The GWS Giants took a step backwards in 2018, eliminated in the semi-finals after having made the prelims in the two years previous.
We’re no more than ten days from the end of the home-and-away season, so even counting finals we’ve only 27 occasions to savour the joy of watching the greatest players perform the greatest sport on the planet.
180 down, 18 to go until the recently-installed week off for teams to try to heal some of their marginally fit players, so to put their best 22 on the grass for the four-week, nine-game premiership tournament.
As has been documented by many pundits (our own Ryan Buckland among them), the teams which might have served as more credible challengers – the Eagles, Magpies, Swans, and Crows among them – have suffered such a devastating series of wrenched wings, busted beaks, and crooked claws that none of them will face the so-far injury-averse Tigers with a full nest of their 22 best – or even close to it.
The same scenario arises in the battle for the best player awards. Nat Fyfe was playing at the heights he achieved in his pinnacle season of 2015, but lost his shot at the Brownlow with a suspension in Round 12 and his season in Round 15 with that hamstring injury.
Similar stories affect so many others this season: Marcus Bontempelli, Josh Bruce, Lance Franklin, Josh Kelly, Josh J Kennedy, Callum Mills, Nic Naitanui, Jaegar O’Meara, Paddy Ryder, Aaron Sandilands, Rory Sloane – just to name a few.
Who’s left? Here are the top 50 players on the Following Football ‘Meta Player Of The Year’ scorecard with two rounds remaining in the season:
|AFL ranking||Player||Point Total|
|24||de Goey, Jordan||248|
|40||Kennedy, Josh P. (Sy)||211|
Is Tom Mitchell catchable? Yes, but probably only if he has two average or below-par games (his Hawks play St Kilda and Sydney, teams with decent to good midfields), while either Max Gawn or (maybe) Clayton Oliver goes off against one or both of Melbourne’s last two opponents (West Coast and GWS, two teams more likely to be equipped to stop Oliver than Gawn), in games that the Demons know they must win – or Patrick Cripps has at least one and probably two three-vote caliber games (Carlton plays both the Bulldogs and Adelaide at Etihad), which means the Blues have to either win or get close to winning those games for him to gather that kind of voting attention.
The two men behind them, Collingwood’s Brodie Grundy and Richmond’s reigning champion Dustin Martin, are capable of reaching the number 464 – but that assumes Mitchell doesn’t even play in games that Hawthorn certainly feels required to (try to) win, and it’s hard to imagine a game where the league leader in disposals doesn’t gather enough ball to garner at least some votes each week, barring injury.
And behind Martin, it’s well-nigh impossible to imagine even Buddy Franklin going over one hundred points to the good in two games.
So for me, it looks like the man most likely to prevent Tom Mitchell from at least the Meta-Player of the Year award (and therefore the favorite contender for the other versions of the MVP awards surrounding the AFL) is Max Gawn.
What about the Coleman? Gold Coast made this contest interesting Saturday just by being Gold Coast and giving Jack Riewoldt nothing but clean grass and easy goal opportunities.
We all love watching a great forward kick a bag, and don’t misunderstand: Jack Riewoldt is a great forward, and is having a great season.
But it’s not like he kicked 10.1 – Riewoldt had sixteen scores Saturday, scoring 10.6 while being fed constantly by his midfield with the game out of reach by halftime.
If he’d bagged fewer than eight, he’d have kicked himself instead of the footy that night.
He won’t have quite such an easy time facing either the Bombers or the Bulldogs, even though Richmond will be heavily favoured against both.
Meanwhile, the season-long leader, Ben Brown of North Melbourne, showed he had moxie by kicking four against that same tenacious Bulldogs defense, and goes up against Adelaide and the Saints to finish the season.
It’s conceivable that Lance Franklin (currently six behind) or Tom Hawkins (eight back) could lock into a three-way race at the top. I’m convinced Buddy can do anything, but he’s facing a Giants team that’s on a roll and whose back line has been their standouts on this streak.
Hawkins has an easier schedule with the Cats – Freo and the Suns – but eight back will require a game like Riewoldt had, where the team spoon-fed the goal chances to him.
So it seems as though it’s probably a choice between Riewoldt and Brown. The quality of competition is pretty even; Riewoldt’s team is better than Brown’s, but I like the redhead’s heart. I’m picking Ben Brown to hold on and win the Coleman Medal this season.
Now for the Rising Star voting. This is different than the other two most-discussed individual awards, in that there’s no concrete evaluations done during the season to work off of – just nominations.
The voting panel will choose their Rising Star winner based on whatever criteria they personally feel drawn to: whether that’s the strength of their 2018 season or their potential for the next ten years is up to them.
The latter is purely subjective, a complete eye test. My eyes like the two Brisbane nominees, Cam Rayner and Alex Witherden; Jaidyn Stephenson of the Magpies, and Tom Doedee of Adelaide. All four should have strong careers barring injury, as will Oliver Florent in Sydney, Jack Higgins in Richmond, and James Worpel of the Hawks.
But regarding their performance this year, we can turn to the meta-PotY scoreboard to compare the 21 nominees so far (two more players will be nominated in rounds 22 and 23).
|Rising Star Nominee||Round nominated||Score that round||Total MPotY Points|
Ben Ronke has had two spectacular games for the Swans that put him well ahead on this rubric, which you’ll recall is designed to recognize players who have games that stand out above their peers rather than to reward the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race types which may be just as important in this particular circumstance.
Many of the names on this list have been consistent performers for their teams, but not spectacular. So this chart is only one set of inputs to consider in this case.
That’s always something you need to consider when it comes to using information in any way other than its original intent – it may not be appropriately applicable to other situations.
Our Meta-Player of the Year totals are great for evaluating the top of the food chain players, but not particularly helpful in settling which players should fill slots 15-22 on your roster.
Finally, here are our Following Football choices for this weekend’s games: Richmond and Collingwood each by 16; Geelong by 61 (but that won’t account for a Nat Fyfe return…), Giants by 22 (reduce that by one Josh Kelly), Lions by 33, Hawthorn by 31, Bulldogs by 27, Eagles by 8, and Adelaide by 16 to end North’s chances of finals.
We’re still projecting Richmond, West Coast, and Hawthorn to have the double chance, although we’re leaning towards Collingwood with the fourth spot over GWS at this moment.
That’s thinking Melbourne will win in R23 at home against the Giants and make the finals in sixth, with Geelong and Port taking the final two spots.
If that tips the other direction, however, and the Demons fail to take any top eight scalps in the home-and-away, then the Giants slide back into the top four, Melbourne falls to ninth and Sydney slips up one into eight, behind Collingwood in fifth, Geelong and Port.