IT IS not often that we have such a large list of defensive performers in the list, but after this round, we could be looking at the future All-Australian backline. It seems the debutants have embraced extra responsibilities with teams experimenting with positions. The bar has been raised, but the players just keep on coming. The race to the Rising Star award is close and will be hard to call at the end of the season.
The wait is finally over – this is Cam Rayner. The last three rounds, with a confident Lions, has redefined our expectations of the number one pick as he lifts to a new level with each round. Blessed with a stronger team than what we saw at the beginning of the season, Rayner is getting his chance to run free. His 19 possessions at a 74 per cent disposal efficiency alone could have been enough to earn him a spot here, but Rayner decided he’d top his game off with three goals and 11 score involvements as well. Rayner played a huge impact, finishing with two rebound 50s, two inside 50s, two clearances, two tackles and two one percenters. He gained 462 metres for the game, and only fell short by two points to Eric Hipwood on the goal front. Anywhere and everywhere, this kid dominates and could be aiming for his Rising Star award as we close out the season.
Earning a Rising Star nomination for his performance out the backline, Taylor showed off a football sense well beyond his years. With quite possibly the defensive equivalent of a bag of goals, Taylor finished the match with eight intercept possessions, five tackles, eight one percenters, all while minimising his turnovers. Despite only 13 touches, Taylor managed to take seven in a contest with each having a considerable impact. He also had three rebound 50’s, three score involvements and one clearance. While a lot of debutantes had stellar defensive performances this weekend, Taylor’s stood out due to his mistake minimisation, percentage of important possessions and work off the ball. Quite often the success of players is measured through a player’s offensive presence. People love goals, but when a player steps up and bares a responsibly Taylor had against the Tigers, it needs to be recognised and rewarded. We could be seeing a future All-Australian backman in the making.
The hungry, high-pressure player frightened across the ground, making his opponents earn every inch of the football. With 17 disposals, eight contested with an 82 per cent disposal efficiency, Guelfi may have been unlucky not to earn a Rising Star nomination. Though his performance didn’t end there, collecting six interceptions, seven score involvements, two clearances, six one percenters and two goals. His efforts were especially useful down back. He snagged five tackles, 16 pressure acts, two rebound 50’s and five marks. Guelfi is steadily developing into a talented, pressure midfielder and could receive a nomination soon if he continues to star like this. Pretty good for pick 76.
Melbourne returned to their goal-front domination this round with Spargo sharing in the fun. Kicking two goals, with eight score involvements and one goal assist, the young Dee was immense in their victory of the Dogs. A careful read on the high ball and an uncanny crumbing ability, turned his opponents inside out as he kicked and affected goals. Melbourne have recruited two amazing forward players in Spargo and Fritsch, and while different footballers in front of goal, complement each other all the same. Spargo also laid an impressive seven tackles for the day with 21 pressure acts. A glimpse at the next best small forward in the competition it might seem.
Like Taylor, Banfield was a pivotal defensive presence for the Dockers, yet to be recognised. Though low on the goal front despite playing up forward, Banfield’s pressure has been nothing short of astonishing. For the game, he recorded 41 pressure acts – the highest across the round, and laid nine tackles. He recorded 12 contested possessions with his 18 touches, six clearances, two inside 50s, two rebound 50s, five score involvements and three intercept possessions. Though messy with the ball at times (56 per cent disposal efficiency), Banfield played a unique role for his side with a commanding presence around the ball. With some tidier skill work, Banfield should easily earn himself a Rising Star nomination.
Despite his low disposal efficiency of 55 per cent, Murphy put on a stellar performance for his side. Noting his 23 pressure acts and clear presence up forward, it is no surprise Murphy kicked three goals for the game. He laid three tackles (two inside 50) and had a hand in five of Adelaide’s scores. A solid contender with seven contested possessions, a contested mark and three tackles. Murphy is eager to leave his mark on the game and has done just that in Round 17.
Though unable to win the Rising Star award due to his age, talks have begun as to whether Kelly will make All-Australian selection. The Western Australian sensation loves to decorate his stat sheet and his performance against the Crows was no different. With 29 disposals and 15 contested possessions, Kelly dominated around the bounce having seven clearances. He kicked his fourteenth goal for the season, had five score involvements with one goal assist and three inside 50s. I think All-Australian talks are completely justified at this point in the season. Kelly not only dominates the game, but does it on a team with Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood, blending in with the future hall of famers like he is one.
If we are acknowledging standout defensive performances, I would be amiss if I glossed over Naughton’s performance against the Dees. With 94 per cent disposal efficiency off his game spent cleaning up messes in the backline, Naughton brought clean hands and careful positioning to the ball, collecting nine intercept possessions and ten one percenters. His game finished with 18 possessions with six contested, four marks and four rebounds. When you’re up against the best attacking side in the competition, it is no easy task defending, especially in your first year, but Naughton had a fair crack. If it wasn’t for five turnovers, lower efficiency, and less spread across his stats, Naughton could have taken home a nomination.
Despite North’s heavy hitters in Majak Daw, Ben Brown and Jack Ziebell, O’Riordan’s 10 intercept possessions, eight marks and 17 pressure acts kept Sydney’s walls from crashing down. He had plenty of defensive efforts with five tackles and five rebounds. His disposal efficiency rested at 79 per cent, with 19 disposals staying clean and composed despite an aggressive offensive. All his time spent resting in the Swan’s back half, O’Riordan showed he can take the big responsibilities and stood up for the Swans
Though only kicking two behinds, Fritsch’s disposal efficiency of 78 was a standout with his 18 possessions. Entering unfamiliar territory, Fritsch played most of his football in Melbourne’s defensive half, collecting eight intercept possessions, three tackles and three one percenters. His impressive hands were on display with his six marks (one contested), chopping off the Bulldog’s transition with his impressive overhead ability. Consistently clean, he also had three inside 50s, five score involvements and one goal assist. Fritsch added to an already impressive resume with this performance, showing that his goals don’t define his football.
After a lengthy stay in the VFL, Luke Davies-Uniacke (LDU) got the call up for the Kangaroos, starting his game in the centre. Initially playing on Josh Kennedy, LDU showed a composure unlike anything we’d seen in previous rounds despite the obvious mismatch. The open field offered up after the Sydney skipper was forced from the ground might have done wonders for the Dandenong boy’s game. With an 88 percent disposal efficiency, seven contested and 11 uncontested possessions, he starred around the stoppages with three clearances and one out of the centre. He often grabbed first hands to the loose ball and switched well to break Sydney’s lines. He laid five tackles with 14 pressure acts, bringing more hunger later in the game after an effective first half. While not overly impressive in his VFL performances, LDU stood up for the big stage with three inside 50s, five score involvements and one goal assist. He brought his mental game with him and cleaned up where he was lacking early in the season.