Since the cruel ACL injury to Alex Rance in Round 1, his long-held reign over the All-Australian key defensive positions has been up for debate.
With the position of centre half-back wide open for the taking, some new faces have surged into contention after a superb start to the year. These are the front-runners after Round 7.
Alex Keath (Adelaide)
What a story.
The ex-Victorian cricketer turned Adelaide centre half-back has surged into calculations with an excellent start to 2019.
His intercept marking has been elite – he has filled the void of Tom Doedee with aplomb.
His left foot is also a decent weapon, meaning that he has developed a damaging game that has led to the Crows’ resurgence in the past couple of weeks.
Despite not being the fastest, he is quick enough to get to contests and to not lose contested balls at ground level.
If he continues his contested-marking superiority and contributes to Adelaide’s damaging ball movement, then he may find himself in the All-Australian squad of 40 come season’s end.
Dougal Howard (Port Adelaide)
A cross-town rival of Keath, young Howard has risen to a new level in 2019.
His marking – along with Dan Houston – has been impressive, meaning Port Adelaide’s half-back line has some real sting to it.
Despite a slow start against Collingwood last Friday night, Howard worked his way into the game and provided some solid rebound and dare that allowed goals to be scored.
Coming up against Keath’s Adelaide this week, it’ll be an interesting test to see which promising young centre-half back stands up more on the big stage.
Darcy Moore (Collingwood)
How handy would he have been on grand final day last year?
Since bouncing back from injury he has been superb, taking intercept marks at will and using his searing pace to dash off opponents when the ball hits the deck. He has improved every week, as he becomes more accustomed to his body and gains confidence.
His best match came against Port Adelaide last Friday, when he was arguably the best player on the ground with a stack of contested intercept marks and many quick runs off the back line that helped set up Collingwood goals.
He has also been brilliant saving goals – he works hard both ways and kicks superbly around the ground.
He is my pick for the All-Australian post. He is so dynamic and versatile. Quickly he has become one of the Pies most important players due to the attacking flair he uses to hold opponents goalless and then push his team into attack.
Nick Haynes (GWS)
Haynes has filled both the full-back and centre half-back role depending on the availability of Aidan Corr, but when he has played centre half-back, he has been vital for GWS.
He is in a similar mould to Moore in that he is a rangy athlete who can take great intercept marks yet can also run off opponents and beat them on the ground.
He has been underrated for a while, but a fit Haynes is thrilling to watch. There is no secret that GWS have improved this year because of his stability and dare off the half-back line.
You can tell he has learned the craft off Heath Shaw, as he is brave and backs his pace and foot skills in the cauldron of the back line.
He isn’t the front-runner for the position, but he is definitely up there due to his team’s success and his impressive performances. If he is able to play at centre half-back more often, he may present a decent case for the position in the All-Australian squad.
So there’s my pick: Darcy Moore.
Alex Keath and Nick Haynes are both circling too, with Keath’s dazzling contested marks and Haynes’ rebound factor both pushing their case for selection.
But if Moore stays fit and continues to dominate games for Collingwood like he has so far this year, then he’s the favourite for the centre half-back position.