Only one round left in the home-and-away season, the top four is set as predicted three months ago, and it’s time to think about our All-Australian team.
Such an exercise is never easy, keeping everyone pleased impossible, so hopefully it will inspire some Roaring debate!
The old saying is that defence wins premierships, so that’s where we start. Our backmen all represent clubs that are ranked in the top six for points against.
Geelong’s Harry Taylor, a 2010 All-Australian, holds down centre-half back, with Scott Thompson from North Melbourne the other key defender in the full back post.
Taylor has been one of the premier tall defenders over the last four or five years, even accounting for his 2008 debut as a 21-year-old. Thompson pushed his way into the elite bracket last season, and consolidated it in 2013.
Not only do these two beat their man more often than not, they provide great defensive run, each leading their club for rebound 50s, and ranked first and second respectively for marks.
In a season becoming renowned for the ‘swingman’, Taylor can also fill this role.
The third tall is Josh Gibson, who has been incredibly stiff to not find himself with an All-Australian guernsey in his time at Hawthorn. The best spoiler in the game, he holds the Hawthorn defence together with his ability to read the play and repel opposition attacks.
The rebounding half-back flanks are both Swans, Nick Malceski and Jarrad McVeigh.
Malceski has rebounded from multiple knee reconstructions in his career, topping it off with a match-winning grand final performance last year and using that as impetus for an excellent season. He averages a full two more rebound 50′s per game than any other player in the league, and his 171 is 64 more than anyone else.
McVeigh has been one of the most consistent players in the league for years, and seldom gets much credit, a situation which has changed in 2013. Mixing plenty of time at half back with stints in the middle, he’s in the top handful of decision makers in the league, and Sydney fans are never more comfortable than when he has the ball in hand.
A third Swan, Nick Smith, just gets squeezed out of the specialist defensive small defender position, to be held by Steven Morris from the Tigers.
Morris is the epitome of the expression ‘hard as a cats head’, fearlessly throwing his body into every contest. You get the impression he would refuse to be beaten in a game of hopscotch with a six year old girl, let alone on the football field against the best small forwards in the competition. He’s outpointed them all this season.
Andrew Walker and Alex Rance are the most unlucky defenders to not make the side.
Ironically, the best defensive team, Fremantle, isn’t represented in the back six. Ross Lyon hates relying on individuals and would be pleased, such is the effectiveness of their full ground press and even playing group.
The midfield is full of the usual glittering array of stars, headlined by the well-known likes of Gary Ablett, Scott Pendlebury, Jobe Watson and Joel Selwood. These four are arguably the best four mids in the AFL, and their selection needs no explanation.
Complementing them in the precious six midfield spots are a pair of Western Bulldogs, Will Minson in the ruck, and Ryan Griffen on a wing.
Griffen has been an elite player ever since his exceptional 2010 finals series, but found it within himself to find another level this year. He might rank behind only Ablett as the most genuine game-breaker in the AFL.
Minson has also had a stellar season, a key reason for the resurgence of the Bulldogs, hand-feeding their up-and-coming midfield with superior tapwork. He’s also won more than his share of clearances himself, ranked a clear number one of all ruckman.
The forward line was possibly the toughest to fill, with at least a dozen worthy candidates for the six positions.
Nick Riewoldt is our centre-half forward, with Travis Cloke in the full-forward position.
Riewoldt has had an amazing year as the only forward in a poor side, doing the donkey work up the field as well as providing a solo target inside fifty. He hasn’t won All-Australian selection since 2009, but his 2013 has been all but the equal of any season he’s produced.
Travis Cloke is still underrated, perhaps a price he pays for being a monolith of a man. Second in the race for the Coleman Medal with 61 goals from his twenty matches, he leads all the key marking stats in the league, and has the most inside 50s of the top twenty goal-kickers to boot. Being such a beast, his work rate is as underestimated as his power is recognised.
Jarryd Roughead, the front-runner for the Coleman heading into the last round, is the third tall forward and can fill in as relief ruckman, albeit playing the latter role less for the Hawks this year.
A powerful presence up forward, this has been his most complete season in the role. Still only 26 with 180 games under his belt, he’ll play 300 before his career is through.
Jeremy Cameron is incredibly unlucky to miss out, but will probably be the AA centre-half forward for the next decade, and Josh Kennedy was just pipped by Cloke.
Keiran Jack is one half-forward flanker, while a 19 year old second year player is the other, Port’s Chad Wingard.
Jack, the perfect combination of toughness, speed and skill, leads the AFL in inside 50s, is second for tackles, and has averaged 25 disposals and a goal a game. He keeps getting better, and this season has been his best.
Wingard has been a revelation as a genuine midfielder and forward, depending on rotations within the Port side. A match-winner in either area of the ground, as capable in the air as below his knees, he’s kicked multiple goals in nine of the Power’s victories, and is pivotal in any of his sides forward thrusts.
Lindsay Thomas is the specialist forward pocket, 50 goals from this position is always a feat worthy of note.
Renowned for his yips in front of the big sticks two seasons ago, at one stage kicking 3.18 over three match stretch, he has become the most dangerous small goal-kicker in the game, even considering a quiet last month.
Stephen Motlop, Richard Douglas, Luke Bruest and Michael Walters were each considered, and can consider themselves unlucky to miss out. All would be worthy All-Australians this season.
The bench positions in this side go to Dane Swan, Sam Mitchell, Travis Boak and Ryan Crowley.
Swan continues to impact games through hard running and weight of possession, while Mitchell is the best either foot and hand player in the game. Boak has been a revelation as captain in driving Port all the way to the finals, just as comfortable on the inside and outside.
Seldom is a genuine tagger given consideration in representative sides, but Ryan Crowley’s domination of the best players in the game must be recognised. They must take a few deep breaths when they see him coming their way, knowing they’re in for the toughest day at the office imaginable.
2013 All-Australian team
B: S.Morris (Rich) S.Thompson (NM) J.Gibson (Haw)
HB: J.McVeigh (Syd) H.Taylor (Geel) N.Malceski (Syd)
C: R.Griffen (WB) J.Watson (Ess) J.Selwood (Geel)
HF: K.Jack (Syd) N.Riewoldt (StK) C.Wingard (Port)
F: L.Thomas (NM) T.Cloke (Coll) J.Roughead (Haw)
R: W.Minson (WB) S.Pendlebury (Coll) G.Ablett (GC)
Int: D.Swan (Coll) S.Mitchell (Haw) T.Boak (Port) R.Crowley (Frem)