Watch list: The Suns Karmichael Hunt, left, and Bulldogs skipper Matthew Boyd are reason enough to keep following the football. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
IT'S the time of the season when the talk turns to the top teams, and their stars. As each week goes by, teams are being eliminated from the finals race. It's tough if you are a supporter of a struggling team. Do you still go to the footy, even though the season looks over? Greater Western Sydney has lost its past five games by an average of 100-plus points. Gold Coast has won just one of its past 23 games and tomorrow gets ladder-leader Sydney. The Western Bulldogs have lost seven of their past eight games and have a tough run home.
If you are a supporter of a battling team, perhaps you have an unsung hero who you admire, someone who gives you reason to go out once more and wear the club colours. Some of my unsung heroes in 2012 are:
Nathan Jones Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
The 22-year-old, who had played 60 games for the Bulldogs, was keenly sought by the Giants. When they won his signature, they had no hesitation in naming him as co-captain, along with ex-Crow Phil Davis. Ward has been an inspired choice and surpassed all expectations. He and Davis are the only Giants to be selected for every game, and Ward's numbers are simply outstanding. He is No. 1 at the club for kicks, handballs, contested possessions, clearances, tackles and inside-50s. He is second to Chad Cornes for marks. They say he is an outstanding young man off the field and is a certainty to win the Kevin Sheedy Medal. With his all-round class, Ward is set to be the face of GWS over the next decade.
I didn't think Hunt would make it as a genuine AFL player, but he has. To have played top-level rugby league, rugby union and now AFL, makes him unique. His developing skills, courage, aggression and humble, respectful demeanour make him popular with fans and peers. His teammates voted him into the leadership group earlier this year. His strength in close at stoppages gives great support to Gary Ablett and co. With endurance levels, he has been able to spread wide to build his possession tallies. A recent month of 20-plus disposal games means he can be rated as a genuine midfielder.
Hunt is second at the Suns for tackles, third for clearances, fourth for inside-50s and fifth for disposals. His disposal efficiency is 73.5 per cent - better than Ablett, Jared Brennan, Harley Bennell, Trent McKenzie and Campbell Brown. He can handle the heat too, kicking the match-winning goal after the siren two weeks ago against the Tigers.
I doubt there would be a more determined competitor in the AFL than the Bulldogs skipper. It took Boyd a long time to be given an opportunity at elite level and he has had to prove himself the hard way. He takes nothing for granted, gets himself superbly fit and spends the lot each time that he plays. He leads the AFL with 509 disposals and sits sixth for clearances and contested possession. Respect for Boyd's efforts would be a good enough reason for me to continue watching to Doggies play.
The nuggety bald man gives his heart and soul week in, week out to the Demons. Not blessed with an abundance of natural talent, Jones has willed his way to become one of his team's best and most respected players. He leads the disposal, contested possession and clearance counts by a mile at Melbourne, and with Mitch Clark finished for the season, he also heads up the goalkicking. You would hope that Jones' dogged, determined approach would rub off on some of his more skilled, younger teammates. Sadly, to date it hasn't.
McLean isn't a hero, but you have to respect him having a crack at Carlton. The hard nut came to the Blues on a three-year contract and in his first two seasons could only put together 16 mainly forgettable games. Too slow, a poor kick, injury-plagued and not always capable of thinking his way through pressure situations, McLean's AFL days were over. But injuries and suspension to a host of Carlton midfielders gave McLean one last chance this season.
Selflessness is his greatest strength. He goes out of the way to take the hits and clear a path for his more talented mates. In recent weeks he is averaging 24 possessions a game. His clearance and tackle counts are also high. He has proven himself a winner during tough times at Carlton and, in the process, may have saved his career.