Footy’s best line up for a date with Charlie

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Tom Mitchell is favourite to win the Brownlow Medal tonight.

By NATHAN JOHN

Tom Mitchell and Max Gawn lead the field for this year’s Brownlow Medal. 

Tom Mitchell

Hawthorn onballer Tom Mitchell is the white hot favourite to take the award home. Once criticised as failing to have an impact on matches despite having a high number of possessions, the former Swan has evolved in 2018 to record more inside-50s, contested possessions, clearances and metres gained.

Mitchell made a strong start to the season with 54 disposals against Collingwood followed by 13 clearances and two goals against Geelong. He worked through close tags from Melbourne skipper Nathan Jones and North Melbourne’s Ben Jacobs to get back to his prolific best, ranking first in the competition for average disposals (35.3), effective disposals (25.4) and clearances (8.0) as of Hawthorn’s finals exit.

Max Gawn

Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn has set up the competition’s most fearsome midfield with 348 hitouts to advantage, becoming the first player to notch 1000 hitouts during the home-and-away season. The Demons are ranked first for centre clearances (14) with their nearest challenger trailing by 1.2 – also the difference between second best and 17th best over the season.

If the award were named the Most Valuable Player, it would be hard to make a case for any other player on this evidence. Gawn has eclipsed his previous All-Australian year of 2016, recording more forward 50 entries, making more ground with his disposals and adding intercept marking to his skill set. As the game has pivoted back into ruck dominance, so too may the Brownlow Medal.

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The reigning Brownlow Medallist is a big chance again.

Dustin Martin

Dustin Martin has adapted to a new brand of footy at Richmond where he is less inclined to follow the ball around the ground. The reigning Brownlow Medallist has recorded four fewer disposals and one fewer clearance per game in 2018, but the drop has come almost entirely in his stoppage numbers. His centre clearance figures have marginally improved from 2017.

Damien Hardwick’s side has favoured pressure and turnovers over contested pressure as a key metric for success. Starting at the centre bounce and sitting forward of the ball, Martin has maintained his attacking impact of 2017 with six inside-50s, an assist and 1.5 goals per game. How his evolution impacts his polling will be a key subplot on the night.

Patrick Cripps

Carlton extractor Patrick Cripps was the league’s most prolific inside midfielder in 2018, ranked first for contested possessions per game, second for clearances per game and in the elite bracket for tackles per game. It is all the more impressive for the fact his side won just two games, or perhaps reflective of shouldering too heavy a burden in a shallow midfield.

Cripps added more elements to his game in 2018. He delivered more of the ball into the forward 50, increased his involvement with the Blues’ scoring and used his towering frame to double his contested marking average. He likely won’t take home Charlie, but the strength of his numbers and presence will have him in the mix.

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Carlton’s Patrick Cripps had a huge year.

Stephen Coniglio

Greater Western Sydney midfielder Stephen Coniglio had a remarkably consistent campaign in spite of the injuries that poisoned the Giants’ season. The onballer dipped below 20 disposals just once, averaging 28 possessions, five tackles, five clearances, four inside-50s and a goal over 23 games.

The West Australian wasn’t dominant in any statistical category, but his game is so rounded which would have caught the attention of umpires. A blistering start to the year against the Bulldogs and Magpies may be enough to keep Coniglio in the top handful when votes for the Giants’ four consecutive midseason losses are read out.

THE BEST CHANCES BY CLUB

Adelaide – Rebounding defender Rory Laird may rocket into early contention, having averaged 35.3 disposals through seven games. He closes out similarly well with 75 touches and 19 marks across the Crows’ final two games.

Brisbane – Onballer Dayne Beams took his time getting started in 2018, but is set to poll well from Round 7 onwards. He could be on track for three votes in a nine goal loss to North Melbourne, after collecting 32 disposals and booting five goals.

Collingwood – Ruckman Brodie Grundy will be right in the frame with Gawn. Third for average hitouts and in the elite bracket for stoppage clearances and contested possessions, he is the most rounded big man in the game.

Essendon – Skipper Dyson Heppell had an up-and-down season but had a handful of standout performances that should see him top the Dons’ count. One of his most notable efforts was 35 disposals and 13 marks in their opening round win over the Crows.

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Brodie Grundy is a strong chance for the Brownlow. 

Fremantle – With Nat Fyfe ineligible, Lachie Neale looms as the Dockers’ best hope on the night. The potentially soon-to-be Lion was in the top 10 for average disposals, contested possessions, clearances and effective disposals, but many of his best performances came in heavy losses.

Geelong – 2016 winner Patrick Dangerfield spent plenty of time in the forward half this season and his midfield numbers took a hit. However, a number of impressive performances in wins and close losses may see the former Crow go close to his second Brownlow.

Gold Coast – The Suns’ prospects of any individual player collecting more than a handful of votes are grim, but Aaron Young may take all three for his four goal haul in their stunning upset over the Swans in Round 18.

North Melbourne – Former Bulldog and 2017 Syd Barker Medallist Shaun Higgins is the Roos’ most rounded and impactful midfielder, leading his team for disposals, score involvements, goal assists and metres gained. For this reason he may edge out extractor Ben Cunnington to top their count.

Port Adelaide – Ollie Wines was Power’s most consistent inside midfielder this season, but Chad Wingard’s form after the bye may be enough to eclipse the captain-in-waiting. The forward spent more time on the ball and will win votes even through Port’s disastrous final month.

St Kilda – There will be few opportunities for Saints players to poll over the season, but Jack Steven will collect votes in a handful of games. Steven’s run and carry in addition to his centre bounce dominance will hold the 176 gamer in good stead with umpires.

Sydney – Despite barely training all year, Lance Franklin booted 17 goals and took 34 marks in the opening month and closed out the season in similar form. With the form of captain Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker dipping this season, Buddy will get closest to the medal for the Bloods.

West Coast – Andrew Gaff is ineligible after his horrific punch to the head of Fremantle midfielder Andrew Brayshaw, but Elliot Yeo may surpass him in any case. The utility was in the league’s top five for average forward entries and tackles and top 20 for contested possessions and metres gained.

Western Bulldogs – Onballer Jack Macrae had one hand on the medal before tearing his hamstring just after the bye, but his final month may lift him back into contention. He averaged 38 disposals in the Dogs’ resurgence, including 43 disposals, 14 marks and a goal against the reigning premiers.