When trying to frame a market for the Brownlow Medal, awarded to the best and fairest player in the league each year, it would seem difficult to go past the winners of 2016 and 2017 respectively: Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin. It’s even more the case when you consider the pair polled a whopping 69 votes between them last year, Martin claiming the medal with 36, three ahead of the ineligible Dangerfield. The Geelong superstar finished eight votes clear of the next-best player, Hawthorn’s Tom Mitchell. So we can assume Martin and Dangerfield will again be right at the top of the leaderboard. Right?
Well, probably, but this year the situation is complicated. Dangerfield has had to contend with inspirational Cats skipper Joel Selwood taking votes off him, but this year the “threat” has been amplified further. The reason, of course, is because Gary Ablett has returned to the club. Ablett is himself a dual Brownlow medallist, and even rising 34 and with a troublesome hamstring, he still looms as one of 2018’s best players. Ablett averaged 33 disposals per game last year, higher than Dangerfield (29.9) and Selwood (25.5). While Dangerfield was a considerably more prolific goalkicker last year than Ablett, it’s expected they will rotate through the forward line in 2018.
Among the other major challengers to Martin’s crown include Nat Fyfe, with the 2015 winner seemingly back to form of that season. The Fremantle skipper has also been earmarked for a greater role up forward this year.
Dangerfield and Martin were clearly the game’s standout players last season, but there is also something to be said for consistency. Not that the two of them didn’t deliver regularly, but they weren’t the absolute benchmarks when it came to performing every week, at least from a statistical perspective.
That honour goes to Mitchell, who might not have polled as many Brownlow votes as Dusty and Danger, but who in his first year as a Hawk smashed the record for most disposals in a season. He looks as good a fantasy captain as anyone, having scored more than 100 points in an astonishing 20 games last year, averaging 127.2. He operates so well on the inside that he is near impossible to tag, even though it has been argued that he doesn’t hurt opposition sides all that much given his style of play.
After Mitchell came Dangerfield, who averaged 120.5 points and reached the fantasy ton 17 times. The Cat superstar’s points are boosted by his regular impact in the forward line, although it remains to be seen how that will be affected by the addition of Ablett. The next three best averages came from men who played for Carlton last year: Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Sam Docherty. Only one of them will have an on-field impact at the Blues this year, though. Gibbs has headed to the Crows, while Docherty will miss the season because of a serious knee injury.
It will be interesting to see whether the addition of Gibbs allows Rory Sloane to become more consistent. Sloane proved to be highly susceptible to a hard tag last year, even on grand final day when he was stopped by Richmond’s Jack Graham.