Just glorious at the MCG.
Here’s the moral of the story in advance – your best chance to win the Brownlow is to be the one truly outstanding player on your team, even if you’re not on a team that wins every game. You know, like Jack Steele.
Marcus Bontempelli of the Western Bulldogs still leads our MVP race, but the next three players racing up the rankings are exactly those players described above – the singular stars of the Saints, Blues, and Suns, who have all passed the early and mid-season threats from Melbourne and Essendon and Port Adelaide, pushed back by competing talent on their own teams more than anyone else.
If you’ve followed my columns over the last few years, you’re aware of the Following Football tracking program we run that collects 23 sources of weekly voting and evaluations in search of the AFL season’s most valuable player. Our winner has matched the Brownlow in five of the prior six years, selecting Max Gawn over Tom Mitchell in 2018. And we’re back up to 23 sources!
In addition this season, to provide another layer of parallelism, we’re colour-coding the first four places from each game of every round, hoping to match up with what the actual officials selecting the Brownlow are most likely to decide. We like recognising the four best to account for some of the inevitable variability that choosing that third (sometimes the second) best player produces.
But in response to your comments suggesting that it’s not a true parallel if we don’t stick with the 3-2-1 voting system of the actual Brownlow, we’ve started tracking both the top three (3-2-1 voting) and top four (5-3-2-1, so that first place still equals second plus third places).
With five rounds to go, here are both of those top 25s, nicknamed colour codes because that’s how we track them on the massive spreadsheet we track all of this data on.
Colour codes (top-four placements)
1st – Marcus Bontempelli (WD) – 40 points (7 first places/1 second place/1 third place/0 fourth places)
2nd – Jack Steele (SK) – 39 points (4/6/0/1)
3rd – Sam Walsh (CA) – 38 points (5/2/2/3)
4th (tie) – Touk Miller (GO) – 36 points (5/2/2/1) and Clayton Oliver (ME) – 36 points (4/3/1/5)
6th – Ollie Wines (PA) – 32 points (4/2/1/4)
7th – Darcy Parish (ES) – 31 points (6/0/0/1)
8th – Zach Merrett (ES) – 28 points (3/2/3/1)
9th – David Mundy (FR) – 26 points (3/3/0/2)
10th – Tom Mitchell (HA) – 24 points (3/2/0/3)
11th (tie) – Christian Petracca (ME) – 23 points (3/1/2/1) and Jack Macrae (WD) – 23 points (2/3/1/2)
13th (tie) – Josh Kelly (GW) – 22 points (2/4/0/0) and Sean Darcy (FR) – 22 points (3/1/2/0)
15th – Jarryd Lyons (BR) – 20 points (3/1/0/2)
16th (tie) – Max Gawn (ME) – 19 points (2/1/3/0), Callum Mills (SY) – 19 points (2/1/3/0), and Taylor Walker (AD) – 19 points (3/0/1/2)
19th (tie) – Travis Boak (PA) – 18 points (3/1/0/0), Dustin Martin (RI) – 18 points (3/1/0/0), Toby Greene (GW) – 18 points (2/2/0/2), Tom Stewart (GE) – 18 points (2/0/3/2), Ben Cunnington (NM) – 18 points (1/2/2/3) and Hugh McCluggage (BR) – 18 points (1/2/2/3)
25th (tie) – Dayne Zorko (BR) – 17 points (1/3/1/1) and Karl Amon (PA) – 17 points (2/1/1/2)
It’s easy to see the pattern in the votes. You’ll notice, for example, a lack of West Coast Eagles in the top 25. That’s because there are five of them in the top 50, and they cancel each other out.
Jamie Cripps had the highest vote total last week in the Eagles’ win over Adelaide, but that was his very first colour code points of the season (of course, his injuries precluded him winning most of the season).
His win kept Andrew Gaff and Shannon Hurn from earning more votes, and kept Nic Naitanui out of the votes altogether. The ruckman finished fifth for the game.
Meanwhile, both Touk Miller of Gold Coast and Tom Mitchell of Hawthorn earned blue codes for first place in their games despite the fact that their teams didn’t win (I can hear the asterisk on my Hawthorn game comment already).
Jack Steele placed second despite the Saints’ loss to Port Adelaide. It’s his seventh straight game with a first or second place point total, and the only Saints player to out-vote-total him in any of those games is Luke Dunstan.
Similarly, Miller has had three straight blues in Rounds 16, 17 and 18, but more remarkable than that is that he’s now gone nine straight games as the leading vote getter among Suns players, dating back to Round 9, which he sat out due to suspension.
The theory of sole breadwinners even works in parts of seasons, as Fremantle has demonstrated. During the first third or so, veteran David Mundy ran up blue ribbons like a champion winery. In recent weeks, it’s been Sean Darcy who has collected the votes from Dockers games, win or lose. The periods of dominance for each have put both of them in the top 15.
Bontempelli has been at the top since a string of first-place games in Rounds 8-10. The two prime candidates he was running alongside back then, however – Darcy Parish and Clayton Oliver – have been forced to share votes with Zach Merrett and Christian Petracca respectively, while Bontempelli has kept the top spot and the solo artists have moved forward.
This week’s win over Gold Coast is a good example of why we use the broad-based system we do. Some evaluators, like the coaches voting through the AFLCA and the Brownlow predictors at some betting agencies, had Bontempelli as the unequivocal best-on-ground. Others, like the four guys picking their top fives for Zero Hanger or Footyology’s team of the week, didn’t notice him on the field at all.
The overall effect was to place him third for the game on average, behind teammate Jack Macrae and Gold Coast’s Miller. But that’s why it’s hard to follow any individual voter and feel comfortable that you know what the Brownlow voters will do, especially when there are so few people doing the voting for the medal.
Reducing the colour votes to the top three and scoring them like Charlie does – three for first, two for second, one for third – doesn’t change the ladder too much, but it does give you men (and women) of Steele even more hope for a Saints victory on Monday, September 20th (or so – nothing is definite in the era of COVID).
1st (tie): Marcus Bontempelli (WD) and Jack Steele (SK) – 24 points
3rd (tie): Sam Walsh (CA) and Touk Miller (GO) – 21 points
5th: Clayton Oliver (ME) – 19 points
6th: Darcy Parish (ES) – 18 points
7th: Ollie Wines (PA) – 17 points
8th: Zach Merrett (ES) – 16 points
9th: David Mundy (FR) – 15 points
10th: Josh Kelly (GW) – 14 points
From there on down, there are a mass of names among those who don’t have a shot at getting a date with Charlie this season.
11th (tie): Tom Mitchell (HA), Jack Macrae (WD), Christian Petracca (ME), Sean Darcy (FR) – 13 points
15th (tie): Jarryd Lyons (BR), Callum Mills (SY), Max Gawn (ME), Dustin Martin (RI), Travis Boak (PA) – 11 points
20th (tie): Taylor Walker (AD), Toby Greene (GW), Dayne Zorko (BR), Andrew Gaff (WC), Jack Riewoldt (RI), Cam Guthrie (GE) – ten points
Seriously, even if one of them earns 15 votes in the last five games, do you see either Bontempelli or Steele getting fewer than five votes the rest of the season? That’s what’s required for Petracca or Mitchell to win it at this point. Our MVP award, however, is still based on the overall point total, which Bontempelli still leads by 50 points over Walsh. We’ll look at that next week.
So, looking forward, who has what games coming up, and can we expect Jack Steele, Sam Walsh, or Touk Miller to overtake the Bulldogs’ favourite by Round 23?
Bontempelli (and Macrae) have Melbourne, Adelaide, Essendon, Hawthorn, and Port remaining. Each team has one or two players who often feature in the voting, and four of the five have strong midfields as well. Winning always helps, and the Doggies will be favourites in the last four, probably by three goals or more.
If Bontempelli can pull anything close to 15 Brownlow votes – anything in double digits would be spectacular – he’ll not only lock the medal up, but he’ll deserve it beyond any question or doubt.
Steele has West Coast, Carlton, Sydney, Geelong, and Fremantle remaining. There are some real beasts in the midfields he’ll be facing, but Steele has been a beast himself, as I mentioned, polling top two in the last seven matches.
If he keeps that pattern up – first or second in each of these matches, which is feasible win or lose – that would give him at least ten more votes, and a total Bontempelli and everyone else would find hard to match.
Walsh and Carlton play North, St Kilda, Gold Coast, Port, and GWS. Those three centre games put him directly against other top six midfielders (Steele, Miller, and Wines). Ben Cunnington and Toby Greene aren’t chickenfeed, either.
He has to at least match what Jack Steele does, and by our estimation out-poll him by two or more votes, to consider himself a real chance to win what would have to be the first of multiple Brownlow medals.
Touk Miller and the Gold Coast Suns play Brisbane (yeesh), Melbourne (uh-oh), Carlton (hello, Sam), Essendon (hi, Darcy and Zach), and Sydney. If he polls enough top-twos to move past the three we have in front of him with that gauntlet to duel, he deserves all the accolades he gets and more.
It would probably require him playing selfishly to accumulate 40 a game (which might well come naturally, as well as he’s playing), but that goes against his team-first nature. It seems unlikely.
And below him, you have Oliver, Parish, and Wines who have other stars on their own teams to compete with, and behind them, it starts to require more votes than they have available to them in the final five games if indeed any of those first three can win eight or ten votes.
So, our money is on Jack Steele winning the Brownlow, with Bontempelli second and Sam Walsh third. But the pandemic rescheduling will have a lot to say about the circumstances of each game between now and the end of August. And this may be another year that we recognise a different MVP than the Brownlow does, for reasons we’ll discuss next week.
Postscript – in our haste to get our predictions for Round 19 to you, we shot them off to the editor before the AFL chose to switch out three games between Rounds 19 and 20.
So here’s the ELO-Following Football ratings forecasts for the games as currently scheduled (Tuesday night), including a neutral site assumption for the Essendon-GWS game:
• Port Adelaide by 26 over Collingwood
• Carlton by 14 over North Melbourne (but I won’t be surprised by any North win the rest of 2021)
• Brisbane by 30 over Gold Coast in the Q Clash.
• West Coast by one point over St Kilda (and personally, I like the Saints right now)
• Hawthorn by three over Adelaide
• Bulldogs by two over the Demons at the MCG. (But I won’t put money on it, I just want to enjoy it.)
• Sydney by three goals over Fremantle.
• Geelong by 21 over Richmond. (I like Richmond’s side of that line.)
• Essendon versus GWS somewhere in space? Dons by five.