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AFL players' top 50: The day Max Gawn became invincible

The players pick their best: 20-16 The Players' Top 50 countdown continues

IT'S HARD to believe, but wind back two seasons and Max Gawn was a little-known ruckman fighting for his career.

Gawn has been recognised by his fellow players as the game's No.1 ruckman, with the No.17 ranking in this year's AFL Players' Top 50. 

Who's next? Check out the rest of the AFL Players' Top 50 as they are revealed

But the Demons overlooked Gawn for selection in the first 10 games of the 2015 season.

Two games after the 208cm, 111kg big man finally forced his way back into the side, everything changed.

Gawn led Melbourne to its first win in 10 years at Geelong's fortress, Simonds Stadium. His stats looked like this:

Max Gawn v Geelong: round 12, 2015

19 disposals Eight marks (six contested)
44 hit-outs One goal

"He just exploded that day," then-coach Paul Roos told AFL.com.au.

"He'd shown it a bit in the VFL, but we were waiting for him to clunk a few marks at AFL level.

"He was able to say to people, 'I've got some genuine talent and genuine ability', and that included our coaching staff."

Gawn locks horns with Cat Rhys Stanley in round 23 last season. Picture: AFL Media

After the match, Gawn told a journalist he felt 'invincible' after his career-best performance.

Roos was quick to jump on the ruckman's comments and when the players came into the club for game review the following week he had written 'Mr Invincible' alongside Gawn's name on the whiteboard.

"We were all able to have a laugh about it and it gave us something to latch onto for the rest of the year," Roos said.

Big Cat Mark Blicavs was Gawn's opponent that afternoon.

"I remember the first quarter he just marked everything that came his way," Blicavs said.

"He gave his midfielders first use but he also covered the ground really well for his size."

Boosted by a big pre-season, Gawn ramped up that workrate in 2016 and produced a career-defining year.

Max Gawn's 2016

22 games 928 hit-outs (No.1 in AFL) 
16 goals 16 Brownlow votes
All Australian 3rd in club best and fairest

Roos credited Gawn's improved aerobic capacity with the ruckman's evolution, also noting more continuity in his training after knee issues restricted Gawn in the past.

"Another good pre-season this time around should see him go up another gear in 2017," Roos said.

He may not be invincible, but Gawn begins an important season for the Demons as one of the AFL's toughest ruckmen to combat.

"It's his consistency from week to week which makes him so dangerous," Blicavs said.

- Ben Guthrie

 

20. Sam Mitchell

West Coast
Midfielder
Last year's ranking: 6
Official AFL Player Rating: 23
Debut: 2002
Games: 307
AFL Fantasy value: $602,000

After securing his fifth Hawthorn champion award – second only to Leigh Matthews' eight – Mitchell stunned the football world with his bombshell trade to West Coast. Despite turning 34 in October, Mitchell remains one of the AFL's finest midfielders and is coming off a campaign where he averaged nearly 30 disposals. The newly-crowned 2012 Brownlow medallist's classy distribution by hand and foot, combined with his razor-sharp football smarts, will be invaluable to the developing Eagles engine room.

19. Eddie Betts

Adelaide
Forward
Last year's ranking: 32
Official AFL Player Rating: 28
Debut: 2005
Games: 253
AFL Fantasy value: $482,000

The most prolific goalkicking small forward in the game, who vies with Cyril Rioli for the title of best small forward overall, has enjoyed a career surge since leaving Carlton to return to his native Adelaide at the end of 2013. In three seasons as a Crow, electrifying Eddie has kicked 189 goals, including a career-high 75 last year to finish equal-third in the Coleman Medal and lead Adelaide's goalkicking for a third successive season.

18. Cyril Rioli

Hawthorn
Forward
Last year's ranking: 17
Official AFL Player Rating: 9
Debut: 2008
Games: 178
AFL Fantasy value: $512,000

With renewed confidence in his once-dodgy hamstrings, Rioli is at the peak of his powers. The little master enjoyed a career year in 2015, but then stepped up again last season as Alastair Clarkson leaned heavily on his trio of star small forwards to create havoc in a remodeled and undersized attack. Rioli booted a career-high 47 goals – at a remarkable 75 per accuracy – and terrorised defences with his relentless pressure at ground level. From 21 games, Rioli was only kept goalless twice on the way to earning his third All Australian jumper.

17. Max Gawn

Melbourne
Ruck
Last year's ranking: -
Official AFL Player Rating: 13
Debut: 2011
Games: 61
AFL Fantasy value: $642,000

16. Robbie Gray

Port Adelaide
Midfielder
Last year's ranking: 10
Official AFL Player Rating: 3
Debut: 2007
Games: 155
AFL Fantasy value: $526,000

Smart, consistent midfielder/forward who perhaps hasn't received the level of kudos he has deserved after winning the Power's past three best and fairest awards. Gray slides in the view of his fellow players after missing three games through injury last year. Despite the setbacks he maintained his excellence while teammates battled, averaging 26.3 possessions (including 13.6 contested) and contributing 25 goals with his typical cleverness around the sticks.

Catch up

50-41: Tough-as-nail Demon's time arrives

40-36: Magpie Treloar soars in the spotlight

35-31: What rising Blue Patrick Cripps still needs to improve

 30-26: Baby Bomber Zach Merrett's next challenge

25-21: Who is the Giants' most valuable player? 

Who's next?

• Check out the rest of the AFL Players' Top 50 as they are revealed

• Breakout stars: The players name the seven most likely to explode

Who topped the count in 2016?