KANGAROO Ben Brown led the Coleman Medal race by eight goals at the end of round 17 last year.
The 200cm spearhead, who was fresh from back-to-back bags of four majors, had booted two or more goals in 13 of his 16 matches to that point.
There was little reason to believe Brown's journey to his first Coleman was about to come off the rails, but that's exactly what happened.
He kicked a combined four majors in four of the games between rounds 18 and 22 – there was a four-goal haul in between – as Tiger Jack Riewoldt swallowed up his buffer, then kicked away to win by four.
Brown still finished second, three clear of Geelong's Tom Hawkins and four ahead of Swan Lance Franklin.
This year's race seemed a fait accompli, too, until Greater Western Sydney withdrew runaway leader Jeremy Cameron from its line-up last week before the Sydney Derby with the Swans.
Suddenly, Cameron's tight calf, plus Brown's four goals against Hawthorn on Friday night, has breathed life into the contest.
The Giant's 57 majors for the season place him just five ahead of Brown (52) with three rounds to go, with Hawkins (50), Richmond's Tom Lynch (48) and Eagle Jack Darling (47) not far behind.
Cameron and GWS are hopeful he will play against Hawthorn on Friday night, but there is the possibility of him sitting out another match.
Any lingering lameness won't help Cameron's chance of defying his recent record against the Hawks, who have conceded just one goal to him across their past two meetings.
However, the table below illustrates that Brown faces his own challenge to win the Coleman Medal for the first time and erase the memory of last year's fadeout.
v R21 OPPONENT
v R22 OPPONENT
v R23 OPPONENT
* Highest average against any club
Brown was held goalless in four of his seven clashes against upcoming opponent Geelong, although he booted five against them in round eight.
On the flipside, the 26-year-old failed to kick a major against round 22 rival Port Adelaide in round six, yet had slotted multiple goals in each of the previous four games with the Power.
As for the other contenders:
- Hawkins has kicked 11 goals in his past three games against North Melbourne; 11 in his last two against Brisbane; and nine in his previous two against Carlton
- Lynch has booted 11 goals across his past two clashes with Carlton and managed multiple majors in each of his seven career hit-outs with West Coast
- Darling will hope for a strong Eagles finish, given he's averaging 2.9 goals per game in wins this season versus just 1.2 in losses.
How much difference will Nank's return make?
Richmond's premiership ruckman Toby Nankervis is primed to make his senior return against Carlton on Sunday after three VFL appearances.
FROM THE TWOS Flag hero hurt, forgotten Cat returns
Ivan Soldo has shouldered much of the ruck load in Nankervis' long, adductor-related absence, with support from Mabior Chol, who is also proving a threat up forward.
A much healthier Tigers team will greet 'Nank', who promises to strengthen further a line-up that is peaking at the right end of the year.
H.O. WIN %
Greene offers Giant value everywhere
Is Toby Greene best used as a forward or a midfielder?
That question is back in vogue after Greene's insertion into Greater Western Sydney's onball brigade to help cover the absence of Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio, Callan Ward and Matt de Boer.
The answer is unclear, because he's a star in both roles and equally effective in both roles.
* Figures in bold are rated 'elite' for that position
Tip-ing in his teammates
Essendon is still to lock in electrifying forward Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti for next year, and the topic of what he's worth is still being publicly debated.
At first sight, McDonald-Tipungwuti's kicked just one goal in the past three weeks, which doesn't seem to be great output, yet in that time he is equal-third in the competition for score assists.
If you include a week further back, bringing in his four match-winning majors against North Melbourne, he is ranked equal-first in the AFL for score assists – at a time the Bombers need him.
Break out the cheque book, Dons!