Ben Brown of the Kangaroos prepares to kick a goal during the Round 9 AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants at Blundstone Arena in Hobart, Saturday, May 19, 2018. (AAP Image/Rob Blakers) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Ben Brown of the Kangaroos prepares to kick a goal during the Round 9 AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants at Blundstone Arena in Hobart, Saturday, May 19, 2018. (AAP Image/Rob Blakers) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Mick’s picks: AFL’s five most influential players

AS we entered Round 10, Hawk Tom Mitchell topped the league for disposals with 319, Brownlow medalist Dustin Martin was still making his mark, Buddy was back, Bulldog Jack Macrae was leading many of the media awards, and North's Ben Brown was the leading goal kicker with 31 goals.

I would only put one of these players in my list of the league's five most influential players.

Which one?

Well it's impossible to go past a player who has elevated his team into the top eight.

North's Ben Brown and Jarrad Waite are a formidable combination, but the money man is Brown.

He is elite in many areas, particularly in his ability to kick the clutch goal.

His unusually long run up - roughly 31 steps - is a clear indication of his professionalism.

At training he is the first on and the last off the track, and he doesn't leave the ground until he has kicked 10 goals in a row.

Now in his fifth year at the club, it is paying off for him and for his team, who can count on their No.1 target to provide a strong contest against the best defender, while easing the load on Waite.

North Melbourne has exceeded expectations so far this year and Brown delivers the icing on the cake.

He is the catalyst for the club's climb up the ladder.

And that's the kind of influence I'm talking about.

We know players such as Tom Mitchell, Clayton Oliver, Rory Laird, Andrew Gaff, Stephen Coniglio, Adam Treloar, and Patrick Cripps are stars, each and every one of them, but their teams could still probably find a way to win without them on a given day.

The influence I'm interested in is the type of player who won't win the awards or even necessarily the accolades, but whose sheer presence makes their side a better team.

A player of influence brings his teammates into the game, and takes the heat off the stars to allow them to shine.

The five players I'm naming here are the reasons their teams are winning and heading towards finals.

TALL TARGET

Melbourne has snuck up the ladder in the last four weeks without a great deal of fanfare.

I could easily reason why Max Gawn should be named as the difference to the Demons' form.

He is outstanding and Melbourne desperately needs him to continue at his best.

But, for mine, Tom McDonald is the Demons' most important player right now.

Melbourne's fortunes have turned around since his inclusion back from injury.

The team has clicked.

Tom McDonald of the Demons
Tom McDonald of the Demons

Jesse Hogan is an excellent player for the Dees, but the role he was playing as a key forward was to come a long way out of the 50m arc, as a relief mark from the backline.

He would then have to try to get forward from the centre of the field, to score, which he couldn't do often enough.

McDonald, as the tall target, plants himself between the goalsquare and just outside 50, which has freed Hogan up to be a floating tall.

So now Hogan is more effective in his role, and the team has become more effective as a whole.

ONE-TOUCH GRAB

A player who I have been highly critical of in the past - not with his home form, but in his away game - is West Coast's Jack Darling.

He has been simply outstanding this year, everywhere.

He absorbed all the forward pressure when Josh Kennedy missed with injury, and in this, perhaps, gained confidence in his own ability.

He used to struggle on unfamiliar interstate grounds, and West Coast struggled.

This year he has excelled on all the big stages, against quality opposition, including his six-goal haul against Richmond last Sunday.

His contested marking is a treat to watch. He is a one-touch mark and is demonstrably strong in the contest. And he is a beautiful kick for goal.

By taking some of the pressure off Kennedy and Mark LeCras, the Eagles' forward line is working to full effect and has become a nightmare for the opposition to cover.

Jack Darling of the Eagles
Jack Darling of the Eagles

PIE CATALYST

Brodie Grundy has single-handedly been the catalyst for Collingwood's resurgence this season.

The Pies talented midfield hasn't been in form week to week - Scott Pendlebury has missed a couple with injury, Steele Sidebottom great but not consistent, and Treloar up and down - but when Grundy is playing well, so is Collingwood.

He gives the Pies' midfield an armchair ride, with mobility that allows him to act like another mid - a strong, tall mid, who brings other players into the game around him.

Grundy is aggressive, and works just as hard defensively as offensively, and he is a goal kicker.

Who can forget that brilliant goal on the run from just inside 50 against Adelaide? That stuff wins you games.

Brodie Grundy of the Magpies
Brodie Grundy of the Magpies

When Grundy lowers his colours, like he did against Toby Nankervis and Richmond, Collingwood find it hard to win.

The importance of the ruckman is never to be underestimated.

Nic Naitanui surprised me with his mental toughness this year. To come back from a serious knee injury without a step backwards is astounding.

West Coast will continue to be a threat with Naitanui in the ruck.

QUIET ACHIEVER

But if I'm to name just one more influential player, then it's Richmond's Toby Nankervis.

In a side with Dustin Martin, Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt, his name isn't often mentioned in the same breath, but Nankervis is the quiet achiever at Richmond, and he is as highly important to the team as its stars are.

He is a mobile big man, with a strong mark and a good shot on goal. An aggressive tackler, hardworking and completely team oriented.

Toby Nankervis of the Richmond Tigers
Toby Nankervis of the Richmond Tigers

Ruckman Shaun Hampson hasn't been available to play senior football for over 12-months with a back injury, so the Tigers' experienced ruck stocks are limited and Nankervis' back up is the190cm tall Shaun Grigg - which basically means all the ruck work has fallen to him.

His ability to play as a lone ruckman allows Richmond to field an extra runner.

His demolition job of Grundy was the reason for the Tigers' dominance in that Round 6 match, and proof that the Tigers are a much better team when Nankervis is in full swing.

 

SHAPING FINALS

I have named five talls - all key forwards or rucks.

Backs save games, but mids/rucks set up forwards to win them.

Influence comes in many forms, and can change as the year plays out.

But I guarantee that the five players I have named will play a prominent part in their team's fortunes for the remainder of this season.

And if their teams can feature in the finals, they each will play a significant role in September.



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