Wayne Carey's top five: Jonathan Brown, Lance Franklin, Matthew Richardson, Warren Tredrea and Nick Riewoldt.
Footy fans were robbed of one of the true champions this week. Jonathan Brown wasn't just one of the AFL's most decorated players, he was also one of the most loved.
His fearlessness, courage, work ethic and never-say-die attitude made him one of the AFL's most admired leaders and also helped him become one of the greatest centre-half-forwards the game has seen.
It's long been said that centre-half-forward is the most difficult position to play in footy and Browny made it his own.
The Lions' triple-premiership dynasty has been well documented and while Browny played a key role in that three-peat, it was his dominance as a key forward that yielded Brisbane success for many more years to come. They may not have won a premiership since, but they've rarely been anything but competitive. That's Browny's influence.
The very best teams have gun centre-half-forwards and the very best of those players share similar qualities. Not only are they sheer brutes when it comes to their size, but they're also amazing athletes, with huge tanks and a thirst for work.
While it seems to have taken a while, modern footy seems to be welcoming a return of the key forward and Browny would no doubt have been an inspiration to all.
I'm really looking forward to watching the progress of blokes like the Giants' Jeremy Cameron and Jonathon Patton. They've already showed glimpses of form, and teammate Tom Boyd is another to watch.
Then there's Tex Walker at Adelaide and even Jesse Hogan from Melbourne, who we haven't seen a lot of. From all reports, he also has what it takes.
If any of those players go about their business the way Browny did, then they'll go far.
So just where does Browny sit among the greats? Ranking him is no mean feat, but I believe that he’s the best centre-half-forward we’ve seen since the turn of the millennium. Here’s my top five since 2000:
1. Jonathan Brown, Brisbane Lions
Average Disposals 14.4
Marks inside-50 3.0
Score involvements 6.5
Score assists 0.9
Goals average 2.3
Total goals 594
Honours: 3 premierships (2001-03), 3 best & fairests (2007-09), 5 x leading Lions goalkicker (2007, `09, `10, `12, `13), 2 times All-Australian (2007, ’09), captain 2009-12, co-captain 2007-08, 2013
Browny was the complete package. While his courage stands out, he was also an unbelievably good pack mark, he kicked goals when they were needed most and his endurance and athleticism were outstanding for a 100 kilogram-plus bloke.
The other string to his bow was that, for such a huge man, he was really good below his knees. For that reason Leigh Matthews often moved him into the centre to give the Lions something else.
The battering that he copped, coupled with suspensions (16 games between 2001 and `13), meant he struggled to get continuity in his career, but at his best, Browny was without peer.
2. Nick Riewoldt, St Kilda
Marks inside-50 3.2
Score involvements 7.5
Score assists 1.2
Goals average 2.2
Total goals 603
Honours: 5 best & fairests, 3 x leading goalkicker, 4 x All-Australian, Rising Star 2002, AFLPA MVP 2004, captain since 2008
Riewoldt’s evolution as a centre half-forward is easily the most remarkable of the modern era. He has transformed from a Brown-like forward who took really strong pack marks, to a gut-running lead-up forward who would be taking more uncontested marks now than when he started his career.
He simply burns his rivals into the ground. At times he’s lacked accuracy and penetration with his kicking, but that has returned. His form earlier this year was amazing. Probably not as good as Brown below his knees, but the way in which he goes about his marking - taking the ball at its highest point - makes him an incredibly difficult proposition for defenders.
3. Matthew Richardson, Richmond
Marks inside-50 3.8
Score involvements 7.8
Score assists 0.7
Goals average 2.8
Total goals 800
Honours: 1 best & fairest, 13 x leading club goalkicker, 3 x All Australian, AFL Hall of Fame
People often forget that Richo booted 800 goals. It’s an amazing figure and if Brown and Riewoldt had his measure in certain aspects of their games, then Richo had them for his rare athletic ability.
This recent inductee into the Hall of Fame was a machine. For a guy who was about 198 centimetres and weighed more than 100 kilograms, he just took his fitness to another level. He also had genuine speed.
That ability to cover the ground made him incredibly difficult to match up on. He was sometimes maligned for his accuracy in front of the sticks, but he was the sort of guy who could have booted 20 goals in a match. He just got so much of the ball. He finished his career on the wing, which just goes to show how good an athlete he was.
4. Warren Tredrea, Port Adelaide
Marks inside-50 2.8
Score Involvements 7.6
Score assists 0.9
Goals average 2.2
Total goals 549
Honours: 1 x premiership, 4 x best & fairest, 8 x leading goalkicker, 4 x All-Australian, 3 years captain, AFL Hall of Fame
Like Brown and in the same era, Tredrea was able to do everything. A strong mark, he was the focal point of Port’s game plan, was a four-time All-Australian, a premiership player and incredibly good on his opposite side. Being so accomplished on his left foot added another dimension to his game, making him less predictable to opponents. He was a great decision-maker and user of the ball.
5. Lance Franklin, Sydney
Marks inside-50 3.0
Score involvements 8.3
Score assists 1.0
Goals average 3.2
Total goals 615
Honours: 2 x premierships, 1 x best & fairest, 6 x leading goalkicker, 2 x Coleman medallist, 4 x All-Australian
Franklin isn’t like any of the other players I’ve mentioned. In fact, he’s a rare species when it comes to centre half-forwards. He’s not nearly as good at marking the ball, though that area of his game is improving. His kicking, at times, also lets him down, but he’s such a freak athlete that not only does he get away with any deficiencies, he hurts opposition teams.
He is almost impossible to match up on. He’s super-quick, is very good below his knees and has the endurance to match, if not surpass Richo. Throw in his ability to turn players inside out and his relatively young age (27), Franklin will be a force to be reckoned with for some time.
So there you have it, two Hall of Famers in my top five and the other three will join them soon enough. What they all had, and have, in common is a desire for hard work and a competitive instinct. They were rarely beaten.