Ever since Port Adelaide played Adelaide at Football Park on 20 April 1997, the local derby has been known as the Showdown.
It’s that time again. With the 2020 AFL season to tantalisingly close to beginning, it means The Roar’s annual countdown of the Top 50 players in the AFL is back underway.
We got five of our experts (myself, Josh Elliott, Adrian Polykandrites, Cam Rose and Jay Croucher) to get their heads together and list their top players, with points awarded based on how high they ranked on each expert’s list. The points were then tallied to give you our definitive top 50 for season 2020.
We’ll be revealing the top 50 in groups of 10, starting from today with 50-41 and ending on Friday with the top ten.
Without further ado, let’s get underway!
GWS Giants | Defender
So, technically, I guess this is a top 51. It simply didn’t feel fair for a player who had enough ‘points’ to qualify for the top 50 get bumped off the list entirely on a technicality.
Williams featured in the high 40s on three of our experts’ lists and is someone I expect to see rocket up the ladder in 12 months time. Long regarded as one of the better rebounding defenders in the competition, injuries in the midfield saw 25-year-old conscripted to the engine room during last year’s finals series – with great success.
Finished seventh for metres gained last season and, with restricted free agency looming at the end of this season, could be one of the juicier trade stories throughout the winter.
Adelaide Crows | Midfielder
The Adelaide skipper proved more divisive – featuring in the 30s on two lists and missing altogether on another two. Set to turn 30 before the start of the season, Sloane will be in charge of setting the example for his new-look side in 2020.
He might not have the out-and-out superstar power of some other mids on the list, but he’s an incredibly consistent tackling and clearance machine who will make anyone – friend or foe – at the coalface work harder.
GWS Giants | Defender
The first ever player to move from another AFL club to the Giants may have relinquished the co-captaincy in the offseason, but he’s still one of the premier key defenders in the AFL and will no doubt still lead GWS by example from the back.
Only Jeremy McGovern had more intercept possessions last season than Davis, who’s also provided superb defensive analysis in his rare TV appearances of late. A successful career in commentary awaits.
Richmond | Defender
Defender appreciation continues at no.48 with Nick Vlastuin being recognised for his stellar 2019. In light of Alex Rance’s season-long absence (now a permanent absence), the Richmond back six were always going to need to stand up last season and Vlastuin was a huge part of that.
One of a select few players in the AFL who can match it with a tall forward – despite only standing at 187cm – while also being an elite user of the ball coming out of the back half. Went at no.9 in the 2012 draft but would probably go in the top five if it was re-done today.
Brisbane Lions | Midfielder
Brisbane’s meteoric rise up the ladder last season was years in the making, but a big breakout from the 2016 no.3 draft pick was a huge factor. McCluggage improved his averages in disposals, goals, tackles, inside 50s, clearances, score involvements and metres gained in 2019 to become an integral part of the suddenly-potent Lions midfield.
His club may be a popular pick to regress back into the pack a bit in 2020, but another leap forward for McCluggage could see that hypothesis disproven quickly.
Western Bulldogs | Midfielder
Another team quietly putting together one of the best engine rooms in the game is the Western Bulldogs – with Josh Dunkley’s emergence a huge factor. The 23-year-old’s numbers exploded last season, increasing his disposal average from 22 to 28 and doubling his clearance average too. He’s a tackling machine too who proves very difficult to win the contested ball against.
One of our experts had him as high as 30 on this list and, barring injury, I can’t imagine a scenario where that opinion isn’t more widely shared this time next year.
Fun fact; he became the first eligible father-son selection not to have a rival bid matched, when the Swans chose not to block the Dogs in the 2015 draft.
Port Adelaide | Midfielder/Forward
Despite turning 31 early last season, Gray managed to turn back the clock somewhat and post his best numbers since 2016. Much like the Power over the last few years, Gray has been in the upper echelon of serviceable over the last few seasons without quite being the elite matchwinner of years gone by. Still, his value as one of the few genuine hybrid midfielder-forwards in the game can’t be understated.
Opinion among the experts was divided here. He appeared as high as 27 on one list, hovered in the low 40s on most others and didn’t crack the list at all on another.
West Coast Eagles | Midfielder
I think Gaff’s been badly mistreated here – I had him at 31, which was the highest of anyone on the panel and in hindsight that still seems too low. One of our experts didn’t have him on the list at all!
It wasn’t too long ago that he was the biggest fish on the trade market, before joining Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly in one of the AFL’s most elite circles – players who’ve rejected a multi-million dollar offer from North Melbourne.
He posted career highs in disposals and marks last season – 32 and 6.4 per game – but probably gets marked down slightly for some high turnover numbers and an almost complete lack of scoreboard pressure.
North Melbourne | Midfielder
Cunnington above Gaff? Yeah, I don’t agree either – but it wasn’t just up to me! As much as both Cunnington and North Melbourne have reputations for being unspectacular, blue-collar jobbers, the 28-year-old is one of the best users of the ball in the game. It’s very rare for a player to rank highly in clearances and effective disposals, but Cunnington does.
Blessed with some of the safest hands in the business, Cunnington has been remarkably consistent over the past three seasons and even set career highs in disposals and clearances in 2019.
Geelong Cats | Defender
This guy was one of the most divisive players of all. One expert had him at 14, another had him at 27 and the others didn’t have him on the list at all. I fall into the latter camp, as I’m of the opinion that he’s a butcher of the ball – but to each their own.
In any case, Stewart was named to the 2019 All Australian team and, in fairness, was an integral part of a Geelong back six that held their opponents to a league-low 66 points per game that season.
Sydney Swans | Midfielder/Forward
The face of the Swans academy himself. At just 23 years old Heeney still has plenty of time, but 2020 or 2021 needs to the year he really takes it to the next level and becomes a matchwinner for the Swans.
He’s a classy ball user who can impact in the middle or hit the scoreboard – while also being one of the best overhead marks and judge of the ball in flight, but hasn’t quite been able to hit genuine A-grade status just yet. Could be another big riser up this list next season.
50. Zac Williams and Rory Sloane
49. Phil Davis
48. Nick Vlastuin
47. Hugh McCluggage
46. Josh Dunkley
45. Robbie Gray
44. Andrew Gaff
43. Ben Cunnington
42. Tom Stewart
41. Isaac Heeney
Tune in tomorrow as ten more names get added to the list!