We’re halfway through the 2021 AFL season, and there’s a strong cohort of players should be vying for the Brownlow Medal at season’s end. The Inner Sanctum profiled each team’s top Brownlow contenders, and the players to watch across the entire competition.
Rory Laird has been a standout in the Crows’ midfield this season, ranked fourth in the competition for disposals after round 12. With an average of 31.2 per game, alongside 14.9 contested possessions and 6.7 clearances, his move to the midfield has worked wonders for the Crows in 2021.
Laird’s midfield apprentice Ben Keays has been one of Adelaide’s most improved players this year, and established himself firmly in the Crows’ best midfield competition, averaging 28.4 disposals. After a hot start to the season with 17 goals in his first 3 games, Tex Walker could also poll a few early-season votes.
Jarryd Lyons has been an incredibly consistent performer for Brisbane in the first 12 rounds of 2021, dipping below 24 disposals in a game just once, with an average of 27.8 for the season. He’s stood up in the absence of 2020 Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale, also averaging 6.4 clearances and 5.5 tackles, evidence of his work around the ground.
Hugh McCluggage has also established himself as one of the Lions’ – and the competition’s – top midfielders in 2021, as a damaging player for Brisbane. He’s averaging 7.3 score involvements and 418.6 metres gained from 25 disposals, and has hit the scoreboard regularly, with 9 goals for the season.
Off half-back, Daniel Rich has also stood out for the Lions, averaging 26.3 disposals and 608.4 metres gained. Expect Rich to poll a few votes in the first half of the season, but the Lions’ big pollers will be Lyons and McCluggage.
Comfortably the Blues’ most consistent performer of the first half of the season is Sam Walsh, who has taken his game to another level in 2021. The 2019 Rising Star winner is averaging 30.3 disposals a game and has been a standout even in Carlton’s disappointing losses. With ball in hand, Walsh is running at 76 percent disposal efficiency, with score involvements (average 7.3) and clearances (average 5.4) also key components of his game.
In just his third season, Walsh is the Blues best Brownklow Medal contenders.
Another standout performer for the Blues has been Harry McKay, who leads the Coleman Medal race after 12 rounds, who could poll a few votes after a couple of big bags so far this season. Co-captain Patrick Cripps could also feature in voting at points.
Ruckman Brodie Grundy has been fantastic for the Pies in 2021, second overall for hitouts and leading the competition in average hitouts with 35.4. In addition to his brilliant tap-work, Grundy is averaging 19.3 disposals and 4.5 clearances, highlighting his outstanding follow-up work.
Darcy Moore has been brilliant in defence for the Pies this season, a 28-disposal, 19-mark game against North Melbourne in round 8 likely to see him poll maximum votes. Jack Crisp, as one of the most experienced in the injury-hit Collingwood midfield, is averaging 27.3 disposals and 507 metres gained, and will likely end the season among Collingwood’s top few vote-getters.
One of the competition’s most improved player in 2021, Darcy Parish is one of the key Brownlow Medal contenders. Ranked third in the competition for disposals, Parish has become the Dons’ best player since his move to the midfield in round three. Parish has passed 30 disposals in seven of his 12 games, with 42 disposals and 2 goals netting him the ANZAC medal against Collingwood and 44 disposals the Yiooken Medal against Richmond. Parish is ranked ‘elite’ in the key categories of disposals, clearances and score involvements, and will certainly be among the top medal chances on Brownlow night.
Equally as impactful in the Bombers’ midfield has been Zach Merrett, who is also averaging in excess of 31 disposals per game in 2021. The midfield pairing of Merrett and Parish has been a highlight for Dons fans, with Merrett’s ability to impact the game key for Essendon with an average of 6.8 score involvements, 463 metres gained and a disposal efficiency of 73.5%.
READ MORE: AFL Mid-Season Review: Essendon
Like a fine wine, David Mundy seems to keep getting better the longer he plays. Potential best-on-ground performances against GWS in round two, Adelaide and North Melbourne in consecutive weeks are likely to see him placed high in the count early in the season.
Andrew Brayshaw has also been consistent for the Dockers, averaging 27.9 disposals, while two-time Brownlow Medallist Nat Fyfe could also poll a few votes in the 12 games he played before sustaining a shoulder injury.
2020 Carji Greeves Medallist Cameron Guthrie has again been outstanding for the Cats in 2021, arguably leading the charge for a second consecutive club Best and Fairest and an outside Brownlow Medal chance. A career-high 43-disposal game against Hawthorn in round three and back-to-back 36-disposal games against Richmond and St Kilda will have Guthrie well placed to poll consistently on Brownlow night.
Mitch Duncan should also poll well, averaging 26.9 disposals at 77.7 percent. Duncan amassed 37 disposals in the same game against Hawthorn, while a 26-disposal, four-goal performance against West Coast in round six should see him named best-on-ground. Skipper Joel Selwood is a Brownlow Medal contender. The captain has recorded 27 disposals and 2 goals against Brisbane in round two, and 39 disposals against the Suns in round ten, a couple of standout performances that could earn him some votes. Keep an eye on 2017 winner Patrick Dangerfield as he returns from injury post-bye also.
READ MORE: AFL mid-season review: Geelong Cats
Gold Coast Suns
With the Suns’ standout midfielder of 2021 Touk Miller ineligible for the Brownlow Medal through suspension, Noah Anderson and Hugh Greenwood look to be the next most likely Brownlow Medal contenders for the Suns.
Anderson’s 35-disposal, nine mark performance against North Melbourne in round two, and similarly solid performances against Carlton (30 disposals, ten clearances) and Sydney (34 disposals, seven marks) could see him among the votes, while 26 disposals against Collingwood and a 23-disposal, 13-tackle outing against Adelaide were two of Greenwood’s best performances in the first half of 2021.
READ MORE: AFL Mid-Season Review: Gold Coast Suns
Toby Greene is likely to poll votes for the Giants in the first half of 2021 after a handful of dominant performances. Greene booted 5 goals in consecutive games – the round three loss to Melbourne and the round four win against Collingwood – with 17 and 18 disposals in each. Greene’s 4-goal, 19-disposal performance in round six against the Western Bulldogs is sure to put him among the votes also.
Tim Taranto has been back to his best in 2021, a 35-disposal showing against Adelaide in round seven a likely three-vote performance. Outings of 34 disposals against Collingwood, 29 against Essendon and 32 against Richmond could also see Taranto among the votes.
Jacob Hopper and Josh Kelly may also poll a few votes throughout the Giants’ first 11 games.
READ MORE: AFL Mid-Season review: GWS Giants
Tom Mitchell has been prolific as ever for the Hawks in 2021, second in the league for average disposals with 33.5.
Expect Mitchell to break out of the blocks with three votes for a 39-disposal game in round one, while dominant 41 and 44-disposal games against West Coast and Carlton respectively are also likely to see him poll.
The 11-1 Demons are likely to have a few players that are Brownlow Medal conenders, with star midfielders Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca leading the charge in the first half of 2021.
Oliver is the current favourite for the Brownlow Medal, and is deserving of this position. His 38-disposal, 3-goal performance, ironically in the Dees’ only loss for the season, is almost a certainty to net Oliver the three votes.
The round two clash against St Kilda in which he amassed 37 disposals and 11 clearances should also see him receive maximum votes, while 28 disposals and ten clearances against the Blues should see him among the best once again.
While not as much of an accumulator as his fellow Brownlow hopeful, Petracca has undoubtedly been just as impactful. 36 disposals and two goals in the match against Geelong makes him a near-certainty for three votes, while he starred with 28 disposals and two goals against Brisbane, and 38 disposals against Richmond.
Skipper Max Gawn should poll highly after recording 24 disposals and 28 hitouts against the Giants and 26 disposals and 24 hit
All six votes in the round nine win over Hawthorn should go to Roos players, with Jy Simpkin, Ben Cunnington and Luke Davies-Uniacke gathering 38 clearances and 99 disposals between them.
Of the trio, Simpkin amassed 38 disposals and 14 clearances, while Cunnington recorded 37 and 13. Davies-Uniacke registered 11 clearances from just 24 disposals, while in the same game Todd Goldstein collected 19 disposals and 28 hitouts.
Expect Cunnington to poll a few more votes throughout the first half of the season after a handful of other impressive performances.
READ MORE: AFL Mid-Season Review: North Melbourne
The experienced midfield duo of Ollie Wines and Travis Boak have been the standouts in the Power midfield in 2021.
Wines has recorded the ninth-most disposals across the league, despite the Power having the round 12 bye. He was among the best as he racked up 38 disposals and six inside 50s against Essendon, and in round six against St Kilda where he amassed 36 disposals, seven marks and seven inside 50s. 27 disposals and a goal against Collingwood and 35 disposals against Fremantle were also some of Wines’ notable performances.
Boak kicked two goals from 27 disposals and seven clearances in the round one win over North Melbourne, which should be one of his best chances to claim top votes. The following week against Essendon, Boak registered 30 disposals and nine clearances, a game in which he’ll again be among the top voters.
READ MORE: AFL Mid-Season Review: Port Adelaide
It may be a quieter regular season than we have previously seen from Dustin Martin, but it’s still places him among the game’s elite. The 2017 Brownlow Medallist has multiple best on ground performances to his name already, including a demolition job of the Blues in round one to get his Brownlow count off to the right start.
The mercurial Shai Bolton has produced some incredible matches, and his consistency and ability to stay in the contest has become a feature of his performances this year.
Captain courageous continues to lead from the front for the Saints, and where would they be without him? Jack Steele completed his ascent to one of the elites of the game last year, and has continued in 2021 by averaging 13.4 contested possessions, 7.6 tackles and 23.9 pressure acts, all classified as elite. Jack Billings has built his best season for the Saints as well – the classy wingman is averaging 20.9 disposals and has hit the scoreboard with 12 goals in 12 games.
In his transition into a permanent fixture of the Swans’ engine room, Callum Mills has been a masterstroke. The hard-nosed academy graduate does the tough stuff inside, averaging 20.8 pressure acts, but then uses the ball with aplomb by going at an elite 74.7 per cent by foot.
Mills, along with Rory Laird, Cam Guthrie and Jack Crisp are proving that elite halfbacks can become some of the top Brownlow contending midfielders in the AFL. Luke Parker and Buddy Franklin are two others who have had best on ground performances in 2021.
West Coast Eagles
The Eagles have been ravaged by injury, and as a result have had numerous players role through the middle and take votes off each other. Tim Kelly was having his best season in the blue and gold before injury struck him down in round 11; he is elite for centre clearances (3.5) and score involvements (7.1) per contest. Taking another step as a star midfielder has been Dom Sheed. The 2018 Premiership hero has prolific ball-winner, underlined by his 43 disposals game against Essendon. His area of improvement now comes with his consistency of games, because when he is at his best he is rubbing shoulders with the elite midfielders of the competition.
Two Brownlow contenders are playing the best football of their careers at the Dogs. Marcus Bontempelli is averaging 26.9 touches to go with 1.4 goals per game, and is ranked elite for score involvements and inside 50s. The Bont is in a class of his own in the forward half, and looks on his way to his highest Brownlow tally of his career.
As prolific as a footballer comes, Jackson Macrae has stepped up his production from a 2020 season in which he claimed his first All-Australian blazer. The ball magnet is averaging the most disposals in the competition at 35.2, and has become a brilliantly damaging player with ball in hand.
READ MORE: AFL Mid-Season Review: Western Bulldogs
Top 10 Contenders – Statistical Averages
- Disposals: 31.6
- Contested Possessions: 17.1
- Clearances: 7.3
- Score Involvements: 8.2
- Disposals: 26.9
- Metres Gained: 593.4
- Score Involvements: 8.1
- Season Scoring: 17 goals 11 behinds
- Disposals: 31.4
- Clearances: 8
- Metres Gained: 473.9
- Score Involvements: 7.8
- Disposals: 35.2
- Disposal Efficiency: 76.5%
- Metres Gained: 495.3
- Score Involvements: 7.8
- Disposals: 28.3
- Metres Gained: 554.5
- Score Involvements: 8.3
- Season Score: 13 goals 9 behinds
- Disposals: 30.3
- Disposal Efficiency: 76%
- Clearances: 5.4
- Score Involvements: 7.3
- Disposals: 25
- Metres Gained: 418.6
- Score Involvements: 7.3
- Inside 50s: 4.5
- Disposals: 31.1
- Clearances: 5.8
- Score Involvements: 5.7
- Marks: 6.3
- Disposals: 23.5
- Score Involvements: 6.4
- Inside 50s: 5.5
- Season Scoring: 13 goals 6 behinds
- Disposals: 27
- Clearances: 5.7
- Score Involvements: 5.8
- Tackles: 7.6