At the midway point of the season, we name the players likely to be named in the All-Australian team.
Trent McKenzie (Gold Coast)
McKenzie’s solid form has been one reason behind Gold Coast’s stunning start to 2014. The ‘Cannon’ has always possessed a lethal left boot, launching attacks off half-back for the Suns, but this season he has become a more consistent player, ranked equal sixth in the AFL for rebound 50s. The 22-year-old has also shown added maturity and leadership in the way he has conducted himself on the field.
Harry Taylor (Geelong)
Long a defensive stalwart for the Cats, in the absence of fellow defenders Tom Lonergan and Corey Enright for parts of the season through injury, Taylor has stood up and performed with aplomb for the Cats. He has consistently taken the opposition’s key forward and has restricted their output each week. The statistics tell the story for Taylor – he is ranked eighth in the competition for contested marks, and notably took 13 marks in the Cats’ win over Richmond in May.
Cale Hooker (Essendon)
Placed on the trade table at the end of 2012, Hooker almost found himself moving home to Perth to play with West Coast. This season, he has transformed himself from a somewhat one-paced and inconsistent defender to a solid, reliable cog in Essendon’s backline. Key to his renaissance this season has been the fact that he is winning far more of the ball this season, but at the same time has tightened up his defensive efforts. This blend of offence and defence has allowed other Essendon defenders more freedom, and means that Hooker is taking responsibility for the opposition’s second best tall each week. One look at the numbers tells the story: six games with over 24 disposals for an average of 21.4 for the season, an average of 8.9 marks per game, including a career-high 16 against North Melbourne, and is the top ranked player for marks per game in the competition this year.
David Swallow (Gold Coast)
Like team mate McKenzie, Swallow has taken his game to new heights this season. He has greatly improved his output this season, averaging his highest number of disposals (24.5 per game), including a career-high 37 in last weekend’s loss to Adelaide. A much more settled Gold Coast backline has allowed Swallow to spend more time through the midfield, where both his contested and outside ball-winning ability have been on display.
Joel Patfull (Brisbane)
One of the most underrated players in the game, Brisbane’s 2013 best and fairest winner keeps getting the job done against much more highly fancied opponents. A lockdown specialist, Patfull’s strength lies in his ability to wear his opponent like a glove, curtailing the opposition’s best forward each week with Daniel Merrett’s move to the forward line. Ranked 16th in total one percenters this season, the leadership he has provided to a young Brisbane team has also been invaluable.
Kade Simpson (Carlton)
For a Carlton team that has performed inconsistently this year, veteran Simpson has been a shining light in defence for the Blues this season. Here are just some of his statistics: ranked 12th in effective disposals, fifth in kicks, equal 13th in uncontested possessions, and 15th in disposals. Add to this his 37 disposals against Adelaide and average of 6.3 marks this season, and it is clear the Simpson is enjoying a stellar year in 2014.
Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood)
To see Pendlebury in the All-Australian team at this point in the season comes as no surprise. The Collingwood captain is having another sublime year, averaging 29.0 disposals and 5.5 tackles, including 10 in the game against Sydney, and ranked in the top echelon in various statistical categories: equal seventh in contested possessions per game, 24th in tackles, fourth in effective disposals, third in disposals and 17th in total clearances. His phenomenal consistency is highlighted by the fact that he has amassed under 25 disposals in only one game this season – 24 against Richmond in round four.
Steve Johnson (Geelong)
Johnson’s excellent form of the past few years has continued in the first half of season 2014, averaging 27.8 disposals, 5.1 marks, and 5.0 tackles per game. Johnson’s rankings of 15th in disposals per game and fourth in inside 50s per game highlights the importance of his ability as a transition player able to bridge the gap between the midfield and forward 50.
Nathan Fyfe (Fremantle)
Long touted as a star of the competition, Fyfe is living up to that billing this season. His stellar season so far is reflected in the statistics: equal 11th in clearances per game, fourth in contested possessions per game, equal 15th in contested marks per game, and averaging 26.2 disposals, 4.4 marks and 4.1 tackles. Before his game against the Bulldogs, in which he gathered an unusually quiet 14 disposals, Fyfe’s lowest disposal count for the season was 20, with a season-high 34 disposals, seven marks and two goals coming against Port Adelaide.
Chad Wingard (Port Adelaide)
In just his third year of AFL, Wingard is continuing the scintillating form that saw him named an All-Australian last year as a second-year player. Playing predominantly as a forward this season, Wingard has enjoyed a fantastic season in front of goal, averaging 2.4 goals per game. His incredible goal smarts and general footy nous have made him a pivotal player for Port this season, evidenced in the round eight win over Fremantle in which Wingard’s five goals played a crucial part in helping Port to an 18-point victory.
Nick Riewoldt (St Kilda)
The Saints skipper has always been regarded as one of the game’s best key forwards, but is experiencing a late-career renaissance this year after several quiet seasons. The Saints’ three wins this season have largely come on the back of Riewoldt’s efforts, in particular a bag of five goals that saw the Saints stun Essendon in round five. He currently sits fourth on the Coleman Medal tally with 31 goals for the season, and is ranked highly in a number of key statistical categories – second in marks, equal 12th in contested marks and fourth in marks inside 50.
Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide)
The bullocking midfielder/forward has undoubtedly become the Crows’ most damaging player this season. His ability to blend an insatiable appetite for the contest with his ball-winning ability has been vital to a Crows midfield that has looked one-paced at times this year. Dangerfield’s rankings of third in contested possessions and 10th in clearances put him in the top echelon of midfielders. However, he has also added to his offensive game this year, kicking 12 goals for the season, including five goals against GWS in round five. His most stunning performance came in Adelaide’s highly impressive victory over Collingwood in round nine. Dangerfield’s performance played a large role in getting his team over the line – he accumulated 32 disposals, four marks, eight tackles, and nine inside 50s.
Robbie Gray (Port Adelaide)
Hawks small forward Luke Breust is stiff to miss out here, having kicked more goals for the season than Gray; however, Gray makes the team due to his ability to rack up possessions through the midfield, as well as providing a dangerous presence around the contest. With the injury woes of the past few seasons seemingly behind him, Gray has been having a career-best season – he is averaging 23 disposals, five marks, two goals and three tackles a game. He is also ranked equal second in goal assists in the competition, a telling statistic that shows his willingness to work hard for the team cause.
Jay Schulz (Port Adelaide)
Schulz’s excellent form this season has played a large part in Port’s rise to the top of the ladder. Averaging three goals and six marks per game, Schulz has performed admirably as Port’s key forward this season. He currently sits equal third in the Coleman Medal, an admirable feat considering the bevy of other well-performed forwards in the Port line up. He is also ranked fifth in total contested marks, and kicked an equal career-high seven goals against Brisbane in round four.
Luke Parker (Sydney)
More time spent in the forward line this season has paid dividends for Parker, who is in scintillating form. Like last year, he has continued his penchant for winning the ball (averaging 24.7 disposals and 5.6 tackles a game), but has also expanded his offensive capabilities, averaging 4.8 marks and 1.3 goals per game, marking his transformation into a true goal-kicking midfielder. Parker has accumulated more than 20 disposals in all bar one game, and has kicked several bags of goals, including four in a near best on ground performance against Adelaide in round three. Most impressive is Parker’s performances against top teams – he had arguably his best game against Geelong in round 11, but has also been in his team’s top players in the games against Collingwood, Fremantle, North Melbourne and Hawthorn.
Aaron Sandilands (Fremantle)
After missing much of last season through injury, the game’s premier big man is back in business this season. Sandilands has played every game this season, and over the past five weeks has enjoyed a purple patch of form, averaging 17 disposals. He had a career-best 58 hit outs against Gold Coast, and is ranked first in the competition in hitouts (447) and second in contested marks (25).
Gary Ablett (Gold Coast)
On track for his third Brownlow, Ablett is clearly the best player in the competition right now. Doubts swirled at the beginning of the season over whether more playing time in the forward line would limit his output, but Ablett has not taken a backward step, instead raising his average goals per game to two whilst still racking up possessions, averaging 32 disposals per game, and displaying ferocious pressure, averaging six tackles. The statistics point to Ablett’s dominance – first in disposals, first in effective disposals, first in clearances, equal fourth in goal assists, first in contested possessions, and equal 14th in goals.
Josh Kennedy (Sydney)
One of the competition’s best midfielders over the past few years, Kennedy is continuing his stellar form this season. Averaging 31.4 disposals, 5.6 tackles and nearly one goal per game, Kennedy has truly stamped himself as one of the elite midfielders in the competition. He ranks second behind Ablett in contested possessions and disposals, and third in clearances. His season highlight came against Essendon in round nine, in which he amassed 39 disposals, six marks, one goal, five tackles, two goals, and seven inside 50s.
Travis Boak (Port Adelaide)
Boak’s stellar form this season shows just why Geelong chased him so hard at the end of last year. The Port skipper is averaging 27 disposals, 3.5 marks and 3.8 tackles per game, as well as playing a crucial role in winning clearances and contested possessions for his team. He had a career-high 41 disposals against Brisbane in round four, a day in which he also amassed seven marks, four tackles and a goal.
Nick Dal Santo (North Melbourne)
Vying with Port’s Jared Polec for the title of ‘Recruit of the Year’, Dal Santo has been in great form this season. Playing every game this season for his new team, Dal Santo is averaging 27 disposals, 3.4 marks and 2.7 tackles per game. His run and carry both off half-back and through the midfield have added a dimension largely absent from North’s game last year, and he has provided excellent leadership to North’s younger players.
Brent Harvey (North Melbourne)
At 36 years of age, Harvey is still performing just as well as he was earlier in his career. The midfielder/forward is in almost career-best form this season, averaging 25.9 disposals, 4.9 marks, 3.6 tackles and over a goal a game. He has tallied below 20 disposals just twice this season, with his best performance coming against Brisbane in round nine, in which he gathered 39 disposals, seven marks, two goals, three tackles and had six inside 50s.
Tom Rockliff (Brisbane)
In an extremely disappointing season for the Lions, Rockliff has been a shining light. In an injury-depleted midfield, the vice captain has performed with aplomb, leading the way for the Lions’ inexperienced team with an average of 28.2 disposals, 5.1 marks, 9.1 tackles – second in the league – and nearly one goal per game. He has had several standout games this season, namely against Gold Coast – 35 disposals, 11 marks, five tackles, five inside 50s and three goals – and Carlton – 36 disposals, six marks, 13 tackles and two inside 50s.
B: Trent McKenzie, Harry Taylor, Cale Hooker
HB: David Swallow, Joel Patfull, Kade Simpson
C: Scott Pendlebury, Steve Johnson, Nathan Fyfe
HF: Chad Wingard, Nick Riewoldt, Patrick Dangerfield
F: Robbie Gray, Jay Schulz, Luke Parker
Foll: Aaron Sandilands, Gary Ablett, Josh Kennedy
Int: Travis Boak, Nick Dal Santo, Brent Harvey, Tom Rockliff