The week off between the end of the regular season and the finals is a chance to take stock of the season just passed.
We’ve already seen the All Australian team announced, but I’m using this chance to pick hypothetical State of Origin teams.
Yes, State of Origin is dead and buried, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that players don’t deserve to be recognised as among the best players from their home state.
Part One looked at who could be picked to play for Victoria. This article selects a theoretical team for the Big V’s old enemy, the Croweaters of South Australia.
B: Rory Laird (ADE), Phil Davis (GWS), Brodie Smith (ADE)
HB: Shannon Hurn (Captain, WCE), Tom Jonas (PA), Caleb Daniel (WB)
C: Shane Edwards (RCH), Lachie Neale (BL), Jared Polec (NM)
HF: Chad Wingard (HAW), Justin Westhoff (PA), Brad Ebert (PA)
FF: Lincoln McCarthy (BL), Connor Rozee (PA), Sam Gray (PA)
Foll: Brodie Grundy (COL), Jack Redden (WCE), Trent Dumont (NM)
Interchange: Ryan Burton (PA), George Hewett (SYD), Luke Dunstan (STK), Orazio Fantasia (ESS)
Phil Davis headlines a solid South Australian back six. Davis ranks near the top of the AFL for intercept marks, spoils and defensive pressure acts and has long been one of the competition’s most reliable tall defenders. Either side of Davis are two rebounding Crows. Both Laird and Smith are both dynamic small defenders who are at their best with ball in hand. Each of them use their elite long kicking to move the ball from defence.
Hurn is the captain of this South Australian squad. He is one of the best mid-sized defenders around and demonstrates elite intercept marking ability while using the ball efficiently with his booming right leg. He has also admirably led the Eagles in their efforts to repeat as premiers. Jonas is no frills, but a solid key-defender who is rarely beaten one-on-one. His contested loss percentage of 17.2 per cent is one of the five lowest in the AFL for key defenders with over five games this season.
Daniel has adapted well to playing across the back line for the Dogs. His main strength is his ball use as he is clean and effective with either foot or by hand.
Midfielders and followers
South Australia’s star turn is Lachie Neale, who has elevated his game since moving from Fremantle to the Lions. He is at the top for clearances won and disposals during the season, but is also near the top for effective kicks, which demonstrates his effectiveness both inside and outside the contest. The other true elite player here is Brodie Grundy. He operates almost like another midfielder with his ability at ground level and also has the tank to collect possessions all over the field.
Outside of Neale and Grundy are a number of solid midfielders. Edwards is a contested possession and clearance gun from the Tigers while Polec is more of an outside running player who gains a lot of metres for his team. Redden and Dumont are both useful members of their respective midfields whose best attribute is their tackling pressure.
Westhoff is a jack-of-all-trades for the Power who is not great in any one area, but good in most. He’s a hard runner with strong hands who can impact the contest around the ground. Wingard has dropped a little from his peak but is still dangerous around the contest and can impact the game with few touches of the ball. Ebert has also had a tough year but has good hands for his size and brings elite forward pressure.
Gray and McCarthy are listed here as small forwards, but they tend to operate more as high half-forwards and are at their best linking the ball from their midfielders. Both players have also demonstrated good goal-sense. Rozee is in his first season but has already shown a preternatural goal sense and the skills to succeed at this level.
Burton has adapted well to his shift from the Hawks to the Power and is relishing the greater responsibility as an adaptable mid-sized rebounding backman. Hewett and Dunstan are similar players who are not elite ball-users but are strong clearance players who work hard in close. Fantasia adds some flair to the Croweaters. Although he isn’t a big possessor of the ball, he can cause trouble any time it’s inside his forward 50.
Compared to the Victorian team, it is clear a South Australian state side would struggle to match that depth of quality. The Croweaters do have some top-grade players in Neale, Grundy and Hurn, but things drop away quite quickly.
Unfortunately, this team is reflective of South Australia’s recent struggles in developing high-quality, draftable young players. In the five drafts preceding 2018, there was an average of only eight players drafted per year from SA and only nine total first round picks. Both these figures are well below Victoria and Western Australia.
Most worryingly, in both the 2017 and 2016 drafts, only five players were selected from SA. These figures help explain why there is a dearth of top-quality SA talent. However, there is hope on the horizon as, in the 2018 draft, 15 players were selected from South Australia – including five first-rounders.
Stay tuned for part three, which will examine the possible State of Origin team for Western Australia. Western Australia has arguably the best key defender, midfielder and small forward in the AFL, but how will their side compare to Victoria and South Australia?