Toby Greene’s latest transgression shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
The Greater Western Sydney hot head visited the AFL tribunal this week after there was speculation he eye-gouged Western Bulldogs midfielder Marcus Bontempelli. Greene was cleared with a $7,500 fine but the 25-year-old left AFL headquarters for the 17th time.
Greene has evolved from a one-dimensional ball magnet to someone who can collect the ball, kick goals and set them up.
But the one thing that is stopping Greene from being the next AFL pin-up boy are his on-field and off-field brain fades: the fly-kicks, suspensions, his boisterous acts and bar scuffles.
When asked post-tribunal if he would curb his thuggish ways, Greene said: “I don’t know, we’ll wait and see what happens.”
All of this changes the way we think about Toby Greene, in the same way we thought about Jason Ackermanis’ outspoken persona.
It made it difficult at times to appreciate the good things he did on the field. So, how should we feel about Toby Greene?
Well, here’s a list of pros and cons of Greene to consider for a moment.
GOOD: There is a Youtube clip of Toby Greene from 2011 when he was filmed talking about his chances of the AFL draft.
It’s Toby in his most raw version of himself. I think it’s good to remind ourselves that this is a real version of Toby Greene and he wasn’t always cocky or lippy.
In the clip, Jay Clark reveals how Toby’s prowess revolves around stoppages and clearances. Toby says his inside game and reading the play are his best attributes and that Matthew Boyd was someone he modelled his game on.
There’s something endearing about this clip. It makes it hard to have a beef against Greene knowing that this exists.
BAD: Have we latched on to him too early? I mean, are we really ready to call him superstar? My question is: could he be as effective playing for the Blues?
Players like Gary Ablett Jr, Pat Dangerfield and Nat Fyfe took years before they established themselves as superstars. Greene needs more time. He’s a talent, either way, but expectations of Greene are too unrealistic.
GOOD: Greene exploded in the first six rounds of 2017. He kicked 20 goals with bags of 5.2 against the Suns, 4.2 over Power and 4.1 when he took on the Swans. All of those games were wins.
He finished that year with 45 goals, equal with Jeremy Cameron and Jonathan Patton. With these sorts of efforts the hype around Greene is real. He was as good as anybody in the AFL during this block of the 2017 season.
BAD: Since 2017 Greene has only managed 16 goals (2018) and currently on 25 goals (2019). He’s missed time through injury and suspensions.
In 2017 he missed six weeks through suspensions alone. Just when you think he is stringing together some excellent work, Greene does what Greene is sometimes known for: making bad decisions.
GOOD: During an Eagles match in Round 10, 2017, Greene turned in a stats card of 25 disposals, seven marks and five shots on goal for a return of 2.3 It was one of his better days at the office. What’s better, he was instrumental in the win.
One highlight was when Greene took the ball out of mid air, hand-balled a no-look over his head to Dan Lloyd who kicked a goal that put them in front with eight minutes remaining. The game was miserable to watch but not because of Greene.
BAD: The 2018 fly kick. The fly kick! Not as bad as everyone made out but why do these things tend to follow Greene around like a dark cloud?
If Greene had a clean record, the fly kick would have been seen as careless act that it was. But because of his rap sheet, the question of intent will always be asked.
GOOD: If you look at the league’s small, mid-sized forwards like Eddie Betts and Robbie Gray, Toby Greene is among that group. Since 2017, Betts has kicked 121, Gray 107 and Greene 86. Just imagine if he played more? It’s pretty slick company to be in.
Greene has the ability to bewilder us. In the 2017 Qualifying Final loss against the Crows, Greene was held to 1.0 and 16 meaningless disposals. He was impotent. Then in the 2017 Semi Final 10-goal win against the Eagles, Greene came to the party — 17 touches, 8 marks and 3.1. And his last two games against the Bulldogs in 2019 – one of those a final – he collected a combined tally of 13 inside 50s, five goals, 44 touches.
The Round 22 match was a 61-point loss and he was instrumental during the 58-point Elimination Final win. But these are the stat lines we’ve come to expect of a player that could very well be a consistent elite player of the future.
As much as you want to, you can’t ignore that fact that Greene is on a path to become of the great small forward-midfielders. Think Ackermanis or Alan Didak. Greene is proving to be that guy opposition teams can’t handle. Some have argued we’re debating the “is Greene elite?” too early in his career.
But his forward-mid duality allure means he will always impact games with either goals or assists. Becoming an AFL great is something that is in his control.
If Greene ever gets to the pinnacle of the AFL, perhaps winning a Brownlow, he would need to cut the stormy persona and reckless acts that means he misses weeks for striking or rough conduct. But we could be looking at Greene’s reality right now: The guy that can win games off his own boot is the same guy that doesn’t know when to pull his head in when things get tense.
I think there’s still a chance that Greene will get even better in the coming years. The key for Greene is to eliminate the lulls, the periods where he looks switched off and of course, suspensions. He needs to look at what the good AFL players do.
The good players don’t have these complexities. They’re leaders. They’re consistent. There’s no real gap between their highs and lows; their lows aren’t thunderous but their highs have overwhelming layers and come finals they peak in value.
The Giants looked good against the Bulldogs last week. And if they beat the Lions and look good then the answer might be Greene.
Welcome to the weird paradox of Greene: just when you think you’ve put Greene into a box where he’s one of those players who will underachieve, he’ll go and do something completely freakish and impossible that it will change your mind.