14/04/2024

Who's leading your AFL club's best and fairest? Photos: Essendon FC, Carlton FC, Adelaide FC

Shock names, inspiring comebacks and historic dominance feature heavily in each club's best and fairest count through Round 7 of the AFL season.

While it’s still early in the season, there are some unlikely names appearing in best and fairest debates around the competition.

While Nic Martin may be as surprising as any name to feature, there have been inspiring comebacks from the likes of James Sicily and continued dominance from superstars including Jack Steele.

The Inner Sanctum’s picks who is leading your AFL club’s best and fairest count after Round 7.

Ben Keays

In the best form of his career so far, Ben Keays is the name that has risen to new heights after a fantastic 2021 season. Coming second last season in the Crows’ Malcolm Blight Medal, Keays has started his third season at the club averaging 31 disposals, 12.6 contested possessions and 486.3 metres gained.

He is eighth in the league for score involvements with 52 and has the third-most centre clearances in the AFL with 25. He has also received coaches votes in four games for the year so far.

In a bid to claim back to back Malcolm Blight medals, Rory Laird has been another shining light in Adelaide’s surprising form this season. Laird averages 32 disposals and 14 contested possessions this season with his clearance work helping to get Adelaide first use, he averages 6.4 clearances for the year.

Jordan Dawson, the new king of Adelaide announced himself to the Crows faithful with a Showdown Medal winning performance in Round 3. This earned him 10 coaches votes for his efforts.

This was not the outlier for Dawson; he has featured prominently for the Crows, averaging 23.1 disposals, 5.7 intercept possessions, 1.7 intercept marks and 561.5 metres gained per game. 

Madeline Irwin

Lachie Neale

Lachie Neale is back to his best with many saying his output over the first seven weeks of 2022 have been better than his Brownlow Medal winning season in 2020.

After battling an ankle injury last season, Neale has become a more damaging midfielder for the already potent Lions engine room, with the 28-year-old ranking first for contested possessions and third for total clearances and possessions. 

Neale may be the runaway leader at this point, but he will be hotly pursued by Hugh McCluggage who continues to elevate his game on the outer wing. The 24-year-old racks up the ball at will and delivers inside 50 to great effect.

Joe Daniher’s flying start to the year with 19 goals could see him in the running for an early spot on the podium before he misses a chunk of the season with a shoulder complaint.

Jono Baruch

Patrick Cripps

He’s leading the AFLCA Voting and is one of the favourites to win the Brownlow Medal after the first seven weeks of the season. There is little doubt that Patrick Cripps would be well out in front to claim his fourth John Nicholls Medal.

Cripps has polled the perfect 10 coaches votes in four of five completed games. He sits fifth in the competition for contested possessions and centre clearances. The midfield bull is back to his best averaging 28.3 disposals per game and has had five games where he has amassed over 30 possessions and kicked a goal. 

Last year’s winner Sam Walsh has made up for lost time after missing the opening game of the year with an ankle injury, returning to his regular ball winning ways in the midfield.

Newly minted vice-captain and defensive general Jacob Weitering is also enjoying another phenomenal start to the season and will feature prominently amongst the votes.

Jono Baruch

Jack Crisp

Playing a consistent brand of football in a side that wasn’t tipped to start the season off as well as it has, Jack Crisp has relished his permanent midfield role under new coach Craig McRae. Averaging 26 disposals and 494.5 metres gained across seven games, Crisp is a high chance of taking out back to back Copeland medals, after placing third three times.

Since joining Collingwood at the end of 2014, Crisp has played all 164 games, the longest current consecutive games streak, and has become a pivotal part of the Pies’ lineup in 2022.

Brody Mihocek will also be one to watch. Leading the Pies goal kicking in 2021, the key forward has averaged 2.7 goals from six games.

If Jeremy Howe’s high flying marks are anything to go by, he’ll be sure to poll high as well. The defender has averaged 16.7 disposals and 7.3 marks so far this season.

Monique Quercio 

Nic Martin

Martin wasn’t on an AFL list in January, but the rookie may well be leading the Dons’ best and fairest count after Round 7.

Recruited as a lead-up goal-kicker out of the WAFL, Martin has been the Bombers’ most consistent player as they flounder in the bottom four. His composure and foot skills off a wing has been the highlight of the red-and-black’s season, with his debut game against the Cats his best performance to date with five goals and 27 disposals.

He’s averaging 22 disposals at an elite 80 per cent efficiency and 6.3 score involvements. It isn’t just the Rising Star the rookie is a chance for; Martin could be setting his sights on a Crichton Medal.

With reigning best and fairest Zach Merrett missing some time, his running mate Darcy Parish will likely feature towards the top of the count so far.

Peter Wright has also been dominant despite limited opportunities, having kicked 17 goals on the season.

Jasper Chellappah

Andrew Brayshaw

The Fremantle Dockers have won six out of seven games so far this season and Andrew Brayshaw has been one of the key contributors to this form. He currently has 37 coaches votes, which puts him third overall in the AFLCA award behind Patrick Cripps and Clayton Oliver.

Brayshaw averages just under 30 disposals and 9.4 contested possessions with 4.1 clearances. Not only has he been in and under winning the footy but he has been gaining metres by foot with 498.6 metres gained and helping to get a score on the board for his side with 7.7 score involvements, which is the fifth best in the league. 

Will Brodie has been a fantastic recruit for the Dockers after only managing 25 games since his debut in 2017 for the Suns. He has averaged 25.7 disposals, nearly 13 contested possessions and six clearances. His best game was against the Giants in round four where Brodie collected ten coaches votes for 37 disposal performance, rounded out by four marks and five tackles.

Young forward Lachie Schultz could be an outside chance for a podium finish for the Doig Medal at the end of the season if current form persists. Winning the Glendinning-Allan Medal for his best on ground performance in the Western Derby, Schultz had a day out with 23 disposals, two goals and three goal assists.

Madeline Irwin

Tom Hawkins

Hawkins is not only defying age, but he is also improving with time. Now in his 15th season at Geelong, the star forward is leading the Coleman Medal race with 22 goals from seven games. His dominant form makes him a frontrunner for the Cats’ best and fairest.  

Hawkins is averaging an elite 3.1 goals per game. Every single statistic recorded this season has him ranked above average. He kicks for goal at 59.5 per cent accuracy, has 33 marks and 56 kicks so far this season. Almost 40 per cent of his kicks result in a goal for Geelong.  

The big man is a barometer for his side and their fans. If he continues the season as he has started it, it will very possibly end with a Carji Greeves Medal around his neck.

Tom Stewart is also in the mix. Stewart has returned from injury with no signs of being held back. He is Geelong’s best defender and a key creative force from the backline. 

A dark horse is the third Tom. Atkins is never anything less than impressive and looks to be a coaches’ dream in any role. 

Kieran Yap

Touk Miller

You can work out who is leading the Gold Coast Club Champion award as quickly as you can say Touk Miller. 

Miller has been a standout so far in 2022, potentially being in the top three vote getters in all matches this season, with the possible exception of the loss to Greater Western Sydney.  He has only been under 26 possessions in one match over the first seven rounds, and has used his disposals well, gaining 3,761 metres for the Suns to this stage of the season. 

That ranks him sixth in the league in a team that has only won two of their seven matches, amply illustrating his value to Stuart Dew’s men.

You could cover the chasing pack with a rug.  Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson have had enough good games to be able to mount a charge should Miller’s form drop.  Jarrod Witts, Lachie Weller and Brayden Fiorini have all had their moments without yet providing the eye-catching performances that scream “pick me”, whilst Izak Rankine has caught the eye but not nearly often enough.

Hugh Maclean

Tom Green

Green has well and truly found his place in the Giants midfield, going from borderline best 22 to star midfielder.  Green has has been a raging bull, averaging seven clearances, 15 contested posessions and 28 possessions in total per game. 

Green has hit the scoreboard consistently also, kicking 6.6 over the first seven games.  His ability to win the hard ball and bring his teammates into the action would no doubt be catching the eye of All-Australian selectors at this early stage, and he would be comfortably be leading the club’s best and fairest to this point.

Josh Kelly continues to be largely ignored as one of the league’s premium midfielders, but he yet again has put together a great start to the season.  Averaging 28 disposals, Kelly’s silky skills often contribute directly to scores for his side.  His consistency and lack of injuries places him right up there in the best and fairest at this stage of the season.

Scott Kertes

Dylan Moore

Last year Moore solidified a spot in the Hawks best 22, and in 2022 he’s once again taken his game to another level. Having been utilised as a dangerous medium-sized forward and even an outside midfielder at times, Moore has been stellar in the opening seven rounds of the season. Ranked elite for disposals, marks and goals per game, the 22-year-old is currently in All-Australian form.

James Sicily has also been amongst the top performers for the Hawks this season. After missing all of 2021 through injury, the defender is back to his best, proving to be invaluable with his intercept marking and counter-attacking skill-set. Another notable mention is Hawks young-gun Jai Newcombe who has been one of the surprise packets of the season. The midfielder has proven he can be damaging, impressing with defensive pressure as well as his ball-winning ability.

Giacomo Bruno 

Clayton Oliver

Last year Oliver took the competition by storm, helping Melbourne to premiership success and the midfielder has continued his strong form into season 2022. The 24-year-old currently sits second in the coaches’ votes after several dominant performances in the first seven rounds. Oliver is among the best ball-winners in the league, currently ranked second for total disposals (228), averaging a career-high 32.6 per game.

Known for his contested work, Oliver is still collecting a huge amount of contested ball, averaging 15.1 contested possessions, but he is doing more work on the outside of the contest averaging a career-high 18.1 uncontested possessions and punishing oppositions with his kicking (also averaging a career-high 17 kicks per game).

The 2021 Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott Medallist has stiff competition with Christian Petrecca also being one of Melbourne’s best performers so far this season, continuing to collect possessions and kick goals for fun.

Captain Max Gawn is enjoying another phenomenal season so far and will feature very high in the votes.

Jordan Janssen

Jason Horne-Francis

The second-last placed Roos haven’t had a lot to cheer about in season 2022, but say the name Jason Horne-Francis and it will put a smile on the face of most.

Preempted by injuries in the midfield, through rounds three to seven Horne-Francis spent more time in the midfield rather than half-forward.

Horne-Francis is averaging just over 19 disposals, 4.6 clearances and an above average 10.9 contested possessions. Most of his disposals are impactful and his desperation for the ball and contest has been a key feature of his game.

At 18 years old, he is already displaying leadership and toughness beyond his years which would also be considered in the voting.

Emerging leaders in Jy Simpkin and Luke McDonald are also in the hunt, with the former consistently raking up plenty of the ball in eye-catching fashion. McDonald has returned to his 2020 best and fairest form in a regularly under-siege backline. He has also given the Roos plenty of drive and run.

Siobhan Roe

Travis Boak

Boak seems to get better with age. Despite the poor start to the season, the former skipper has had disposal counts of 32, 39, 28, 35, 23, 34, and 22 this season and has kicked six goals from midfield. The 33-year-old is also averaging eight clearances a game for good measure.

Likely leading the John Cahill Medal, Boak has been one of Port’s best performers throughout the season. The former captain is a beacon of consistency and has shown that throughout his career. His gut running and willingness to drag players along with him has been a highlight.

Ollie Wines is likely to be near the top of the leaderboard, despite missing a game with a heart issue. The midfield bull was at his best against the Saints on Saturday night in a wet contest.

Another notable mention has to be to Sam Powell-Pepper. While not accumulating like Wines and Boak, SPP’s drive, effort, and attack on the ball has seen him receive plenty of plaudits this season.

Adam Schultz

Jayden Short

Backing up on a string of impressive seasons, Jayden Short has started the 2022 season in dominant fashion on Richmond’s half-back line. Across seven games, the 2020 Jack Dyer medallist has been the main catalyst in the Tigers’ ability to transition out of the back half, leading the competition for metres gained (5030), kicks (171) and effective kicks (132).   

Though a majority of the 26-year-old’s work has been in defence, he recently gave a glimpse of a capacity to play midfield minutes. In Round 7’s 109-point thrashing of West Coast, Short set career-highs for centre clearances (3) and inside 50s (9).

Should Richmond’s list of midfield absentees continue to grow, the long-kicking defender could find himself regularly lining up at centre bounces. 

Hot on his heels, Shai Bolton continues to be an attacking force, leading the club for score involvements (54), centre clearances (23) and goal assists (7).

Benefiting from Bolton’s craft, Tom Lynch has been the main scoring avenue at Punt Road with 21 goals to sit second on the Coleman tally. The key forward’s marking ability has been central to his scoreboard impact, leading the competition with 21 contested grabs. 

Liahm O’Brien

Jack Steele

The reigning best and fairest winner has started season 2022 in fine fashion, meaning he is likely on track for a third successive Trevor Barker Award.

Steele has been a consistent performer across the opening seven rounds of the season, averaging 28.4 disposals, 13.3 contested possessions and 5.3 clearances per game. Leading by example, the St Kilda captain currently leads the competition for tackles (50) and is ranked eighth for contested possessions (93).

The 26-year-old also currently sits 12th on the AFLCA voting leaderboard and has polled votes in each of the last five games. Steele has undoubtedly been a key contributor to his side’s terrific start to the season, with St Kilda currently occupying a spot inside the top four.

However, the Trevor Barker Award is far from a one-horse race. Rebounding defender Jack Sinclair has taken his game to a new level so far this season, averaging 26.3 disposals and 495.9 metres gained.

Meanwhile, lively small forward Jack Higgins has responded to early season criticism, kicking 15 goals and averaging an elite 7.2 score involvements per game.

Jonathan Potenza

Callum Mills

With another strong start to the season, the Swans have their onfield leaders providing an excellent example. 

New captain Callum Mills has continued to soar in the midfield with an average of 27 disposals a game, including 11 contested, seven marks and is ranked elite for kicks, marks and disposal efficiency. With a best and fairest calibre year in 2021 cut short by an achilles injury and interrupted by Covid isolation, Mills is in fine touch to finish much higher than his fifth place in 2021. 

An early breakout season from Isaac Heeney has him also in the mix for his first Bob Skilton medal. Heeney’s strong goal kicking average of 2.57 a game (with him yet to go goalless in a game) and an elite ranking in tackles and contested marks sees him being Mills’ closest rival at this stage of the season. 

Thomas Grattan

Jeremy McGovern

Season 2022 has not gone to plan for the West Coast Eagles. Early in the season they were hard hit by COVID with 42 players used in the first seven rounds of the season. With such inconsistency, standout players are at a premium.

Stalwart Jeremy McGovern continues to give opposition teams headaches, and for good reason. The intercept defender is rated elite in disposals, intercept possessions, marks, spoils and metres gained. At 30 years of age, McGovern thwarts plenty of opposition attacks and anticipates where the ball is headed well before most. This is demonstrated by an average of 10.2 intercept possessions a game.

Also in the running is another club great in Shannon Hurn who continues to defend gallantly.

Former Tiger Patrick Naish has been an inspired pick-up. Currently third competition wide for work rate in both attack and defence, his ability to get from contest to contest has been a rare highlight for the Eagles.

Siobhan Roe

Josh Dunkley

Coming into season 2022, Dunkley remained somewhat of an underrated star within the Bulldogs midfield. He’s proven why he is one of the most sought after players in the competition this year, and is putting together a career-best season.

Averaging 29 disposals and seven score involvements, Dunkley is a hot favourite to win the Charles Sutton Medal in a career-best season. While the Bulldogs will be happy with his output to begin 2022, there will be a persisting thought that they will have to pay top money to keep him at the club.

Following Dunkley closely is midfielder Bailey Smith. Tipped by some to take his game to the next level entering his fourth year in the competition, Smith has shown why he could be an All-Australian selection, averaging 33 disposals through the opening seven rounds.

Aaron Naughton has also been an important contributor, kicking 15 goals at over two per game.

Lachlan Dand

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