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The six most powerful AFL players of the past 18 years: Part 2

Lance Franklin might benefit from the new rules. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Expert
19th October, 2017
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9878 Reads

Concluding our two-part series on the AFL’s most powerful athletes of the past 18 years, today we look at three more superstars, one recently departed.

Bookending the recent retiree are the two best players in the game. Powerful athleticism does not always equate to football brilliance, but the correlation is strong, and numbers one and three on this list demonstrate its strength every week.

Once again, NRL coach Rohan Smith has included his special insight on each player selected. Here we go.

3. Patrick Dangerfield

Jay: Power doesn’t solely equate to physical strength, although Patrick Dangerfield isn’t short of that. Dangerfield’s immense power comes from his inhuman ability to generate momentum.

Mass x Acceleration = Patrick.

Dangerfield’s closest facsimile is Chris Judd, a player who was, naturally, strongly considered for this list. But there is something so graceful about Judd, so lean, with his darting strides, agility and change of direction. He was a powerful athlete, but to the viewer’s eye, his gazelle-like elegance had a habit of overwhelming the powerfulness.

Dangerfield, on the other hand, embodies Judd’s power and takes it to the next level.

Where Judd sprinted, Dangerfield burrows. Judd ran tall and upright, Danger hunches as he accelerates. He is a fireball in human footballer form, stadiums his scorched earth.

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He picks up pace more quickly than anyone, and once he’s in full stride he straddles the worlds of untouchable and unstoppable. His pace has a wonderful violence to it as well. Judd ran past and around people – Danger runs through them.

There’s also a certain endearing roughness to Dangerfield’s game. He acts Hollywood on the field, with the oh-so expressionless goal celebrations, the casual movements, the brazen taunting of opponents, but he’s got plenty of Juarez in the way he plays. He is ferocious, unafraid of getting hurt, crashing into humans with reckless abandon.

Power becomes even more powerful when it’s desperate to impose itself without limitations or reservations.

Patrick Dangerfield Geelong Cats AFL 2016

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

In leaving Adelaide to join Geelong, Dangerfield has combined with Joel Selwood to create the most limitless midfield duo in the game. The force they play with every game, every stoppage, every moment, is captivating and mandatory viewing.

The Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr trio (always better known as just ‘Judd Cousins Kerr’ – and say it fast) remains the most breathtaking and most powerful midfield unit the modern game has seen. But as a duo, when they’re on, Dangerfield and Selwood come close to replicating a similar sense of awe, with their hardness, with their running, with their power.

Rohan: Dangerfield has first step quickness and the strength to break tackles and create opportunities for himself and his teammates. He has the ability to break tackles, split packs and get his hands on the footy.

He has all the skills when it comes to marking, kicking, tackling and kicking on the run goals, and is a powerful leaper off his left leg too. He also has a huge appetite for work and can really inspire his team.

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2. Nick Riewoldt

Jay: On the ‘perfect specimens to play Australian football’ scale of the past 18 years, Nick Riewoldt is surpassed only by number one on this list. He was the athlete one designs in a lab to play the modern game – 6’4 and 92kg with pace, endurance and aerial explosion.

It was always his speed and leap that separated him from the more archetypal key forwards who failed to make this list, the likes of Jonathan Brown, Matthew Pavlich and Taylor Walker. Riewoldt once kicked 78 goals in a season but he always moved with the fluency of a winger, and then, remarkably, became one in the twilight of his career.

The defining image of Riewoldt will always be of him tracking the ball back with the flight then leaping into a contest with his back facing where the ball arrived from and taking the mark on his chest, as the other poor humans in the contest tumbled like ten pins.

His physical profile was so immaculate – his height, strength, speed and agility – that he briefly made you wonder how he plays the same sport as the likes of Tim Broomhead and Sam Butler, no offence to them. He inspired inadequacy in others, always the truest, most potent attribute of the greatest athletes.

Nick Riewoldt St Kilda Saints AFL 2016

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Riewoldt has many trademark moments – that mark against the Swans and his toe-poked goal to seal the 2009 preliminary final the first that comes to mind – but perhaps his most symbolic moment is one that will likely be lost to history given what followed.

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With two minutes left in the first 2010 grand final and St Kilda trailing by a point, James Gwilt took a mark in the right back pocket off an errant Steele Sidebottom shot at goal. St Kilda’s year, and really, their past two years stood on the precipice.

Gwilt kicked long to the sweet spot where deep half-back meets the shallow wing. Three Collingwood players – Alan Toovey, Ben Reid and Nathan Brown – rose to meet the ball. One Saint came from the side, towered above all of them, and sent Reid and Brown crashing to the ground. He rose up and plucked the ball at full extension, a perfect still image of athletic achievement.

He delivered the ball long to centre half forward, where his teammates no doubt wished he could be. The ball spilled from the contest to Lenny Hayes, who slammed it on the boot inside 50, towards Stephen Milne…

Riewoldt’s mark was symbolic of his entire career. He did everything he could for the Saints and everything wasn’t enough. He was tremendous, but he couldn’t be in two spots at once. He failed only by the most unsophisticated metrics though – his legend exists in the moments like that mark, singular perfect expressions of athleticism and power.

Rohan: Riewoldt is super athletic, lighter than Travis Cloke or Lance Franklin, giving him the ability to run to space and outrun his markets, beating players to the contest. He is an explosive runner for his height.

A career tally of over 330 games ranks him among the game’s elite in terms of longevity. Anything over 300 professional games in any of the codes is a phenomenal show of physical and mental capacity.

1. Lance Franklin

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Jay: Absurdity is its own form of power. In the modern era, there might have been better players than Lance Franklin (although, in fairness, there might not), but in the ‘tell your grandkids about player X’ rankings, Buddy sits at the top.

In an abstract sense, what is most powerful about Franklin is his presence. His aura affects every contest, the Spectre of Lance looming over every opposition decision. When he is near the ball, everyone – fans, teammates and opponents – get nervous, be it out of paralysing fear or expectant joy.

Only the greats inspire such sentiment – Federer, LeBron, Ronaldo, Brady. Among Australian athletes, Franklin is on that level. He is our Messi.

The power of his presence comes from the power of his body. He is still the game’s most impossible athlete – a cruel and punishing mix of height, strength, speed, agility and vision. If he could take an overhead mark, he would surely be the greatest we’ve ever seen.

There is an element of finesse about Franklin’s game that might seem antithetical to power. He seems more comfortable sidestepping someone than crashing into them, or, if he can’t sidestep, he’ll just jump over Sam Dwyer and Ben Stratton.

But the finesse doesn’t detract from Franklin’s power, it only augments it. His delicateness is a precursor to explosion. His ability to cause destruction is rounded and boundless. He provides the opposition so many different avenues to pain.

Lance-AFL-Buddy

(AAP Image/David Moir)

And for all the class, all the skill, the dribbled goals from the boundary with Chris Tarrant at his heels, Franklin is also a brawler. He has a profound and justified confidence in his own strength, often getting gloatingly close to opponents, knowing that he exists on one tier of human being and they exist on one three below.

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Franklin is, simply, the perfect football specimen. No one combines his various forms of domination as potently. He can fend off players like Dustin Martin, sprint beyond those like Dangerfield, or make them feel physically inadequate like, well, everyone else in Australia.

Power, ultimately, is a fluid concept. It is amorphous, with many criteria. Franklin is the athlete who satisfies the most of these criteria. He is brilliant, inspiring, heartbreaking, captivating and ever present.

He is perfect, and he is powerful.

Rohan: Franklin is powerful one-on-one. He can quite literally push or throw his opponent away from him, and his explosiveness to lead for the footy is incredible as well. But his best trait is the power of his kick – 60 or more metres to find a target or kick a goal.

He wants the pressure and can win you a game. He’s a smooth mover but also competes hard, chasing down opponents to apply pressure. He is all over the ground. He has power in all its forms: running power, kicking power, jumping power, collision power, and pressure power.

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