Welcome to The Roar’s 2019 AFL Top 50, a consensus formed from lack of consensus, an illustrative exercise that serves as a reminder of who the best players in the game are, as well as a reminder that not everyone thinks Dylan Shiel is as good as you do.
This is where we start – in the bracket that Shiel, as well as Jeremy Cameron, Bryce Gibbs and James Sicily just fell out of – with players 50 through 41.
50. Luke Breust (Hawthorn Hawks)
Breust, alongside his spiritual football twin Jack Gunston, has slowly morphed into the quintessential Hawk of this late-Clarkson era. Breust is polished liquid, sublimely skilled and a wicked mover.
He’s always in the right place and always does the right thing when there. He’s a beautiful kick, a pristine finisher, and a much better tackler than you’d expect for a player of his archetype – he’s got some Paul Puopolo to go with his Mark LeCras.
An underwhelming finals series was the only blight on his stellar 2018.
49. Daniel Rioli (Richmond Tigers)
The most terrifying of Richmond’s mosquito fleet – the element of the team that best symbolises Richmond’s transition from nothing to everything, from cute to loathed – Rioli is an adept hunter of opposition ball carriers and the goal in front of him.
The forward pressure he generates is immense, a key architect of the most damaging moment in football these days: the forward-half turnover. Of interesting note: Ryan Buckland listed Rioli at 22, while no one else had them in their top 50.
48. Jack Viney (Melbourne Demons)
A clearance and tackling monster, the tough, shifty Viney remains the Demons’ beating heart. When that heart stopped beating, and then stopped beating again, and again, and again, in the preliminary final, Viney couldn’t bring his team back to life.
It obscured an otherwise remarkable finals series from Viney, who returned from a long lay-off and didn’t miss a beat, with 11 tackles against Geelong and 27 touches against Hawthorn. As always, staying fit will be the key to Viney’s 2019.
47. Tim Kelly (Geelong Cats)
Kelly came from nowhere and arrived immediately. Normally players you don’t know about have to slowly build. Not Kelly, who had 27 touches in each of his first two AFL games, and that was, incredibly, just the player that he was and would prove to be over the course of the season.
His presence around stoppages is powerful, his movement to get outside of them slithery and devastating. He has a canny goal-sense like several of his Geelong midfielder companions, and he hunts his own ball. The ball use could improve, but Kelly is found money.
46. Charlie Curnow (Carlton Blues)
Curnow is a divisive figure of opinion, despite most seemingly making up their mind to treat him as a watching brief. Cam Rose has already bought in, though – listing Curnow at 17. No one else ranked him higher than 50.
The potential is tantalising and undeniable. Curnow is a specimen, with a physical profile that combines elements of Wayne Carey, Tom Hawkins and Lance Franklin.
He’s a spectacular leaper, cat-like at ground level, with a filled-out frame that gives him a traditional full forward’s strength. Curnow has no limit.
45. Harris Andrews (Brisbane Lions)
It’s odd to think of ‘Harris Andrews’ as possibly the best player on a team that may push for finals. But that has little to do with his talent or production, both of which have been hidden slightly in the shadow of everything Brisbane hasn’t been.
Andrews is an All-Australian calibre defender, with an Alex Rance-like sense of defensive space, and Rance’s fearlessness to do everything physically possible to protect that space. Of Brisbane’s young talent, Andrews is the most solid pillar to build around for the future.
44. Angus Brayshaw (Melbourne Demons)
Brayshaw has had a bizarre career, from being an integral part of Melbourne’s youth movement, to vaguely on the periphery, to potentially finished with football, to the leader of a preliminary finalist and polling third in the Brownlow.
Along with Viney, Brayshaw is the heart and soul of the Demons – the duo combining for that perfect goal against Hawthorn in the finals was almost too perfect. Brayshaw is relentless, in both hounding the opposition and willing the ball forward out of tight spaces.
After playing only 15 games in 2016 and 2017, his health, like Viney’s, in having a sustained run of football in 2019 will be decisive for Melbourne.
43. Joe Daniher (Essendon Bombers)
What is Joe Daniher now? After two writers placed Daniher in the top seven players in the competition last year, this time around no one had him higher than 31, with two writers leaving him off the list altogether (Ryan and myself).
Uncertainty reigns – both over his health and his ability to kick a football where he’d like it to go. Daniher was a shell of himself last season, but it seems fair to chalk that up entirely to his injury.
If he’s properly back, Daniher is a force, a leaping colossus who will win so many opportunities to kick goals that his inability to actually kick them is mitigated somewhat. He is Essendon’s biggest swing-piece, and his health will likely determine whether they challenge for the top four or the top eight.
42. Shaun Higgins (North Melbourne Kangaroos)
After spending most of his career unable to sustain teasing flashes or brought down by persistent injuries, Higgins emerged in 2017 as a bona fide midfielder, someone you could depend on instead of hope for.
His emergence was a nice story and one that felt complete. Apparently not.
Higgins emerged again in 2018, and his second emergence ratcheted up the good feelings of 2017, transitioning from good story to genuine force. He became one of the best midfielders in the competition, suddenly an accumulator to go with his always incisive ball use.
Higgins will be 31 by season’s start and we’ve likely seen the best of him – but we said that last year, the year before, and the year before that too.
41. Lachie Neale (Brisbane Lions)
Lachie Neale just keeps on Lachie Neale-ing. Neale is a box-score filler, a clearance, contested possession and handballing madman who can’t be contained. He’ll never be truly damaging by foot or on the scoreboard, which is what keeps him from the elite of the elite.
But his consistency is his version of magic, and like clockwork, you’ll be able to count on Neale being at the bottom of that pack, extracting again and again.
There are few better to help drive Brisbane’s young midfield forward – Neale has always made everyone around him look more glamorous than himself, that is his gift.
Be sure to join us again tomorrow and every day this week as we countdown The Roar’s top 50 AFL players in 2019.