Mick McGuane rates every AFL team’s midfield from 1-18
Mick McGuane rates every AFL team’s midfield from 1-18

McGuane: Why Bombers midfield is better than you think

Geelong's ability to win the ball and use it effectively from inside the contest to outside the contest has the Cats boasting the premier midfield of the competition, according to former Collingwood and Carlton player Mick McGuane.

The Pies premiership player and dual All-Australian ranks the Cats' engine room at No.1 in the league.

McGuane based his assessment on strength at stoppages and a balance between contested and uncontested possessions, and he looked for effective ball-users and good decision-makers. Also, importantly, the need to be good transition runners.

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Ruckmen were also taken into account based on their stoppage influence, especially hitouts to advantage and their ability to either get back to support their defenders or slide forward to be an aerial threat.

Do you agree with his rankings? Cast your votes below.




1. Geelong


The top-liners: Patrick Dangerfield (21 games in 2020, 112 KFC SuperCoach average), Sam Menegola (21, 107), Cameron Guthrie (21, 104), Mitch Duncan (20, 109), Joel Selwood (15, 89), Brandan Parfitt (18, 84), Zach Tuohy (19, 75), Shaun Higgins (17, 95), Isaac Smith (10, 74)

The top-ups: Quinton Narkle (5, 64), Charlie Constable (2, 62)


McGuane says: The Cats are superbly led by their captain Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield when it comes winning their own footy and setting a standard for their teammates to follow. Cam Guthrie had a personal-best year with a deserved All-Australian jacket. Brandon Parfitt is an emerging talent but it's his willingness to tackle, chase and harass the opposition with the ball is infectious. Mitch Duncan doesn't get the accolades that he deserves but he has clearly edged his name into the best three midfielders at Geelong. The reason why this group is so good is that they hunt the footy as they want possession of the ball. They are really organised around stoppages which gives them opportunities to win first possession off the ruckman's hands. They were ranked No.1 for contested ball differential this year, and No.1 for uncontested differential, so there's an example of getting that balance right inside and outside of the contest. But the other pleasing aspect of their play was as soon as the ball got in that loose ball situation they were No.1 in the competition to get onto that loose ball. More often than not they were on the positive side of the clearance differential, so they were very well-rounded in that part of the ground.



2. Port Adelaide


The top liners: Travis Boak (19, 109), Ollie Wines (17, 104), Tom Rockliff (16, 107), Sam Powell-Pepper (19, 75), Karl Amon (19, 79), Xavier Duursma (15, 74)


The top-ups: Kane Farrell (11, 58)


McGuane says: Port Adelaide is not dissimilar to Geelong, as they were very good in and around the contest in 2020, ranking second for contested and uncontested ball differentials. They were tough and relentless around stoppages which is why they were ranked No.1 in this area on the back of the service from Scott Lycett and also Peter Ladhams. Travis Boak has been a star of the competition for a long time, and is their best transition runner. Ollie Wines and Sam Powell-Pepper are a bit like for like in that they are just bulls who hunt the footy irrespective of what the opposition presents to them. Robbie Gray gets injected in there for some real experience, guile and class and on the outside they have Karl Amon and Xavier Duursma, who play really important roles as wingers and give them good shape off the contest. As a midfield group they supply their forward line with ample opportunities. A room for improvement is their last kick inside F50. It's called the "money kick". The class midfielders hit or kick to the advantage of their forwards. If they can work on that over summer it will serve them well in 2021.



3. Richmond


The top liners: Dustin Martin (20, 105), Trent Cotchin (17, 82), Dion Prestia (9, 87), Shane Edwards (10, 86), Shai Bolton (19, 86), Kamdyn McIntosh (18, 71), Jack Graham (16, 82), Marlion Pickett (19, 67), Josh Caddy (8, 64)


The top-ups: Jack Ross (7, 63), Patrick Naish (1, 42), Thomson Dow (2, 34), Riley Collier-Dawkins (0,0)


McGuane says: They just love the challenge when playing against other midfield groups and rarely get their colours lowered, not dissimilar to their backline. When the stakes are high you just see them lift, which was evident in this year's finals. Historically, Richmond hasn't been a team that generates scores from stoppages as it is more reliant on a turnover game, but in the finals we saw the Tigers dominate stoppages, winning critical clearances that led to goals. This was on the back of Toby Nankervis being magnificent in September. He is a hardworking ruckman who relishes the contest. Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin, Dion Prestia, Shai Bolton and Shane Edwards all feed off this work rate. Dustin Martin is a really good centre bounce stoppage player, but has the creative license to float forward at will. This is when Kane Lambert comes up and replace Martin from half forward. They all have different attributes - Cotchin is a really strong tackler, Prestia is the same but wins a lot of possessions, Martin you just want the ball in his hands, Bolton gives them some electricity and Edwards just has that poise and vision good midfielders have to bring others in the game. That's why they are so hard to beat at the pointy end of the year.



4. Western Bulldogs


The top liners: Marcus Bontempelli (18, 114), Adam Treloar (10, 104), Josh Dunkley (12, 104), Bailey Smith (18, 92), Jack Macrae (18, 119), Lachie Hunter (10, 112), Ed Richards (17, 58), Tom Liberatore (16, 105), Patrick Lipinski (13, 78)

The top-ups: Roarke Smith (6, 60), Lin Jong (3, 72)


McGuane says: Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore, and winger Lachie Hunter are four very good players and can match it with any opposition on any given day. Josh Dunkley is a strong inside midfielder also. They all have the capabilities of winning a lot of possession around stoppages, and the recruitment of Adam Treloar will only add to that. He will also compliment another strong feature of their game - their shape off that contest. It gives them the opportunity to chain possession out of stopages through handballs, something Treloar loves to do. They have a great understanding of where each other are, they play their roles and play to their structure and that is a reason why they can fire off those quick one, two or three-metre handballs. Their clearance differential and their centre bounce clearance differential must improve - ruckman Tim English must spend another summer in the gym. Stef Martin has been recruited to help change that trend and offer much-needed support for English. Bailey Smith is also a player that is a clean ball-handler, a linebreaker and he gives his forwards some good looks when kicking to them.



5. Collingwood


The top liners: Taylor Adams (19, 111), Scott Pendlebury (15, 106), Steele Sidebottom (9, 109), Josh Daicos (18, 80), Chris Mayne (14, 69), Levi Greenwood (6, 57)

The top-ups: Tyler Brown (9, 58), Brayden Sier (3, 75)


We come back to tried and true in Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom. They have been elite players of the competition for a long period now and the Pies missed Sidebottom late in the season due to the birth of his baby, but also in the early stages of the year after an indiscretion in the COVID-19 shutdown. Collingwood's mids were good this year, none better than Taylor Adams. He had his best year. He was hard and tough, he's a no-frills midfielder who just loves the contest. Brodie Grundy didn't have the year he had in previous years but was more than serviceable. Knowing the way he goes about his footy, he will bounce back in 2021 which will bode very well for Collingwood's midfield group. Once again they proved are a very strong contested midfield who strike a good balance on the inside and outside. Their post-clearance contested possession differential is the second-best in the competition, they get after the footy really well. One aspect they can improve on is their ball use going into their forward 50. If they can tidy up their mids to forwards connection the team will score more often.



6. West Coast


The top liners: Andrew Gaff (18, 105), Tim Kelly (18, 96), Elliot Yeo (10, 91), Dom Sheed (17, 87), Luke Shuey (13, 93), Jack Redden (13, 70)

The top-ups: Jarrod Brander (8, 55), Xavier O'Neill (5, 43), Brayden Ainsworth (9, 45), Mark Hutchings (3, 29)


McGuane says: The Eagles have some serious midfielders and are aided by the best stoppage ruckman in the competition in Nic Naitanui. He has power and strength to compliment his soft hands. He is able to direct the footy with precision to his mids. It gives them a great advantage at centre bounces and it allows them to play the game from their attacking third of the ground. In fact, the Eagles had the best centre bounce clearance differential of any team this year. Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff are A-grade midfielders. Elliot Yeo is competitive and makes those around him walk taller. He played only 10 games this year and was sadly missed. Probably the aspect of their game that is questionable is if the ball spills free, do they really get after the footy? Their loose ball differential was 18th in the competition and for a team that consistently finishes in the top eight Adam Simpson would be saying, 'Boys, we aren't working hard enough'. Are they just hoping that someone will get the ball and they are shaping to receive the kick or the handball? That's something they didn't do well in 2020 and must improve on because that clearly didn't compliment their dominance around stoppages on the back of Naitanui's influence.



7. Brisbane Lions


The top liners: Lachie Neale (19, 134), Hugh McCluggage (19, 103), Jarryd Lyons (19, 111), Zac Bailey (19, 76), Dayne Zorko (17, 96), Jarrod Berry (17, 91), Mitch Robinson (19, 76), Cam Ellis-Yolmen (9, 62)

The top-ups: Rhys Mathieson (1, 97)


McGuane says: The Lions have the Brownlow Medallist in Lachie Neale. He was the competition's best and most consistent midfielder this year and improved his game in a few areas, and it had a snowball effect on his other teammates. Players like Jarryd Lyons and Jarrod Berry go under the radar but are important cogs in the Lions midfield. Lyons is their on-field organiser. He gets his teammates to set up early around stoppages and understands what's required at the time. Berry is a young bull. He runs straight and he competes strongly in every contest he is involved in. He just wills himself from contest to contest. Dayne Zorko gives them a different look, as he has that low centre of gravity, he's a good kick and charges forward and has the potential to be a goalkicker. Their wingers in Mitch Robinson and Hugh McCluggage are getting better at what's now required in that role. Zac Bailey also gives them a bit of class and has that speed that can break a game open and uses the ball pretty well. With Cam Ellis-Yolmen, did the Lions get bang for buck? Does he want it enough? If he has a big pre-season then he would and should be a part of that midfield mix going forward.



8. St Kilda


The top liners: Jack Steele (19, 121), Brad Crouch (12, 83), Bradley Hill (19, 63), Zak Jones (16, 88), Jade Gresham (11, 81), Sebastian Ross (16, 79), Dan Hannebery (8, 69), Jack Billings (19, 94), Jack Sinclair (12, 78)

The top-ups: Luke Dunstan (1, 92), Jack Bytel (3, 57), Ryan Byrnes (1, 22)


McGuane says: Jack Steele was sensational this year and was rightfully selected in the All-Australian team. He is a big bodied midfielder that had been used in tagging roles but Brett Ratten allowed him to just go out and play. Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall form a formidable ruck duo. Ryder missed the semi-final final against the Tigers and it really hurt the Saints - they lost centre bounce clearances 15-5 and conceded 4.1 from those clearances. That proves Ryder's worth to his team. When he plays his fellow midfielders can be more proactive around stoppages and Steele, Zak Jones and Seb Ross can play with their natural attacking instincts. Dan Hannebery, when fully fit, provides great experience. Bradley Hill, Jack Billings and Jack Sinclair provide strong running ability on the outside and also give them a bit of class. They need more midfield depth, hence the recruitment of Brad Crouch. The Saints as a midfield group are moving in the right direction, but a lot is dependent on the health and wellbeing of Ryder. His ruck work is elite as he often gives St Kilda first look at the footy.



9. Essendon


The top liners: Andrew McGrath (14, 96), Zach Merrett (16, 116), Dylan Shiel (15, 102), Devon Smith (16, 85), Darcy Parish (17, 87), Jye Caldwell (9, 65), Dyson Heppell (3, 66)

The top-ups: Tom Cutler (8, 68), Brayden Ham (10, 52), Dylan Clarke (8, 66)


McGuane says: Essendon has the nucleus of a strong midfield group. - Zach Merrett, Dylan Shiel, Devon Smith, captain Dyson Heppell (who played only three games in 2020), Andrew McGrath and Darcy Parish. To elevate themselves among the best midfield groups in the competition they need to become a more consistent, contested-ball winning group. This group can be as ruthless and as unrelenting as any opposition they come up against, but just don't do it consistently. At their very best the Bombers' strength is their work rate to go from the contest to contest, which in turn helps their uncontested possession game. But the question needs to be asked, why are they are ranked 17th for post-clearance possession differential? Sam Draper is a young developing ruckman who will get better but it's their senior midfielders that need to take ownership and become more consistent in their output. This group needs to be coached strongly and challenged and be told some home truths about where they are at.



10. GWS Giants


The top liners: Stephen Coniglio (16, 99), Jacob Hopper (17, 91), Josh Kelly (14, 114), Callan Ward (7, 76), Tim Taranto (11, 85), Harry Perryman (16, 93), Matt de Boer (13, 63), Tom Green (6, 72)

The top-ups: Adam Kennedy (6, 56), Xavier O'Halloran (2, 61), Jack Buckley (2, 59)


McGuane says: The Giants have identified that their ruck stocks are thin, recruiting Braydon Pruess to be their No.1 ruckman with Shane Mumford providing support after Sam Jacobs retired. There were glimpses of brilliance in 2020 but mostly the Giants midfield group was inconsistent. They just couldn't get any rhythm into their game. Captain Stephen Coniglio had an indifferent year and was mostly a shadow of his best. We know he is a good player but to put it bluntly he didn't reach the standards he expects of himself and the team expects from him. Josh Kelly and Lachie Whitfield give the team creative ball use and class, but Whitfield was asked to go into defence to help improve the stuttering ball movement. Jacob Hopper is a strong inside mid who wins a lot of clearances, Tim Taranto the same but he had an interrupted start to this year and never reached his expected levels often enough. Harry Perryman played mostly as a winger and gave them stability in that part of the ground. Callan Ward needs a really strong pre-season. He is strong competitor, but how much good footy has he got left in him? I love the way they use Matt de Boer. He is task-orientated and relishes the challengers of playing on the opposition's best mids. And Tom Green needs to be trusted, and given games of footy. He has ball-winning ability and poise to make him a valuable player for the future. They have some serious work to do, but are better than their output this year.



11. Carlton


The top liners: Patrick Cripps (17, 97), Sam Walsh (17, 101), Zac Williams (11, 85), Marc Murphy (17, 83), Will Setterfield (16, 90), Ed Curnow (17, 96), Matthew Kennedy (7, 81)

The top-ups: Paddy Dow (3, 38), Lochie O'Brien (1, 42), Matthew Cottrell (5, 48),


McGuane says: They are a club that is hugely reliant on Patrick Cripps, and they identified that this year when they gave Sam Walsh more onball minutes rather than playing him in his regular wing role. Walsh gets from contest to contest as his running ability is elite. Cripps is an inside bull who wins first possession at stoppages. The Blues are too reliant on him. Cripps also thinks he is the one that has to do it all, but it's time that he shares the load with the next batch of evolving midfielders. Paddy Dow was injured this year. So he needs another opportunity to see if he can cut the mustard. Does he kick the ball well enough to become an elite mid? Is he mentally scarred and lost confidence? Time will tell. Will Setterfield elevated his game in 2020. Zac Williams has been recruited from GWS and I'd use him as a midfielder. Marc Murphy is an experienced midfielder that can still accumulate possession. Ed Curnow needs to play on the opposition's best midfielder. When he does that it gives them a really good balance between offence and defence in their midfield group. Matthew Kennedy is probably the one under the pump, he loves the contest but does he have the speed in his legs for the modern game?



12. Melbourne


The top liners: Christian Petracca (17, 118), Jack Viney (16, 100), Angus Brayshaw (14, 81), Clayton Oliver (17, 122), Nathan Jones (8, 54), Ed Langdon (17, 91), Aaron vandenBerg (12, 56)

The top-ups: Tom Sparrow (5, 64), Oskar Baker (3, 60)


McGuane says: Let's face it, the Demons have three top-liners: ruckman Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca. Oliver is a high possession-winner who must rediscover his kicking ability. He has the speed and power to surge into space out of congestion, but doesn't do it enough. Jack Viney is as tough as they come and always gives everything he has got. Angus Brayshaw plays through that part of the ground and accumulates the footy, but his ability to hit a forward must improve. Nathan Jones is probably on his last legs, but has been an incredible warrior for Melbourne. Aaron vandenBerg can roll through there and be that extra big body when required. Langdon had a pretty good year on the outside but I have concerns about his kicking ability. Does he use the ball effectively enough at critical stages? Does he kick enough goals as a winger? He misses more than he kicks. The downside for them is they have a lot of like for like players. They are all tough and the only point of difference is Petracca. He adds a touch of class. They were a strong contested ball group - ranked fourth for contested ball differential, but they dropped to 15th for uncontested. So they are a bit all at the footy, they are all bees to a honey pot.



13. North Melbourne


The top liners: Jy Simpkin (17, 93), Jed Anderson (15, 105), Ben Cunnington (3, 102), Luke Davie-Uniacke (9, 81), Trent Dumont (17, 102), Jared Polec (13, 89), Bailey Scott (13, 62)

The top-ups: Will Walker (2, 65), Lachie Young (2, 47)


McGuane says: Being without their most influential midfielder in Ben Cunnington (he missed 14 games through injury) the Kangaroos needed to reinvent their midfield this year. Regular ruckman Todd Goldstein found himself working with some new faces and by season's end he would have been pleased with the development of his new-look midfield group. Both Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke grew in confidence due to more exposure and responsibility. Trent Dumont is a player who is really tough and loves the contest. Jed Anderson probably had his best year at North Melbourne. Bailey Scott is another young player who could potentially roll through midfield in time and give the team a bit of speed and effective ball-use. Curtis Taylor is effectively playing as a high half-forward but I've watched him dominate junior footy as a midfielder. He needs to get stronger and fitter to assume that role at AFL level. North supporters need to be patient but there are positive signs about where this midfield group is heading. This group have done a pretty good job without the experience of Cunnington and Jack Ziebell. New coach David Noble has his challenges ahead of him, but his biggest is to repair the fractured relationship that existed with Jared Polec and his teammates and coaching staff this season.



14. Fremantle


The top-liners: Nat Fyfe (14, 113), Andrew Brayshaw (17, 101), Caleb Serong (14, 81), Adam Cerra (17, 90), James Aish (16, 76), David Mundy (David Mundy), Darcy Tucker (8, 65), Blake Acres (7, 84)

The top-ups: Connor Blakely (5, 61)


McGuane says: As much as I love Nat Fyfe around the footy and David Mundy for being a super-consistent player, Justin Longmuir is doing the right thing for the long-term future of the club. He is getting games and much-needed midfield minutes into his very talented young group that consist of Andrew Brayshaw, Caleb Serong and Adam Cerra. Fyfe is a contested ball winning machine and has always influenced stoppages. But for the Dockers to improve rapidly some hard calls needed to be made. Fyfe playing forward was a win/win for the team. Their ruck combination of Sean Darcy and Rory Lobb is a good one. Lobb is forward who rucks whereas Darcy is their primary ruckman. With more pre-seasons under his belt and providing he works hard, he can become a top-six ruckman in the competition.



15. Gold Coast


The top-liners: Hugh Greenwood (17, 105), Matt Rowell (5, 103), Touk Miller (17, 106) Brandon Ellis (16, 84), Noah Anderson (17, 77), David Swallow (15, 82), Lachie Weller (17, 81), Brayden Fiorini (5, 62) Rory Atkins (4, 50)

The top-ups: Will Brodie (1, 35), Jeremy Sharp (2, 33)


McGuane says: Jarrod Witts had a consistent year and worked really hard in most games he played. He was strong at stoppages trying to get his hands on the ball first so he could get it to his midfielders. What a great start to the year Matt Rowell had, he was just the talk of the town the way he approached his footy and the way he was able to compete strongly at the stoppages against more seasoned opponents. But also that appetite to hunt the ball whether it be in the backline or the forward line or on a wing, you could just see he had a nose for the footy and wanted to track the ball everywhere it went. Hugh Greenwood came from Adelaide and he played as a big-bodied mid and won a lot of contested possessions for his team. He was a positive. Winger Brandon Ellis gave the team good width and shape off the contest. David Swallow played his 10th year at the Gold Coast Suns this year and by now you know what you are going to get from him. He has an appetite for the contest, to tackle and chase. Noah Anderson was the one who took his game to the next level when Rowell was missing and he will continue to do so just because he is a footy head. Add Touk Miller gives the team some flexibility. He not only wins his own footy but at times is used as a negator. The Suns have the talent to become of a really strong midfield group.



16. Sydney


The top liners: Luke Parker (17, 106), Josh Kennedy (12, 96), Oliver Florent (17, 75), James Rowbottom (16, 76), Ryan Clarke (10, 74), Dylan Stephens (8, 63)

The top-ups: George Hewett (6, 78), Justin McInerney (9, 72)


McGuane says: As much as they have great players in Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker, who have been incredible servants for the club, the next generation is going to be exciting. Ollie Florent, James Rowbottom and Dylan Stephens all can play and I won't be surprised if Will Hayward also goes through the midfield. Nick Blakey added flexibility to the team as he can play on ball or play forward. This group just need another year under their belt and a strong pre-season to take their game to great heights. Ryan Clarke displayed great discipline when used as a tagger. The big issue for the Swans is their ruck stocks, who is their best one? Can they get them on the park enough? Sam Naismith is forever injured. Tom Hickey is at his fourth club - a lot of faith has been put in him. Is Callum Sinclair their No.1 ruck choice and, at 31 years of age, how long has he left in the game?



17. Hawthorn


The top-liners: Tom Mitchell (17, 113), James Worpel (15, 88), Jaeger O'Meara (12, 92), Tom Phillips (15, 75), Harry Morrison (11, 67), Tom Scully (14, 54), Liam Shiels (16, 78)

The top-ups: Daniel Howe (5, 58), Finn Maginness (1, 52), James Cousins (6, 68)


McGuane says: Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O'Meara, James Worpel and Tom Scully are high-profile names. Mitchell is a Brownlow Medallist, Worpel won the clubs 2019 best-and-fairest, O'Meara and Scully are prized recruits from other clubs, yet they didn't have the consistent impact you would expect this year. As good as they all are individually at accumulating the footy, as a midfield group they have some work to do to better influence games. The Hawks ranked 18th for contested possession differential and 17th for uncontested possession differential. Post-clearance contested possession diff the Hawks are 18th, something that Alistair Clarkson must look to change. His current group is a bit pedestrian and a bit like for like. Clarko's midfield troops must improve their clearance numbers (17th for both centre bounce and clearance differentials). It's a lot easier to play the game from your forward half of the ground rather than the back half due to clearance wins or losses. And that is even more important considering the great defenders the Hawks have lost over recent years. Ben McEvoy should be moved back into this midfield and taking back the No.1 ruck mantle. This will put pressure on Jonathon Ceglar, who was frustrating to watch this year. Liam Shiels has been consistent and reliable over a long period of time but does he best serve the team as a ball winner or run-with midfielder?



18. Adelaide


The top liners: Rory Laird (17, 105), Matt Crouch (16, 111), Rory Sloane (12, 88), Ben Keays (16, 81), Lachlan Sholl (8, 64), Jackson Hately (6, 64)

The top-ups: Chayce Jones (15, 44), Paul Seedsman (9, 80), Mitchell Hinge (1, 102), Harry Schoenberg (8, 59)


McGuane says: The Crows midfield is a work in progress. They have lost Brad Crouch out of this year's team. Reilly O'Brien, Matt Crouch, Rory Sloane and Ben Keays (accountable role) should be their starting onballers. What does Matthew Nicks do with Rory Laird? Does he keep him in the midfield or put him back in defence? It will be an interesting conversation over summer. Chayce Jones and Harry Schoenberg might blossom if given the opportunity to play more through there. Sloane had a frustrating year injury-wise and, at times looked a shadow of his best. Jackson Hately comes from GWS but what will he add to the team? He's a natural ball-winner but is he creative enough? Nicks needs some class (a Cyril Rioli type - low possessions but significant impact) to roll through the centre of the ground. Keays is task-orientated. When given a job he is diligent and disciplined. He does what the team needs. This year the Crows were 16th for contested possession differential and 16th for uncontested possession. Loose ball differential they were ranked 17th in the comp. O'Brien is an evolving ruckman. The Crows mids need to improve their clearance numbers - they ranked 18th this year. The rucks and mids need to work over summer on getting their connections and structures right.

Originally published as McGuane: Why Bombers midfield is better than you think