It’s set to be one of the most hotly-contested Brownlow medal nights in many years.
Three favourites emerged over the course of the home-and-away season but, as always, there will be a smoky or two to look out for.
With the Brownlow medal count taking place this Sunday night, what better time than to look at the main contenders and see who else could cause trouble on the night?
Wines has always been a footy magnet and a contested ball bull, but he took both of those to new levels in 2021. There were just six occasions all season where he failed to gather 30 or more disposals – with his lowest tally for the year still 24 touches in a thumping win over the Crows. His disposal efficiency was very high in the context of the role he plays as well.
He doesn’t feature among the goalkickers very much, but he’s a tackling machine and racked up clearances for fun – something the umpires no doubt take note of.
He, of course, also has the advantage of being the clear number one player in his own midfield. Travis Boak, Robbie Gray and co. had fine years themselves, but it’s hard to see them pinching too many votes in Port Adelaide victories. That said, Karl Amon had a habit of bobbing up when Wines played some blinders and could end up playing spoiler to his own teammate.
I’d expect him to poll the three votes in Round 2’s win over Essendon (although Zak Butters could sneak top honours), Round 5’s win over Carlton, Round 6’s win over St Kilda, Round 11’s win over Fremantle, Round 14’s win over Gold Coast, Round 16’s win over Hawthorn, Round 19’s win over Port Adelaide, Round 22’s win over Carlton and potentially Round 23’s win over the Western Bulldogs.
If he pulls that off, that’s already a whopping 27 votes – which would be hard enough to run down on its own and even harder if he polls votes elsewhere – which he almost certainly will. If he’s able to claim votes for Round 4’s narrow win over Richmond and steal one despite the Power getting thumped by Brisbane in Round 7, it could be game over very quickly.
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The man they call ‘Clarry’ seems to be the other big favourite amongst the punters and with good reason; he took out the AFL Coaches’ Assocation’s player of the year award.
Similarly to Wines, he hoovered up the contested ball all season – finishing with fewer than 30 touches just seven times – while also racking up contested ball and clearances at the expense of not kicking too many majors.
Oliver and Wines have virtually identical stats for the season, although one big discrepancy jumps out. Oliver gives away a lot of free kicks – 45 in total this season, which is the equal-most of any player. That hasn’t stopped Brodie Grundy – another penalty-prone player – from polling well in the past, but even small factors can be decisive in such tight races.
He looks on track to poll the maximum votes in Round 1’s win over Fremantle, Round 2’s win over St Kilda, Round 9’s win over Carlton, Round 10’s one-point loss to Adelaide, Round 11’s win over the Western Bulldogs and Round 23’s win over Geelong.
There are plenty of other matches where he’s capable polling all three, but it’s just too close to call. Christian Petracca has, of course, had himself a very special year, Max Gawn is back to his match-winning best, Christian Salem has had some supreme performances off the half-back line that coincide with some of Oliver’s better games, while Ed Langdon on the wing could also be good to pinch a few votes.
If he can pip Petracca in Round 4’s win over Geelong, Round 12’s win over Brisbane and Round 20’s win over Gold Coast, as well as out-navigating Petracca and Salem in Round 15’s win over Essendon, Round 16’s win over GWS and Round 17’s win over Port Adelaide, then we’ll have a serious race.
There’s a chance he could even get his nose in front of Jack Macrae in Melbourne’s loss to the Dogs, but I also suspect his votes could be under threat in the draw with Hawthorn (from Tom Mitchell) and the win over Sydney (from Max Gawn and Callum Mills).
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Bontempelli is no doubt among the competition’s elite and, if you asked people to pick one player to start a club with, I suspect he’d be the most popular answer.
On that logic, it makes sense to see him paying $4 to take out the Brownlow but, when you actually consider how the medal is awarded, I’m surprised he’s as favoured as he is.
The midfield depth the Bulldogs possess has been the envy of the competition all season, but it might be their skipper’s turn to feel green on Sunday night as he sees teammates pinch precious votes.
The only two games I can confidently predict he’ll get the three votes for are his 32-disposal, ten-clearance effort against Carlton in Round 8 and his 29-disposal, ten-clearance, three-goal outing against West Coast in Round 15.
There are plenty of other games where he’s been among the best afield, but is likely to have votes siphoned by the likes of Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae, Bailey Smith, Lachie Hunter and the other A-graders I can’t remember.
Unlike Oliver and Wines, Bontempelli has also had a number of noticeably quiet matches in 2021 where he will definitely not poll.
As such – and as insanely good a player he is – I simply can’t recommend backing him.
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The real smokey. Steele is a superb midfielder who has the envious advantage of being by far the best player in his side. His high finish in the AFLCA voting has also seen his price fall here.
However, looking back at St Kilda’s season, I don’t think he’s a guaranteed three votes in that many of St Kilda’s wins – and there were only ten of them in 2021. He very often played a lone hand in losing efforts for the Saints, which will net you some coaches’ votes – but you have to remember that up to ten players can receive votes in that award, compared to only three in the Brownlow.
I suspect people backing him to rattle the cages on Brownlow night will end up disappointed.
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Petracca is having himself a career year and is finally making good on all the comparisons to Dustin Martin (which, in fairness, he wasn’t asking for) that have been made in recent years.
His finals series has been on another level and I imagine he’ll be a short-priced favourite for the Gary Ayres medal if Melbourne get up next Saturday.
As alluded to above though, there are simply too many Melbourne games where Oliver, Gawn, Salem or Langdon could swoop in to claim the votes. While he will certainly poll well, I think you can be safe in assuming that Oliver will have already won enough votes to inadvertently block Petracca’s path to the medal.
Adelaide Crows: Rory Laird ($101)- The Crows were in wooden spoon contention all season and certainly won’t be challenging for the Brownlow. Laird is their best shot but it’d be astounding if he finished inside the top 10.
Brisbane Lions: Jarryd Lyons ($67) – Lachie Neale’s long injury layoff and Dayne Zorko’s suspension mean it’ll be a very long shot to see any Brisbane player on top.
Carlton: Sam Walsh ($21) – Did his best for the Blues and will poll well in their victories, but surely Carlton just didn’t win enough for him to getting enough three-voters.
Collingwood: Jack Crisp ($251) – Collingwood narrowly avoided the wooden spoon and Jordan de Goey is ineligible.
Essendon: Darcy Parish ($23) – I expect him to poll very well in the middle third of the season as his breakout peaked, but Essendon’s late-season surge also coincided with a personal one for Zach Merrett and that will see votes split.
Fremantle: David Mundy ($101) – Andrew Brayshaw’s suspension means he is ineligible, so it’ll be up to old man Mundy to fly the Freo flag.
Geelong Cats: Cam Guthrie ($101) – Patrick Dangerfield’s ineligibility means Guthrie is technically Geelong’s best shot. However, that doesn’t mean Dangerfield wouldn’t have still been polling votes. No Cats will be coming close this time.
Gold Coast Suns: – There are no Gold Coast players in the hunt this year.
GWS Giants: Josh Kelly ($101) – Still hasn’t recaptured the peak form that saw him finish fifth in the 2017 count and this is reflected in his odds. Toby Greene is ineligible.
Hawthorn: Tom Mitchell ($41) – The 2018 winner was at his ball-hogging best in 2021, but Hawthorn just lost too many games – and by considerable margins – for him to be a realistic chance of winning a second.
Melbourne: Max Gawn ($151) – Max Gawn will poll a lot more votes than people paying a lot less, but it’s hard to see him getting the numbers he needs amidst competition from Oliver and Petracca.
North Melbourne: Jy Simpkin and Ben Cunnington ($251) – We haven’t seen a member of the wooden spooners win the Brownlow since Col Austen in 1949 (and he was a retrospectively awarded joint-winner anyway). We won’t be seeing it this year either.
Port Adelaide: Travis Boak ($41) – Will definitely poll votes in a number of Port Adelaide’s wins, but he’s clearly second in line to Wines at the Power and won’t be eclipsing his teammate, let alone by a margin that would allow him to win the Brownlow.
Richmond: Shai Bolton ($501) – Richmond’s stunningly bad year has been summed up pretty brutally by this stat.
St Kilda: – St Kilda’s year was obviously so bad that PlayUp are not offering odds on anyone other than Steele.
Sydney Swans: Luke Parker ($51) – Parker was clearly one of Sydney’s best and most consistent midfielders in what was a surprisingly good year. I expect he may surprise people and poll a lot more votes than someone paying as much he is normally would. It’d be an almighty boilover to see him finish on top, however.
West Coast Eagles: Andrew Gaff ($151) – It was an extremely disappointing year for West Coast and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re not expecting to have a serious challenger on Sunday night.
Western Bulldogs: Jack Macrae ($34) – It’s a bit of a surprise to see the competition’s leading ball-winner paying this much and I’d expect him to poll better than the odds suggest. However, it’s likely he ends up as a victim of having a plethora of midfield stars around him who arguably do flashier things.
All odds correct at the time of writing. Please gamble responsibly.