Eagles eye off the Pies
Rohan Connolly says this weekend's clash between Collingwood and West Coast is tipped as a grand final preview.PT0M0S 620 349
IT'S been a strange sort of football season. So it probably stands to reason that a mid-year All-Australian team would feature a few names that would have been at long odds to earn a spot only three months ago.
Back then, Lewis Jetta was a Sydney runner best-known for kicking a string of 19 consecutive behinds before he notched his first AFL goal. His teammate, Ted Richards, was viewed as an honest toiler, but hardly a candidate for best key defender in the competition.
Adelaide's Brent Reilly, meanwhile, had endured as many downs as ups in a variety of roles with the Crows, while Fremantle's Michael Johnson was coming off a season best described as ordinary, more uncharitably as a bit of a shocker.
Exciting... Sydney's Lewis Jetta has put his goalkicking yips behind him. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Ivan Maric? He was just a gamble Richmond had taken at the trade table to bolster its ruck stocks. As for Alex Rance, you could have written your own ticket.
But form can turn quickly for those prepared to work hard enough and that quartet have thoroughly earned a spot in the half-season team of the year.
This is far from your typical AFL ''best of'' line-up. For a start, there's no Chris Judd. No Matthew Scarlett. In fact, only one Geelong player at all, skipper Joel Selwood, and in truth I only just managed to squeeze him in narrowly ahead of his captaincy counterpart at the Western Bulldogs, Matthew Boyd.
Wing wizard... Trent Cotchin has been a standout performer for the Tigers. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
The Cats' senior crew this year haven't had the same consistency as usual, either in form or durability. So which teams provide the bulk of the selections?
I've got four players each from Adelaide, which won't surprise given the Crows' position on the ladder, and four from Richmond, which probably will raise some eyebrows, particularly given ladder leader West Coast has just one.
That's one more than six clubs, though, among them Carlton, whose best players have struggled or been injured, and a handful of others all had players with some sort of claim.
Scott Pendlebury has starred for Collingwood to date. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Before the catcalls start, here's the rationale. Eagles' skipper Darren Glass is, I think, a lock-in at full-back. But one of West Coast's biggest calling cards these days is its depth and evenness across its best 22, the lack of obvious standouts in individual terms more a tribute than an insult.
If you want a historical analogy, try Hawthorn in 1991, the Hawks that year landing a premiership without a single All-Australian representative. This is a selection about individual, not team success.
As for the Tigers, well, just because you're only 10th on the ladder, doesn't mean you haven't had some star performers.
Cutting edge ... Darren Glass has given the Eagles plenty of drive from defence. Photo: Getty Images
Maric edges out Dean Cox for a ruck berth on his presence all over the ground, and on numbers. The man with the game's most unfashionable haircut wins more hit-outs than all his ruck peers, more possessions, and lays more tackles. His clearance numbers aren't shabby, either.
Trent Cotchin has been a standout, running second in The Age Player of the Year award to Essendon skipper Jobe Watson and, in this side, slots comfortably alongside the Bomber on a wing. Rance has been a revelation in defence, ranking highly for both intercept possessions and rebounds.
Up forward, Jack Riewoldt gets the nod at full-forward, Hawthorn superstar Lance Franklin alongside him in one pocket, the other occupied by another ''bolter'' in Taylor Walker, the precocious young Crow second only to Franklin on goals-per-game average. That's three of the AFL's top four goalkickers, the other, Nick Riewoldt, at centre-half-forward.
Collingwood's midfield class is underlined by the inclusion of three of its runners, the seamless Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan, prolific as ever, and a young gun who just keeps getting better, Steele Sidebottom.
Sydney pair Jetta and Richards are both great stories. Jetta has become one of the most damaging runners in the competition and, with 27 goals, damaging on the scoreboard to boot.
Richards has taken his game to another level, in the top two for intercept possessions and marks, and the AFL's leading spoiler.
Like a few in this side, they're not the first names you think of when it comes to teams of the year, but then 2012, as we've already discovered, is a season full of surprises, and this compilation demonstrates that perfectly.
B: Alex Rance (Rich), Darren Glass (WC), Michael Johnson (Frem)
HB: Brent Reilly (Adel), Ted Richards (Syd), Bob Murphy (WB)
C: Brent Stanton (Ess), Jobe Watson (Ess), Trent Cotchin (Rich)
HF: Lewis Jetta (Syd), Nick Riewoldt (StK), Steele Sidebottom (Coll)
F: Taylor Walker (Adel), Jack Riewoldt (Rich), Lance Franklin (Haw)
Foll: Ivan Maric (Rich), Scott Pendlebury (Coll), Gary Ablett (GC)
Inter: Scott Thompson (Adel), Joel Selwood (Geel), Patrick Dangerfield (Adel), Dane Swan (Coll)