‘Port Adelaide have completely botched this one.’
I don’t believe State of Origin will ever make an appearance again in the AFL.
In the fast-paced, physical game we see nowadays, I understand why the AFL and the clubs are reluctant to make the best players in the game play another match.
However, the fan in me loves the idea of State of Origin. As AFL is effectively a one-country sport, there is no chance to see representative teams play against each other as may happen with international contests in other sports.
Once upon a time, State of Origin presented a way for the AFL to put the best players in the competition on a single field.
If State of Origin survived, how would those teams have looked today? Over four articles, I’ll post hypothetical State of Origin line-ups from the four States that played in the last full State of Origin competition in 1998: Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the Allies. The latter is comprised of Queensland, NSW, ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmanian players.
I’ve picked the teams based on their form this year, but if there is any uncertainty, I’ve tended to go with the player with a longer record of success.
For this exercise, I have gone with the location where the player started playing football. To use Tom Hawkins as an example, because he was born in NSW and started playing footy there, he is eligible for the Allies even though he later moved to Melbourne and was drafted from a Victorian under-age club.
For Part One in this series, here are the players who could have represented Victoria and played in the famous Big V.
B: Dylan Grimes (Richmond), Daniel Talia (Adelaide), Tom Stewart (Geelong)
HB: Bachar Houli (Richmond), Mark Blicavs (Geelong), Nick Vlastuin (Richmond)
C: Scott Pendlebury (Captain, Collingwood), Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), Luke Shuey (West Coast)
HF: Dustin Martin (Richmond), Jeremy Cameron (Greater Western Sydney), Gary Ablett (Geelong)
FF: Jordan de Goey (Collingwood), Tom Lynch (Richmond), Hugh McCluggage (Brisbane)
Foll: Max Gawn (Melbourne), Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs), Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne)
Interchange: James Sicily (Hawthorn), Adam Treloar (Collingwood), Dion Prestia (Richmond), Andrew Gaff (West Coast)
A team starting with Grimes and Talia will be hard to score against. Both players are among the league leaders in defensive contests won, and spoils. Talia is primarily used against taller players while Grimes has the ability to play both tall and small. His efforts in blanketing Charlie Cameron last weekend demonstrates Grimes’ versatility. Stewart offers the polish to this backline with his elite ball movement.
Blicavs and Vlastuin have been jack-of-all-trades for their respective clubs but have been most effective in defence. Vlastuin has stepped up in the absence of Alex Rance and has become the leading intercept marker and rebounder for Richmond.
Blicavs is a strong contested player who can use his amazing running ability to be just as effective when the ball hits the ground. At 31 years of age, Houli has had a career best season. Amongst Victoria defenders he is in the top-5 in metres gained, score involvements and effective disposals.
Midfielders and ruck
Each of the five midfielders in this group are among the best in the league and bring a clear set of elite skills. Dangerfield and Shuey are both clearance guns who use their line-breaking ability to quickly transition the ball forward.
Cunnington is one of the best contested ball-winners in the AFL while Bontempelli brings a well-rounded set of skills to the table and is arguably the most complete midfielder in the competition. Pendlebury adds his usual silk to proceedings. Topping it all off is Max Gawn, who’s in the conversation for best ruckman in the league.
The Coleman Medalist, Jeremy Cameron, brings his brilliant forward play to this team. Not only did he kick the most goals of any player, but he had the most score involvements and took the most marks inside 50.
On either side of Cameron are two Brownlow medallist who can also play through midfield. Martin is an aggressive, line-breaking machine who is dangerous around clearances and in front of goal. Ablett has undergone a mini-renaissance this year and is returned to something approaching his best form.
Tom Lynch has added a new dimension to Richmond’s forward line this year and turned the Tigers into an even more dangerous team. De Goey is capable in the air and at ground level. Even as the Magpies have struggled at times this year, De Goey has generally maintained his play. Lastly, McCluggage has played at a very high-level in his third season in the AFL and has been a key driver behind Brisbane’s meteoric rise.
Sicily offers the versatility to play tall or small at either end of the ground, although he has been especially important as an intercept defender for the Hawks. Boak and Treloar are both among the best contested players who can win a ton of the ball.
Andrew Gaff is more of an outside player, where his top-shelf running ability allow him to gain possession all over the field.
Victoria is able to produce such a strong team, that a lot of really good players did not receive selection. The hardest omission was Jack Macrae, but other unlucky players include Josh Kelly, Josh Caddy, Shaun Higgins, Clayton Oliver, Zach Merrett, Josh Dunkley and Nick Haynes.
No matter who this Victorian team would be up against, they would be very tough to beat. The Big V would be both a high-quality team and a very even team.
In the next part of this series, I’ll look at the traditional enemy of Victoria and select a hypothetical State of Origin team for South Australia.