Paul Connors didn’t hold back in a radio interview.
The week off between the end of the home-and-away 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.
The 2019 State of Origin series so far
The last part of this series will examine who would be able to play for the Allies, a team made up of representatives from New South Wales, ACT, Queensland, Northern Territory and Tasmania. Will players from five combined states and territories be enough to overcome the strong Victorian and Western Australian teams?
B: Dane Rampe (Sydney), Harris Andrews (Brisbane), Jarrod Harbrow (Gold Coast)
HB: Zac Williams (Greater Western Sydney), Jeremy Howe (Collingwood), Lachie Weller (Gold Coast)
C: Isaac Smith (Hawthorn), Jacob Hopper (Greater Western Sydney), Mitch Robinson (Brisbane)
HF: Sam Lloyd (Western Bulldogs), Ben Brown (North Melbourne), Harry Himmelberg (Greater Western Sydney)
FF: Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (Essendon), Tom Hawkins (Geelong), Alex Sexton (Gold Coast)
Foll: Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast), Isaac Heeney (Sydney), Dayne Zorko (captain, Brisbane)
Interchange: Harry Cunningham (Sydney), Jed Anderson (North Melbourne), Dayne Beams (Collingwood), Eric Hipwood (Brisbane)
Harris Andrews has become one of the top key defenders in the AFL, and at the age of 22 his best is still very much in front of him. At two metres tall, Andrews is very difficult to beat in the air but still has the mobility to stick with players around the ground. Dane Rampe completes a very strong 1-2 backline punch for the Allies. He’s is a well-rounded player who is solid defensively and capable of winning the ball and using it well. Harbrow has had a nice season for a struggling Suns team. He’s still a capable player with ball in hand and remains a penetrating kick.
Howe is best known for his high marking and has a good set of hands, but he’s also turned himself into a solid help defender in a Collingwood team that is generally hard to score against. He reads the game well and is uses his leap to both win and kill contests. Zac Williams and Lachie Weller are similar players either side of Howe. Both are good runners, collect a lot of the ball and tend to gain a lot of territory due to their direct kicking. Neither are elite ball users but are more than capable.
Midfielders and ruck
Dayne Zorko leads this team and has been superb for a strong Lions team. He is not a pure inside player but is intelligent running from the contest and is a capable goalscorer too. Hopper has really raised his game this year and is quality in contested situations. Heeney’s production hasn’t quite matched his talent (yet) but he is still a dangerous player and a tough match-up for any midfielder due to his quality in the air.
Robinson has undergone a career renaissance in Brisbane as an effective defensive mid and has played a large role in setting a strong culture for the Lions. Smith is winding down as a player but is still a fast, smooth mover and a long boot. Lastly, Witts doesn’t always get the praise he deserves but is probably one of the top-five ruckmen in the competition. He is an above-average tap and clearance player and works hard around the ground.
Ben Brown may have finished second in the Coleman this year, but a victory in that competition doesn’t feel far away. He has few weaknesses as a forward with his strong hands, pace off the mark and quality finishing. Lloyd is one of the recruits of the year for the Bulldogs. He’s an intelligent operator and hard worker, and 37 goals on the year is a good return for a small forward. Himmelberg is vital for the structure of the Giants – he’s an archetypical linkman who runs hard in space and pressures the ball well.
Tom Hawkins hasn’t had his best year but remains a high-quality key forward. What has impressed me most this year is the leadership he offers to a relatively young Cats forward line. He plays well off their strengths and is unfailingly unselfish. McDonald-Tipungwuti may be inconsistent, but his best is brilliant. He’s an excellent finisher and a demon without the ball. There are few more terrifying sights in the AFL than being chased down by Tippa. Sexton is one of those players who needs very little of the ball to be effective, which is good when you’re a forward playing for the Gold Coast. Scoring 39 goals as a small forward for a poor team indicates his quality.
Cunningham provides some depth to the Allies defence with his strong, solid game. Anderson provides backup grunt to the midfield. Beams didn’t play many matches this year and wasn’t at his best when he did but is still not too far removed from being an elite midfielder for the Lions. Hipwood is still a raw key forward but has the tools to be a standout for a while to come.
The strength of the Allies is in their talls. Key defenders, the quality of Andrews and Rampe, combined with proven goalscorers Brown and Hawkins mean the Allies would be tough to beat in the air at either end of the ground. However, the modern game is largely won in the midfield, and the Allies do not have enough strength in that area.
Both Victoria and Western Australia have multiple All Australian-quality midfielders and have both high-end talent and depth. To indicate their excellence, those teams had players the quality of Adam Treloar and Stephen Coniglio on the bench, both of whom would possibly be the best midfielders for the Allies. Instead, the best Allies midfielder is probably Dayne Zorko, and he plays as more of a high half forward for Brisbane. Players like Jed Anderson and Mitch Robinson are solid players who try hard, but they probably don’t belong in representative teams.
However, I do think the Allies would probably still take a match against South Australia. As discussed in Part 2, South Australia have a midfield akin to the Allies but without the same elite tall timber.
As such, were there a State of Origin carnival in 2019, I would predict the following final order:
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately!), these predictions will never be put to the test. Are they a fair reflection? Who do you think is the best State of Origin team? Who would you have picked differently?