Welcome to the end game, the fifth string, the E-Team, the end game.
Today we conclude our series. With apologies to Jarryd Blair and all those left on the sidelines, this is it and you didn’t make it. Without further ado.
41. Luke Parker
Parker is the perfect Swan – imperfect with his touch, immaculate in his application. He is a maniacal ball of relentless, hunting the ball with shoulders arched, no other thoughts in his head. Certainly no concept of pain – Parker is fearless and one of the country’s most menacing 182cm and 85kg physical specimens.
He seems at home at ground-level, willing hacked but purposeful clearances forward, yet it’s what he does in the air that makes him so special. He’s prone to furious, and impressive, high-flying, adding elements of the spectacular to his otherwise working class game. At just 25, Parker seems set to remain one of the league’s elite midfielders for some time, an irreplaceable cog in perhaps the game’s most powerful on-ball squadron.
42. Elliot Yeo
Elliot Yeo is prone to madness, but it’s the same part of his brain that makes him fantastic. He takes the game on, sometimes too fervently, but it’s that dare that separates him, that creates life and movement.
On an ageing, stagnant West Coast team last season, Yeo was oxygen, his dash and accelerating physicality off half-back his team’s best source of transition offence.
There will, of course, always be the hitting the post waltzing into an open goal against Collingwood moments for Yeo, but he gives much more than he takes away, and will only be more important for West Coast this season as he soaks up more time in a now depleted midfield.
43. Jack Viney
In a lot of ways Jack Viney is the antithesis of Yeo. Where Yeo’s leap ascends into commercials, Viney brawls manfully in the dirt. He is honest almost to a fault, one of the game’s most prolific tacklers, always operating in the tightest, most desperate of spaces. He is one of those players who it seems odd to ever see in wide open space.
Viney’s stats were down across the board last year and his season tailed off late, hampered by injury. But the legend grew a little more, built by singular transcendent performances, like his 38-touch master class in Perth, willing the Demons across the line against the Eagles, by the tip of Tom McDonald’s boot.
44. Tom T Lynch
The indie Tom Lynch is vastly less impressive than his counterpart under the obvious bright lights, but much cooler in the nuanced corner of the quiet bookshop. Adelaide’s Lynch has almost created his own position, a hybrid key forward and winger.
Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Richardson played that role in the twilight of their careers, but they both looked like key forwards playing on the wing. Lynch doesn’t. The cadences of his motion move with the beats of a midfielder, the subtle caresses of his passes inboard such a vital ingredient of what made the Adelaide machine so devastating last season. He’s all class, sumptuously skilled, and can go forward and punish the scoreboard.
45. Patrick Ryder
One of the hardest players in the league to place – you can see him as an impactful but frustrating star that falls short of superstar, or you can see him as a more realised package of physical, artful brilliance.
There were many moments last season, but surely the most pure – the most, for what it was, perfect – was Ryder’s magnificent deft tap to a streaming Robbie Gray for the match-winning goal in the wet against the Saints. It was otherworldly in its simplicity – so replicable and yet impossible to replicate.
It spoke to what has always made Ryder so tantalising – the genius skill and feel that complements a powerful, commanding physical profile. So often he would be content to drift though – an athlete God who you’d forget was even on the field – but last year he did that less than ever before, emerging as the best ruckman in the game.
46. Ollie Wines
There are more precise, articulate words to encapsulate most athletes, but for Wines the word has always just been ‘big’. The man is big. He is so big, bursting from his frame, with absurdly filled out flesh from Day One, some sort of alien man-child put on Earth to win contested possessions and stoppage clearances.
The boyish frat-boy face, with its oddly straight angles, belies a cruel, 97kg body that Wines is learning to maximise each year in the pursuit of midfield dominance. Last year was his finest yet, establishing himself as Port Adelaide’s clear number one out-and-out midfielder, reaping the rewards of Ryder’s touch.
With another brawler in Tom Rockliff joining the fray this season, the Power midfield will be just that.
47. Nathan Jones
Nathan Jones is 10cm and 10kg lighter than Wines, never blessed with the physical gifts that make Port’s young star and most other stars great. Jones has the champion gene though, and if this were February 2017, I would have said that this gene is why Jones has made a career in the AFL while Liam Jones has not.
The Melbourne heartbeat is ferocious, the thinking man’s hard nut, playing with a form of distinction and class that often eludes his more manic younger brother.
He is an inspiration, the type of captain especially to Michael Voss-isms on the field, winning balls in dispute by putting his body on the line, backing into a pack to force a throw-in, and all that courageous magic.
The Demons lacked a certain clinical, ‘mature’ finishing edge at times last year, often when Jones was on the sidelines. One suspects that had he been fit in Tasmania, the Demons might not have lost that pivotal heart-breaker to North Melbourne, and it all could have been so different.
48. Michael Walters
Let me tell you, if Player X played for Collingwood, we’d think of him just as highly as we think of…
Michael Walters is perhaps the finest Player X in the league today, a superstar mired in obscurity – from an East Coast bias anyway. To be fair, though, Walters has only truly risen to stardom – and he is a star – as the Dockers have descended, so his marvellous exploits aren’t as publicised as they should be.
For those watching, Walters is a treat. He’s slithery and dangerous, but also prolific. He’s a special moments player who has them more regularly than almost anyone. He’s far more than the expert goal-sneak that he was once pegged as – he’s now a player who can get 38 touches on the road against the premiers-to-be, or rack up 32 touches and six goals against the Saints.
The case for an immediate return to relevance for the Dockers begins with Walters and his captain.
49. Luke Shuey
It is odd, but somehow perfectly rational, that a rampaging bulldog most known for crashing into other bodies without self-regard, had the calmest and coolest football moment of 2017. Shuey plays a violent brand of football, super physical, super relentless. He chases, he tackles, he picks up the ball, feet still pattering, and then looks to use it as quickly as possible.
He is not one to stand in traffic and process the situation as though his bare feet are being cooled by a creek’s gentle stream. But there is a certain serenity to the way he plays, the quick, simple decisions made in traffic, the short but purposeful clearance handballs to the passing teammate. That serenity came to the fore at the most vital moment, and his perfect kick against Port Adelaide will always be the one to define him.
50. Daniel Talia
On a list characterised by flare, explosive athleticism, breathtaking specimens and those who like to arrogantly shoosh the crowd with a grin on their face, we finish with a player who is nothing like any of that.
Daniel Talia is solid. He is rock solid. He does his job and sticks to his man – until he doesn’t have to anymore, and then he zones off and intercepts as well as any full-back. He’s immovable in the contest, leveraging his weight and positioning perfectly.
A Rising Star winner and twice All-Australian, Talia has a resume much flashier than his style of play. On the flash level, he loses to everyone else on this list. On the honesty and determination level, though, few stand above him. And that, ultimately, rings as true if not truer for fans than those dribbled goals from the boundary.