B: Nick Smith, Cale Hooker, Nick Malceski
HB: Brodie Smith, Eric Mackenzie, Dyson Heppell
C: Jordan Lewis, Josh Kennedy, Nathan Fyfe
HF: Robbie Gray, Lance Franklin, Dustin Martin
F: Luke Breust, Jarryd Roughead, Brent Harvey
R: Sam Jacobs, Gary Ablett, Tom Rockliff
I: Matt Priddis, Travis Boak, Luke Parker, Scott Pendlebury
The unassuming defender has had another super consistent season. Yet another of the Swans’ rookie list success stories, Smith has become one of the most reliable small defenders in the competition. He can be relied upon to curtail the opposition’s most dangerous small forwards week in and week out, and has been one of the driving factors behind Sydney’s dominance this year.
After several inconsistent years where his future as an AFL footballer was questioned, Hooker has undergone a remarkable transformation into one of the competition’s best key defenders. What sets him apart from other contenders for this spot is his ability not just to play a lock-down role – which he has done exceptionally well this year – but also his ability to accumulate the ball – he averaged a career-high 18.4 disposals this season, in addition to a whopping 7.4 marks, ranking him second in total marks and third in marks per game in the competition.
The veteran Swan has had another outstanding season, providing run and carry off half back with excellent disposal efficiency. Ranked first in the competition for total rebound 50s, as well as first in total kicks, Malceski shows no signs of slowing down, despite turning 31 next year.
The young Adelaide defender has taken the competition by storm this season. His lethally accurate left boot and run off half back have marked him as one of the best rebound defenders in the game – indeed, he is ranked second for total rebound 50s in the competition. At just 22 years old, Smith has a bright future ahead, and should be a lock for the All-Australian team.
Mackenzie carried the weight of West Coast’s number one defender with the retirement of stalwart Darren Glass, and was clearly in the best handful of key defenders in the competition. Rarely beaten in one-on-one contests, he was responsible for curtailing many of the game’s power forwards.
Already an accomplished outside player, Heppell is now the complete package after improving the contested side of his game this year. He relished a permanent move into the midfield in the absence of captain Jobe Watson, transforming himself into a contested ball-winning machine. However, this did nothing to dent his ability to rack up disposals – he averaged 28 disposals and 5.6 clearances for the year. A Brownlow Medal contender at just 22 years old, Heppell’s outstanding season has marked him as one of the premier midfielders of the competition.
Lewis has taken his game to another level this season. Renowned as a tough competitor for his fierce attack on the ball, Lewis has made ball winning a priority this year. In the absence of prime midfielder Sam Mitchell through injury, Lewis took charge of the Hawks’ midfield and was a model of consistency this season. He won more of the ball, averaging 27.7 disposals and 5.6 tackles, up from 21.8 and 4.8 last year, and improved his efficiency, ranked third in total effective disposals in the competition this year.
Firmly in Brownlow contention after another stellar season, Kennedy was the driving force behind the Swans’ engine room. The contested ball-winning machine was ranked second in total contested possessions and seventh in total clearances in the competition, and still managed to find plenty of the ball as well, averaging 28.6 disposals per game.
Fyfe has firmly elevated himself into the elite category of players this season after a superb year that saw him voted Most Valuable Player by his peers. At just 22 years of age, Fyfe is the complete player, blending a ruthless competitive streak with leadership beyond his years. The only blight on a stellar year was two suspensions that have made him ineligible to win the Brownlow.
After several years blighted by injury, Gray developed into an elite midfielder this season. His excellent form and versatility was a large catalyst for Port’s finals charge this year. He won plenty of the ball, averaging 25 disposals a game. He also kicked 35 goals for the season, and was voted the AFL Coaches’ Association Player of the Year.
Back to his best after winning the Coleman Medal this season, Franklin had a sensational first year in Swans’ colours. Despite the presence of fellow talls Kurt Tippett and Sam Reid, Franklin was the focal point of Sydney’s forward line, and delivered in spades, having what was arguably his best season since he kicked 100 goals in Hawthorn’s premiership-winning year of 2008.
2014 was the year Martin finally delivered on his seemingly limitless potential. The previously inconsistent half forward developed into a bonafide midfielder, but is named on the half forward flank due to his ability to push forward and contribute to the scoreboard – he kicked 27 goals, an average of 1.2 per game, while still averaging 25 disposals.
One of the most accurate goal kickers in the competition, Breust can lay claim to the title of competition’s best small forward after his superb 2014 season. He kicked 54 goals, an average of 2.4 per game, and was ranked third in the competition for goal assists. His run of 29 straight goals in the middle of the season saw him equal the record held by Tony Lockett.
Roughead’s form this season was nothing short of outstanding. The versatile big man showed that Franklin’s absence had no effect on his form, kicking 64 goals for the year, but also playing in the ruck. Behind Franklin, he was clearly the standout key forward of the season.
At 36 years of age, Harvey shows no signs of slowing down. The veteran worked his magic in the midfield and at half forward, kicking 28 goals at an average of 1.3 per game, and averaging 26 disposals and five marks per game. His three-week suspension late in the year was the only blemish on an otherwise fantastic year.
After his most consistent season, Jacobs stamped himself as the competition’s premier ruckman, taking the mantle previously held by Aaron Sandilands. With Josh Jenkins playing mainly as a forward, Jacobs shouldered Adelaide’s ruck load and performed with aplomb, ranking third in the AFL for total hitouts, and averaging 16 disposals per game.
Despite missing the last seven games of the season through injury, Ablett makes the team on the back of his superb start to the year, and remains a front runner to win his third Brownlow medal. Truly a once in a generation player, Ablett almost carried his young Suns team into their first finals series. More time spent in the forward line saw him average two goals per game, but did nothing to dent his ball-winning ability, averaging 32 disposals a game.
Rockliff makes the team and finally gets the kudos he deserves after several outstanding years. In the absence of fellow prime midfielders Daniel Rich and Jack Redden, Rockliff shouldered the midfield burden in the young Brisbane team. The tackle machine averaged a whopping 9.1 tackles per game, ranking first in the AFL, as well as 33 disposals and five marks.
There were several players vying for this bench spot, but Priddis gets the nod due to his run of consistent form over the past few years. One of the most underrated midfielders in the competition, Priddis is one of the best contested players in the game, ranking third for contested possessions and averaging 7.3 tackles per game (third in the AFL). However, often overlooked is Priddis’ ball-winning ability – he averaged 29 disposals a game per season in a below-par midfield, ranking him first in the competition for total disposals.
A super consistent season from the Port captain was one catalyst for the team’s charge to the finals this year. After resisting overtures from Geelong to return home to Victoria at the end of last year, Boak led by example, ranking third in total inside 50s, eighth in total contested possessions, and 12th in total clearances.
Parker’s versatility gives him the nod here. He developed into a bonafide midfielder this season after making a name for himself as a half forward. It’s hard to believe Parker is yet to turn 22 such is his composure on the field. He managed to kick 22 goals playing as a midfielder, averaging 26 disposals, four marks and six tackles per game.
Perhaps unlucky not to warrant a spot on the field, Pendlebury had another fantastic year but tailed off slightly in the latter stages as injuries took their toll on Collingwood’s midfield. He still managed to average 28 disposals for the year, and his silky skills through the middle of the ground were again a standout of his game.
Unlucky to miss:
Joel Selwood: Unlike others, I don’t see the Cats’ skipper as having as good as season as in previous years. He still won plenty of the ball, and willed his team over the line most weeks, but compared to some others, I don’t feel he was as effective.
Daniel Talia: He was the winner of the Crows’ Best and Fairest award this season, and had a fantastic year. However, with room for only two key defenders in the team, I felt that he was just shaded by Mackenzie and Hooker.
Jack Gunston: Gunston had a wonderful year, but misses out due to Martin’s versatility. He is only young, and after two consistent seasons, will be odds-on to feature in the final All-Australian squad in the next few years.