The 2017 AFL season is on our doorstep and if the culmination of the 2016 season has taught us anything, it's that nothing is predictable and anything is possible. That sentiment is echoed tenfold at this stage of the season when it comes to trying to predict the winner of the AFL’s highest individual award, the Brownlow Medal.
Despite the counting of the votes being six months away, those who fancy a flutter and those involved in season-long prediction competitions with mates or at work can make a few dollars or claim hero status by correctly selecting the league’s fairest and best player in late March.
It's not an easy task, but throughout season 2017 this column will attempt to steer readers in the right direction starting with this week’s look at some of the leading contenders, a few roughies and your team’s best chance.
Patrick Dangerfield (Geel) $6.00
The reigning Brownlow Medallist is the current favourite for this year’s award. In his first season with Geelong, Dangerfield simply dominated from start to finish. He collected 43 possessions on debut for the Cats against Hawthorn in Round 1 and gave his all amassing 39 touches in the Preliminary Final loss to Sydney. In between he was equally devastating and often unstoppable. He polled a record 35 Brownlow votes and was judged best on the ground nine times.
So can he go back to back? History says no with only Robert Harvey achieving the feat in the past 40 years. But it's a brave man to say he can't. Particularly when you consider Dangerfield has polled at least 20 votes in every season since 2012 and is at the peak of his powers. He's electrifying out of the midfield and just as scary when resting forward, capable of kicking multiple goals. With the Cats likely to be in the hunt for a top 6 spot they should win enough games for ‘Danger’ to again poll well and it might just be a wise move to tip him to go back to back.
Marcus Bontempelli (WB) $8.00
If Dangerfield is the current star of the game then Marcus Bontempelli is biting at his ankles to overtake him. The ‘Bont’ had a stellar 2016 averaging 24 disposals and almost 5 tackles across his 26 games for the Bulldogs. Not bad for a 20-year-old. He also polled 20 Brownlow votes which shows, despite his tender age, he is a vote winner and catches the men in white’s eyes. For good measure, he also polled 13 votes in 2015, just his second season in the big time.
It is reasonable to assume the Dogs can win at least as many games as last year (15) and perhaps even more and with not too many other players stealing votes from Bontempelli he looks a sure bet to poll well again, but I'd risk him at second favourite to win outright.
Nat Fyfe (Frem) $9.00
Fyfe entered the 2016 season as the games clear best player. He'd just had an enormous season winning the 2015 Brownlow Medal and valiantly tried to lift his Dockers into a Grand Final literally on one leg. It was that leg however that ended his season prematurely in Round 5 and with it his status as the game's best.
Fyfe’s first 14 games in 2015 could be argued as being the best stretch of performances from any one player in the history of the game. He averaged 31 possessions and 9 clearances and the Brownlow count was over, as by Round 14 he'd polled an astonishing 29 votes. Even last season in just five matches he still managed to poll 4 votes which shows, if fit, he is still on the podium in terms of the best current players. The emergence of Lachie Neale and the return of Aaron Sandilands might detract from some of his vote winning capacity, but with the Dockers tipped to improve and the troublesome leg appearing healthy again, he looks a nice Brownlow tip.
Dustin Martin (Rich) $10.00
It’s hard to believe Martin is still just 25 years old. It feels like he has been around forever. Always showing promise, he broke out in a big way in 2016. He averaged 31 possessions for the season and racked up some huge numbers, including 43 and 38 in his two encounters with Essendon, 39 against the Hawks and 38 against the Dogs and Suns. He polled 25 Brownlow votes to finish in 3rd which followed 21 votes in the 2015 count proving the umpires notice his work.
Having laid those stats bare though it is hard to see him replicating those numbers this season. Richmond have recruited midfielders Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy from rival clubs paving the way for Martin to spend more time helping the Tigers kick a winning score and for that reason, he is a risk.
Rory Sloane (Adel) $10.00
With Dangerfield’s defection to Geelong much of the added burden on the Crows midfield to start 2016 fell to Rory Sloane. To say he handled it superbly would be an understatement. He led the Crows midfield brilliantly averaging 25 disposals and 7 tackles a game last season and his in and under grunt work is emphasised by the fact half of his possessions were contested possessions, a rarity these days.
That in-and-under style though has been to his detriment this pre-season where a fractured eye socket has meant Sloane has missed the entire pre-season practice match competition and is in a race against time to be fit for the Crows opening game at home to the Giants. He seems a false equal fourth favourite based on that.
Jack Steven (StK) $21.00
Steven is a ball magnet with the ability to amass huge numbers of possessions and tackles and does all his best work in and around the stoppages. He polled 12 votes in 2015 and 16 last year and with the Saints expected to push for the finals this season he could exceed 20 votes.
Tom Mitchell (Haw) $51.00
Like Steven, Tom Mitchell is an accumulator of disposals and is a pure footballer. He's averaged 27 possessions and 6 tackles in each of his past two seasons at the Swans despite at times being used as a tagger by John Longmire. Clearly frustrated by it, he requested and was granted a move to Hawthorn where he’ll be the main midfielder and won't have the likes of Kennedy, Parker, Hannebery and Franklin taking votes off him.
Best From Other Clubs
Dayne Beams ($41)
Question marks over his durability but the same can be said for Tom Rockliff. Did poll 16 votes in 2014 and his pre-season has been solid.
Patrick Cripps ($26)
If in a better side he'd nearly be rivaling the likes of Martin and Sloane for top five favouritism. The kid is elite and polled 18 votes last season, half of which came in Carlton losses.
Adam Treloar ($21)
Wasted no time settling into Collingwood playing 22 games and racking up 21 Brownlow votes. If the Pies can win a few more games he could be a real smokey.
Dyson Heppell ($51)
The new skipper is no stranger to winning awards having taken out the Rising Star in 2011. Whilst winning the Brownlow seems a stretch, he should be polling the most for the Bombers.
Tom Lynch ($201)
Ablett and Hall seem the logical choices. But is Gaz’s heart in things? Will Hall become consistent? We know Lynch is a gun and generally performs rain, hail or shine.
Dylan Shiel ($26)
With so many stars it makes winning a Brownlow virtually impossible. Ask Leigh Matthews, ask Wayne Carey, ask any of the current Sydney mids. Shiel does seem best credentialed through with his hard running and ball winning ability and the fact Coniglio will miss a chunk of games through injury.
Jack Viney ($51)
Polled 14 votes last season as he emerged from the shadows of being Todd’s son. 12 of those were in Melbourne wins though so will need the Demons to improve as a collective to push towards 20.
Todd Goldstein ($34)
The Roos lost a heap of experience in the off-season and their best shot of getting someone remotely close to winning appears ruckman Todd Goldstein.
Robbie Gray ($21)
Firmly believe if Gray played for a Victorian club he’d be spoken about in far more glowing terms than he is. Underrated, he's one of the few in the competition who regularly collect 25+ possessions and kick multiple goals. He's done it 16 times in the past three seasons compared to Dangerfield’s 13.
Josh Kennedy ($21)
It could've been Parker, or Hannebery, or Franklin and therein lay the problem. The Swans have had two players poll at least 20 votes in each of the last three seasons which makes it hard for any of them to win. But Kennedy is the pick purely based on consistency.
Andrew Gaff ($34)
Gaff was a revelation last season patrolling the Domain Stadium wing picking up possessions at will. The arrival of clearance king Sam Mitchell, who'll provide Gaff with even more outside ball only enhances his potential to rack up big numbers and attract umpires votes.