposals and seven goals in a WIN (also kicked six behinds)
ROUND 11, 1977. 37 touches and five goals in a WIN
ROUND 15, 1977. 38 touches and seven goals in a WIN
ROUND 18, 1977. 37 disposals and seven goals in a WIN
ROUND 21, 1977. 33 disposals and seven goals in a WIN
ROUND 22, 1977. 30 touches and six goals in a WIN
ROUND 13, 1978. 32 touches and six goals in a WIN
ROUND 14, 1980. 34 touches and five goals in a WIN
ROUND 12, 1982. 33 touches and five goals in a WIN
ROUND 14, 1984. 37 touches and five goals in a WIN
Leigh Matthews is the Wilt Chamberlain of the Aussie Rules when it comes to outrageous stats. In an era where players weren’t averaging 30+ disposals on every single team, to do what he was doing is almost unconscionable. Look at his 1977 for starters – five times he did this. And then, at 32 years old, he did it for the last time in 1984.
He is also one of just three men able to deliver this type of performance in a final, which (as though he needed it) elevates him even further in terms of his legend.
When someone screws up their face at the notion that Matthews was the best player to ever play this game, this is just a bit of ammunition you can throw at them. Three times better than the amazing Gary Ablett and two and a half times better than KB in this stat is almost ridiculous, but then again, the career of Matthews was ridiculous in and of itself. What a player.
Interestingly, if there were a 40/5 club, it would contain the following players – Bob Skilton, Greg Williams, Wayne Johnston, Wayne Richardson (x2), and Leigh Matthews.
And if there were a 30/10 club, Wayne Carey, Gary Ablett and Leigh Matthews would be the only players in it.
And how about if there was a 40/10 club? Only one man makes the cut – you guessed it; Leigh Matthews.
How about a 50/5 club? Just one man has that to his name, too – Diesel Williams.
And finally, wanna know something cool? All of these performances bar three came in wins. Yep, when you get a player dominating like this, it’s pretty difficult to lose.
Except for three teams. Poor old Garry Wilson – imagine having 32 touches, kicking six and having your team go down? Ditto for Michael Walters. At least Wilson notched another game where he hit this mark – Walters’ effort was wasted. And Beams… well, the Lions were a rabble at that point, and prior to him being traded back to the Pies (great deal, that one) Beams played some amazing footy in Brisbane.