Rating Your AFL Club’s Key Pillars

THE AFL rule changes have been the subject of plenty of chatter this past summer. Clubs being forced to adopt a 6-6-6 structure for centre bounces has been one hotly debated topic with multiple players/media members/footy nuts pointing out the potential impact. Possessing a ‘pillar’ in your defense/midfield/forward line gives teams an opportunity quickly out of the middle, with the ability to win a one-on-one contest now more important than ever. Ahead of the JLT series this weekend, let’s explore what position your club and it’s key pillars are in.

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THESE ratings are based on all clubs having their pillars at full strength.
D = Defense, M = Midfield, R = Ruck, F = Forward
* Battling injury and may be in doubt/out for Round 1


D: Daniel Talia*
M: Matt Crouch
R: Sam Jacobs
F: Taylor Walker

ADELAIDE’S banged up midfield was a huge factor contributing to their slide down the ladder a year ago. The Crouch brothers and Rory Sloane all missed decent chunks of time and those clearance machines will need to be firing if they want to return to the finals. Even with Mitch McGovern leaving for Carlton, they should improve their marking inside 50 after dropping from first to 16th in the span of one season. Health will be the biggest factor for their pillars with Sam Jacobs not getting any younger and Daniel Talia still recovering from knee surgery.
Rating: 6/10


D: Harris Andrews
M: Lachie Neale
R: Stefan Martin*
F: Eric Hipwood

BACK and ankle niggles have put Stef Martin’s place atop the Brisbane ruck depth chart in jeopardy. With Archie Smith gaining ground there is speculation surrounding the 32-year old Martin’s job security. I’ve listed Harris Andrews as the defensive pillar, however, a healthy Marcus Adams could change things with Andrews being trialled as a forward multiple times this preseason. Lachie Neale is a year removed from finishing top-5 in total and centre clearances, so his presence boosts a group with plenty of question marks.
Rating: 4/10

lachie neale marcus adamsImage from couriermail.com.au


D: Jacob Weitering
M: Patrick Cripps
R: Matthew Kreuzer*
F: Charlie Curnow

TWO surefire studs and two shaky suspects. Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow are set to be fan favourites for the next decade at Carlton, with the young 20-something prodigies forming part of the Blues all-important spine. Matthew Kreuzer could lose his job to Matthew Lobbe if he isn’t fit and firing following the JLT matches, with the former No. 1 overall pick still struggling to keep himself on the park. Fellow top selection Jacob Weitering faces a crucial year as well, bulking up this off-season in an effort to cement himself as a top key position defender.
Rating: 4/10


D: Lynden Dunn*
M: Adam Treloar
R: Brodie Grundy
F: Mason Cox

TRELOAR, Adams, Beams, Sidebottom, Pendlebury – take your pick. The Magpies boast an engine room that rivals any club out there and while I’ve picked Treloar for the sake of this article, I don’t think Collingwood will have troubles racking up clearances this season. You have to wonder though, who are they going to kick to? Scoring wasn’t a problem for the Pies last year with Jayden Stephenson, Jordan De Goey and a healthy Jamie Elliott giving them solid medium forwards, but Mason Cox remains their best key forward and he’s still a work in progress. Still, they do own Brodie Grundy, arguably the competitions best ruckmen, which helps lift their rating even if I have my doubts over the Lynden Dunn/Darcy Moore combo down back.
Rating: 7/10


D: Michael Hurley
M: Zach Merrett
R: Tom Bellchambers
F: Joe Daniher

THREE of the four pillars for the Bombers are All-Australian types that are more than capable of swinging a game in their team’s favour. Tom Bellchambers is the big question mark for Essendon and he holds them back from pursuing a perfect 10. A healthy Joe Daniher could just take out the Coleman Medal this year, especially if the supply from the midfield is near what we expect. Some may argue that Dyson Heppell or Dylan Shiel have a better claim as midfield pillars over Zach Merrett, but before his injury niggles last year, Merrett was in the Brownlow conversation and could very well be a smokey for this year’s award.
Rating: 8/10

joe daniherImage from afl.com.au


D: Alex Pearce
M: Nat Fyfe
R: Sean Darcy
F: Jesse Hogan

SIMILAR to Carlton, the Dockers own two bonafide pillars in Nat Fyfe and Jesse Hogan, with the other two spots a little less ominous. As we are well aware the health of both Fyfe and Hogan will be under heavy scrutiny throughout season 2019, with the duo yet to complete a full season between them through 13 combined campaigns. Sean Darcy seems set to have the torch passed to him by Aaron Sandilands this season, however with 15 games to his name he still has his work cut out for him before he can be labelled a pillar. Call me a homer, but after seeing promising signs from Alex Pearce last year and given the potential impact Fyfe and Hogan can have if healthy a middle of the road rating seems fair.
Rating: 5/10


D: Lachie Henderson
M: Patrick Dangerfield
R: Rhys Stanley
F: Tom Hawkins

A six might be a tad harsh for the Cats, but there are no guarantees they will thrust Dangerfield back into the midfield full-time. A proven game-winner capable of 11 shots on goal Danger may be forced to spend some time inside the forward 50 this season as well. Geelong had no other player inside the top-15 for total or centre clearances and there is still uncertainty over who their best key defender is. Mark Blicavs and Harry Taylor are in the mix to claim Lachie Henderson’s spot and Rhys Stanley managed the second lowest hitout average (28.2) as a teams No.1 ruckman. Work to do.
Rating: 6/10


D: Rory Thompson
M: Touk Miller
R: Jarrod Witts
F: Peter Wright

YOU know when you’re debating over Anthony Miles, David Swallow, Touk Miller and Brayden Fiorini things are dire. The same could be said for Rory Thompson and Peter Wright’s place after a mass exodus this off-season from the Gold Coast. Sam Collins could overtake Thompson and the same could be said for second overall pick Jack Lukosius stealing the mantle from Peter Wright. Jarrod Witts is no slouch though and should be an important figure for the Suns as they try to earn back respectability. Still, there’s a long way before the Gold Coast clearly identifies their key pillars which isn’t great news.
Rating: 2/10


D: Phil Davis
M: Josh Kelly
R: Dawson Simpson
F: Jeremy Cameron

EVEN with an exodus of top tier talent this past summer, the Giants are still expected to be in the finals mix this season. A full strength Josh Kelly in the midfield will aid their cause and it’s not exactly a take to declare him as a Brownlow chance. Phil Davis and Jeremy Cameron have proven their worth inside their respective 50’s, but the same can’t really be said for Dawson Simpson. Managing just 11 games for the club in the last two years, Simpson will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting after Rory Lobb’s departure and with Shane Mumford out for potentially the first three rounds.
Rating: 7/10

dawson simpson


D: James Frawley
M: Jaeger O’Meara
R: Ben McEvoy
F: Jack Gunston

HAD Tom Mitchell not gone down in the pre-season there’s every chance Hawthorn is eyeing an eight or higher here. However, the AFL’s leader in clearances last year is expected to miss the entire year and as a result, there is plenty of uncertainty around the midfield and the Hawks in general. Gunston edges out Roughead up forward following his third year with 50+ goals in a four-year window, while veterans James Frawley and Ben McEvoy are above average players in their position. The great uncertainty around Hawthorn’s midfield might be a tad harsh, but I need to be proven wrong/right before boosting their rating.
Rating: 6/10


D: Steven May
M: Clayton Oliver
R: Max Gawn
F: Tom McDonald

HAD they kept Jesse Hogan then on paper the Dees could be a perfect 10. Max Gawn and Clayton Oliver form a potent one-two punch in the midfield with both players capturing All-Australian nods last year. They shape as a tough task for opposition coaches to combat and if they can get quick supply to their forwards, it may help Tom McDonald continue trending in the right direction. Having kicked 76 goals in the last two seasons another big year in front of the sticks could see Melbourne go one step further and advance to the big dance. Throw in new prized recruit Steven May who has All-Australian potential and there might not be a better group of pillars in the league.
Rating: 9/10


D: Robbie Tarrant*
M: Ben Cunnington
R: Todd Goldstein
F: Ben Brown

THE pillars at North Melbourne are a lot better than some may think. It’s a shame that the rest of the roster isn’t at the same level or the Roos could be a serious threat in 2019. Consecutive seasons kicking 60+ goals has propelled Ben Brown into the best key forward conversation and his counterpart at the other end of the ground Robbie Tarrant has emerged as a reliable defender for North. Tarrant is in a race against the clock to be healthy for Round 1 and if he wasn’t in uniform things could get ugly for their defense. Ben Cunnington, who was sixth in total clearances last year and the ever-reliable Todd Goldstein should soften the blow.
Rating: 8/10


D: Tom Clurey
M: Ollie Wines*
R: Paddy Ryder
F: Charlie Dixon*

INJURIES, injuries and more injuries. Both Charlie Dixon and Ollie Wines are unlikely to be ready for the season opener after Wines’ heavily scrutinised water skiing accident and Dixon’s ongoing rehab from a broken leg. The injury to Dixon could force Paddy Ryder forward to start the year, which would see Scott Lycett take up some time in the middle along with Justin Westhoff. Port Adelaide paced the league for clearances last year and if they can win some footy straight out of the centre they’ll take some of the pressure off of Tom Clurey, who isn’t exactly a household name down back.
Rating: 5/10


D: Alex Rance
M: Dustin Martin
R: Toby Nankervis
F: Jack Riewoldt

ONCE again the ruck department ever so slightly holds a team back, with Richmond, arguably, possessing the best three players in the competition at the other key positions. Tom Lynch might have something to say about this by years end, but you can’t go past the reigning Coleman Medalist in Jack Riewoldt for now. The 6-6-6 structure was something Richmond adopted just 3% of the time last year and its inception should force Dustin Martin to play heavier midfield minutes, rather than adopting a roaming half-forward role. Alex Rance’s pedigree speaks for itself with the 5x All-Australian one of the best lockdown defenders in the game. If Toby Nankervis can keep improving, this unit will become a perfect 10 in no time.
Rating: 9/10


D: Jake Carlisle*
M: Jack Steven*
R: Billy Longer*
F: Tim Membrey

AHEAD of a crucial year for the club, the injury list at St Kilda is starting to look grim. Jake Carlisle could miss another few months of action, Billy Longer’s hamstring woes mean he will miss the opener and just yesterday Jack Steven stepped away from football for an indefinite period of time citing mental health struggles. If the Saints can get all three of them on the park they own a much better group, but their pillars are still below average.
Rating: 4/10


D: Heath Grundy
M: Josh Kennedy
R: Callum Sinclair
F: Lance Franklin

WHAT will we see out of Lance Franklin in year 15? It’s a question that not only dictates the fate of the Swans’ pillars but their 2019 season as a whole. There are decent players at the other key spots, but Buddy’s health and output can swing things both ways. With nearly 300 games of wear and tear under his belt, there’s every chance that he goes gangbusters and puts forth a great season. Aging Sydney pillars create doubt as well with Josh Kennedy (32), Heath Grundy (32) and Callum Sinclair (29) potentially all on the downward slope of their careers. Until I see them fail though, we still need to respect our elders.
Rating: 7/10

josh kennedyImage from thewest.com.au


D: Jeremy McGovern
M: Luke Shuey
R: Nic Natanui*
F: Josh Kennedy

THIS rating may be a tad high for the Eagles based on the health of the latter two pillars. We are unsure when we will see Nic Natanui back on the park, but all signs point to West Coast’s ruckman being in full flight for the latter half of the year. He isn’t the only body Eagles fans will have a close eye on with Josh Kennedy, the oldest player on their roster starting to look exactly like that. Still, when he’s on the park there’s no denying that Kennedy is a game changer still managing 43 goals from his 14 games a year ago. The clear talents of Luke Shuey and Jeremy McGovern help to up the rating and if this group is in full flight (pun intended) next finals series, watch out.
Rating: 9/10


D: Aaron Naughton
M: Jackson Macrae
R: Tim English
F: Josh Schache

JACKSON Macrae is worth 2.5 points himself. The other three unproven youngsters, I’m not so sure. No offense is meant to the likes of Aaron Naughton, Tim English and Josh Schache, but with 67 combined games, I still need to see if they can live up to the label of being pillars. With another pre-season under their belts, there’s every chance that they can do so and help the rest of the roster live up to the midfield pedigree. There’s no certainty of that happening leading to a low rating for the Western Bulldogs.
Rating: 3/10

Peace ✌

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