The AFL’s 22 under 22 side is always filled with controversy.
Football fans send in their votes, and the resulting side is usually somewhat correct. But when fans get the opportunity to vote for their favourite players, biases tend to creep in.
If he could, Kane Cornes would undoubtedly select Connor Rozee and Zak Butters in every position on the football field and possibly delist Sam Walsh.
This team should be awarded to players who actually deserve selection for their efforts this season. It should not be based on previous seasons’ form, or whether they’ve made the side before.
Here is the actual AFL 2020s 22 under 22 side. There is no controversy; there is no glaring error. There are plenty of players who are stiff to miss selections, but 40 can’t go into 22.
Back pocket: Nick Coffield Coffield has emerged as a star for St Kilda this season. The medium-sized general has played 13 games this year, averaging 14.7 disposals, six marks and three rebound 50s a game whilst also going at 84.5% efficiency.
Not only has he had a productive season; he’s also done so in a winning team, which adds to his feats this year.
Fullback: Jacob Weitering (C) Weitering has had arguably the best season out of all key defenders this year. He’s kept Tom Lynch, Jeremy Cameron and Tom McDonald goalless, Tom Hawkins to two and Ben Brown to one.
Weitering has been a main reason for Carlton’s rise this season, and he’s only getting better. A great leader at the Blues, Weitering has earned the captaincy of this side.
Back pocket: Noah Balta Despite only playing 11 games so far this year, Balta has earned his spot as the third tall defender in this side. For someone who stands at 194cm, Balta possesses athletic capabilities that are typically absent in key position players.
He’s been likened to Alex Rance, and whilst he’s still a while away from the production of one of the league’s great defenders, Balta is improving out of sight this season.
Halfback flank: Jordan Ridley One of Essendon’s shining lights this season, Ridley is on track to earn an All-Australian jersey in 2020. Ridley has averaged 18.1 disposals per game, but it’s his ability to compose himself and hit a target that stood out in a frantic and frenetic Bombers defence.
Only once did Ridley’s disposal efficiency drop below 85%, and twice he went at 100% efficiency. Ridley is out of contract at season’s end, and while it’s not expected that he’ll leave the Hanger, it’s a signature many sides would love to have.
Centre halfback: Jack Lukosius Lukosius was originally drafted as a key forward, but his ability to hit targets effectively and his quick turn of pace has allowed him to blossom as a defender for the Suns. He’s been a main pillar in an improving Suns outfit, and coach Stuart Dew would be hesitant to move him forward after such a breakout season.
He’s had a similar sort of year that James Sicily had when he first moved back, and hopefully he develops in a similar fashion.
Halfback flank: Will Day It’s absolutely criminal that Will Day is yet to win a Rising Star nomination. Since breaking into the best 22 at Hawthorn, Day has played an important role off the back flank.
He’s only played nine games this season, but he’s been a shining light in a dark season for the Hawks.
Wing: Sam Walsh Media pundits enjoy arguing that Walsh shouldn’t have been selected first overall in 2018, but he’s been an outstanding player for the Blues over the last two seasons. After a move onto the wing halfway through the year, Walsh found his groove and bumped his disposals from 17.5 disposals per game in Rounds 1-9 to 23 in Rounds 11-16.
He’s also kicked five goals in his last six games after only three in his first nine games. He’s still featuring in the centre bounces, but he’s now found his groove on the outside.
Ruck: Sean Darcy The only pure ruck in the squad, Darcy was vying for this position against ruck/forward Oscar Allen. Darcy has averaged 22 hit-outs a game, along with eight disposals a game. Darcy is only 22 years old, but has played 38 games already which is a testament for his AFL readiness coming into the league.
Centre: Andrew McGrath You could make an argument that McGrath has been Essendon’s premier midfielder in 2020. He hasn’t faulted under that pressure, either.
The number one pick from 2016 has averaged 22.2 disposals per game, with 9.1 of those contested, as well as five clearances per game. The midfield of this 22 under 22 side is impossibly tough to select for, but McGrath is arguable first selected for the opening hypothetical bounce.
Rover: Andrew Brayshaw Fremantle needed Brayshaw to pick up an already heavy load when Nat Fyfe went down with a hamstring injury halfway through the season. Despite already playing well through the centre, Brayshaw went to another level with Fyfe out.
His form, along with Adam Cerra and Caleb Serong, was so good that Fyfe has played predominantly forward since returning.
Ruck rover: Bailey Smith Smith has blossomed into yet another Bulldogs premium midfielder/forward in just his second season. Josh Dunkley’s early-season injury opened up a spot at centre bounces for Smith, who held his own with Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae.
Smith has averaged 21 disposals a game this year and has still played well even after Dunkley returned. There has been a lot of chatter about the best draftee of 2018, with most of the talk between Walsh and Rozee.
But Smith has been superb and deserves to be in the conversation.
Wing: Harry Perryman Perryman went from being relatively unknown in a star-studded GWS line-up to leading the Coleman Medal after four rounds. He then moved from the half-forward flank to the wing and started to collect the ball at will.
Perryman has averaged 18.4 disposals, 0.7 goals, 2.8 inside 50s and one clearance a game.
Half-forward flank: Zak Butters Butters was one of three highly touted selections for Port Adelaide at the 2018 draft, but he’s the only one to make the squad of forty. He’ll also make the side on the half-forward flank after an outstanding season.
He averaged 15 disposals a game, kicked 11 goals in 15 matches, and provided flashes of brilliance throughout the year. A true half-forward and should be selected there.
Centre half-forward: Ben King Ben King has been outstanding since getting drafted in 2018, and Gold Coast will be very keen on locking him into a long-term deal. He’s currently contracted until 2022, but the 20-year-old deserves another three-to-five years on top of that after kicking 23.18 in his second season.
Gold Coast have a serious player on their hands.
Half-forward flank: Josh Daicos Like his father, Josh has been an x-factor for the Magpies. In his fourth year, Daicos has become a regular in the Collingwood outfit and has found himself positioned on a forward flank and a wing.
He’s averaged 17.5 disposals a game, as well as kicking ten goals on the season. He also kicked potentially the goal of the year against Sydney, which mirrored the efforts from his father years ago.
Forward pocket: Izak Rankine The third pick in 2018 has burst onto the scene this season after missing all of 2019. He put the AFL world on notice in his debut with 3.3 from 12 disposals, including two goal of the year candidates.
The following week he kicked 2.2 from 16 disposals. Such is his impact that Rankine excites crowds whenever he’s within 20 metres of the ball.
Full forward: Max King The St Kilda forward completes the twin set of tandem key forwards in this year’s lineup. King didn’t get to play last season after going into the draft with a torn ACL, but St Kilda would be loving the fact they stuck with him and drafted him number four.
He has 19.10 from 14 games this season and is a true talent for the future. He’s doing the storied #12 St Kilda jersey proud.
Forward pocket: Gryan Miers The lively forward pocket rounds out the starting 18 for this side in a difficult decision. Only two tall forwards on field, but you can’t argue with Miers’ production in 2020. He’s averaged 14.2 touches per game whilst still kicking 16 goals across 15 games.
His turn of pace offers serious defensive presence in the forward 50.
Defensive bench spot: Charlie Ballard Hunter Clark is probably the unluckiest defender to miss out on a spot, but Ballard’s ability to lock down tall and small defenders whilst also consistently disposing the ball at elite levels has earned him the spot.
Only twice did Ballard go at below 90% efficiency, and not once did he drop below 83%.
Midfield bench spot #1: Jy Simpkin The first midfield bench selection goes to Jy Simpkin, who was unlucky to miss out on a field spot. With Cunnington out for the majority of the season, Simpkin was required to step up and fill the void of one of 2019’s best players.
Simpkin has averaged 20.57 disposals per game, was North Melbourne’s number one clearance midfielder after Todd Goldstein and averaged four tackles a game.
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Midfield bench spot #2: Hugh McCluggage If this team’s selection were based on career-to-date, Tim Taranto would fill this spot. If it were based on the most important role for their team, the position would be James Worpel’s.
Hugh McCluggage gets the nod for this position, as he is important to his side, collects plenty of the ball and uses it well. McCluggage averaged 18.4 disposals per game, but his kicking for goal almost cost him his spot; kicking 6.16 on the season.
Jarrod Berry has had a great season so far, but McCluggage has his teammate beat.
Forward bench spot: Harry McKay McKay will offer the King brothers some reprieve off the bench as a key forward. The Blue big has kicked 14.14 in 11 games this season, after missing plenty of footy through injury. A bulking presence, McKay is a physical beast who will be a nightmare for defenders for the next decade.
There are plenty of footballers that are unlucky to miss selection, with James Worpel, Jarrod Berry and Tim Taranto the main three. Aaron Naughton is one who is a popular selection, but with 11 goals in eight games (six in one match against Adelaide), his form hasn’t warranted selection.
Leave a comment below, scathing me for not selecting your favourite player, and I’ll tell you why they shouldn’t be in this side.