With just one round remaining, and the All Australian awards just eight days away, let’s take an early look at who’s in, who’s unlucky to miss out, and who’s around the mark.
Here is how I see the team shaping up:
Full back: Jeremy Howe Alex Rance Dylan Roberton
Half back: Rory Laird Michael Hurley Sam Docherty
Centre: Josh Kelly Dustin Martin Zach Merrett
Half forward: Robbie Gray Lance Franklin Marcus Bontempelli
Full forward: Eddie Betts Joe Daniher Josh Kennedy
Followers: Sam Jacobs Patrick Dangerfield Tom Mitchell
Bench: Matt Crouch Clayton Oliver Rory Sloane Dayne Zorko
Alex Rance, Patrick Dangerfield, Dustin Martin and Tom Mitchell will have no issues at all.
Rance is the best defender in the AFL, while Dangerfield and Martin are a class above any other midfielder. Mitchell is having a historic season in terms of disposals, and it would be maddening for him to miss out.
Who should make it?
Rory Laird had a terrific season last yearm, just missing out on a first appearance in the team. But this year he has taken his game to a new level, ranked third in the AFL in disposals.
Michael Hurley has been terrific for the Bombers, especially in the backend of the season. His ball-winning ability as a key defender is second to none, and with Jake Lever slowing down in the second half of the year, he should be a lock.
Josh Kelly is winning the ball on the inside and out, kicking goals, applying tackling pressure, and will probably earn a multi-million dollar deal in the off-season. Buddy Franklin has been the most dominant forward in the game – despite currently sitting third in the Coleman Medal race. He has had by far the most shots on goal, and has acted as a link-up between defence and attack as well.
Sam Docherty has continued on from his best-and-fairest form of 2016, winning a lot of the ball and using it effectively, and comfortably leading the AFL in marks.
Second in that category is Jeremy Howe, who is having a career-best year in Collingwood’s back six and should be in line for his first appearance in the team.
West Coast’s Josh Kennedy is leading the Coleman Medal race, looking to claim his third in a row, despite missing five games through injury.
Lastly, Robbie Gray has excelled for the Power in 2017, despite playing sore for much of the year. He is a crucial part of their team, and shows his class when thrown into the midfield on occasion.
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On the edge
Adelaide’s quartet of Eddie Betts, Rory Sloane, Matt Crouch and Sam Jacobs are all strong possibilities. The ruck position is as open as it has been in a long time, with Jacobs, Paddy Ryder, Shane Mumford, Brodie Grundy and Ben McEvoy all in contention. Jacobs leads the AFL in hitouts, and appears the favourite at this point.
Sloane, despite having a number of sub-par games through the middle of the year, has had a fabulous season, leading the league in tackling. He should get the nod alongside teammate Crouch, who has had 30-plus disposals on 15 occasions, and ranks second in the AFL in disposals.
Betts has slowed down as the season has gone on, but is still arguably the best small forward in the game, and playing for the ladder-leading Crows should work in his favour.
Dylan Roberton has been quietly terrific all season, providing great run off of half back for the Saints. Zach Merrett strangely missed out on the squad of 40 last season, so whether he makes the cut will be interesting. He started the season strongly, but has tapered off since. He is also in contention to claim his second consecutive best and fairest award.
Joe Daniher has not been named in the squad of 40 yet in his young career, which means there is a slight chance he will be left out for a more seasoned campaigner. He does rank second in the league in goals kicked, however, and should make the team.
Clayton Oliver has lifted his game to a new level in his second season, ranking sixth in the league in disposals. Similarly to Daniher and Merrett, he is at risk of being left off in place of a more experienced campaigner.
Dayne Zorko has had a terrific season for the lowly Lions – he would undoubtedly receive more media attention if he played for a Melbourne-based club – but regardless deserves a spot in the team.
Lastly, Marcus Bontempelli is the most questionable player I have put in the team, having been below his usual standard at times, and his side most likely will not play finals. He figures to be a 50-50 shot to earn his second consecutive All Australian guernsey.
Elliot Yeo made a terrific start to the year, but has tapered off since. Yeo has been a key member of the Eagles defence, but, along with Melbourne’s Michael Hibbard, will probably be unlucky to miss.
Ben Brown figures as the only other key forward with a chance at making the team, currently ranked fourth in the Coleman Medal race, but he will be at a disadvantage due to playing for the struggling Kangaroos.
Seb Ross is also a huge chance, ranked fourth in the league in disposals, in what has been his best season yet.
Taylor Adams ranks third in fantasy points, but is a level below the game’s elite midfielders and is unlikely to make the team.
Andrew Gaff, Luke Parker and Sydney’s Josh Kennedy are also in the conversation, but it would be a surprise to see their name up on the screen next Wednesday night.