The week off between the end of the regular season and the finals is a chance to take stock of the season just passed.
The All Australian team has been 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.
This time, we are taking a journey further across the Nullarbor Plain into Western Australia to see which Sandgropers have the skills to be selected for their State.
B: Brad Sheppard (West Coast), Joel Hamling (Fremantle), Lewis Jetta (Fremantle)
HB: Daniel Rich (Brisbane), Jeremy McGovern (West Coast), Jason Johannisen (Western Bulldogs)
C: Tim Kelly (Geelong), Nat Fyfe (Captain, Fremantle), Brad Hill (Fremantle)
HF: Michael Walters (Fremantle), Jack Darling (West Coast), Jamie Cripps (West Coast)
FF: Charlie Cameron (Brisbane), Lance Franklin (Sydney), Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
Foll: Nic Naitanui (West Coast), Elliot Yeo (West Coast), Patrick Cripps (Carlton)
Interchange: Stephen Coniglio (Greater Western Sydney), Mitch Duncan (Geelong), Jaeger O’Meara (Hawthorn), Liam Ryan (West Coast)
Brad Sheppard has been a pillar for the Eagles over the past two years and has an ability to play against both talls and smalls. He is a strong intercept marker and ball-user who was deservedly recognised with a berth in the All Australian squad this year.
I considered both Harry Taylor and Cale Hooker and fullback but ended up going with Joel Hamling. Hamling has been a highlight for the Dockers this year and is tough to beat in a contest.
Next to him is Jetta who has remade himself as a backman for the Eagles which gives him plenty of time to use his silky foot skills.
Jeremy McGovern has an almost unique gravity as an AFL defender. Teams have to warp their shape just to avoid his orbit and if any team is foolish enough to kick the ball high near McGovern then it is almost guaranteed it will end up in his hands. He is a brilliant mark and wonderful reader of the play.
Either side of McGovern are two dynamic rebounders from the back flanks. Rich and Johannisen are both proven ball-winners who gain a lot of metres for their team. JJ is more forceful runner, while Rich is a better disposer but together, they would form a lively halfback pairing.
Midfielders and Ruck
It’s impossible to look at a potential Western Australia midfield and not salivate slightly at what they could achieve together.
Fyfe, Cripps and Yeo bring the muscle around the contest. All three are rated as elite clearance players and ball-winners and would dominate any contested situation. Their skills differ with the ball in hand, Yeo is a more direct player with his long kicking while Fyfe tends to look shorter.
Cripps is the weakest kick but is a high-quality disposer by hand.
Kelly and Hill are well suited on a wing in this team where they can use their run and carry to move the ball into WA’s dangerous forward line. Lastly, Nic Naitanui is oft-injured but when he is fit he is still the best tap-ruckman in the competition.
WA’s mids would be licking their lips to see Naitanui palming the ball to them.
Walters and Darling have both elevated their games this year to cement their place in the top-echelon of the AFL.
Walters is a wonderful ball user who can pinpoint targets through midfield and be equally dangerous moving forward. Darling has a great set of hands and the work ethic to match. He is dangerous in the air and on the ground for the Eagles.
Jamie Cripps joins cousin Patrick in the team, but he does not owe his position to mere nepotism. Jamie is not a big ball-winner but brings good forward pressure and is an excellent finisher, two important skills on this team.
Franklin and Kennedy are two key forwards who are no longer at their peak but still are quality players. Franklin’s athletic capacity continues to make him a difficult match-up while Kennedy has brilliant hands and leading capacity. Both are intelligent footballers which would mean they would combine well for WA.
Since joining Brisbane, Cameron has become the best small forward around. He’s devastating anywhere near goal and is a match-up nightmare for defenders. His 54 goals this year are impressive on their own, but Cameron has also only had three games this season without a goal which demonstrates his consistent impact on a game.
Three high-quality midfielders round out this team. Coniglio and O’Meara are primarily inside players, although Coniglio has flashed an ability through the forward line this year, while Duncan is more of an outside runner who uses the ball efficiently by foot.
The last selection is a bit of a joker pick. Ryan may not win much of the ball, but his impact on a game is undeniable. Ryan is an electric player who brings joy with his gravity-defying leaps and mercurial goals. Western Australia would be a more enjoyable team to watch with Ryan in it.
WA is probably the only state that can match the high-end quality of Victoria’s team. As an indication of the evenness between the two states, there were eight West Australians and nine Victorians selected in the All Australian team selected earlier this week.
Victoria’s midfield is good, but it is possible that WA’s is even better. Were these two teams to play, we would see match-ups of the quality of Bontempelli versus Yeo, Dangerfield versus Fyfe and Cripps versus Pendlebury. Almost makes me wish for State of Origin to return.
WA’s and Victoria’s backlines are also comparable, although Western Australia may have slightly better tall defenders. However Victoria do have a slightly better forward line as Kennedy and Franklin are no longer at their best.
Were Western Australia and Victoria to play now, the star-power and quality would be akin to the games between the Big V and the Sandgropers in the mid-1980s. Who do you think would win?
In the last part of this series, I’ll look at which players would be selected for an Allies team consisting of players from New South Wales, ACT, Queensland, Northern Territory and Tasmania.