EMERGING superstars, evergreen veterans, and trusted defenders are all on track to claim their club's best-and-fairest award this season.
So who's in pole position at our club, and who is breathing down their neck? Did we get it right? Check it out.
After moving from half-back to midfield in the second half of last season, Laird has taken his game to a new level this year. The powerful 27-year-old looks at home around the contest and has been a model of consistency, never dipping below 25 disposals and averaging 31 – along with seven clearances and six tackles – a game. Laird is well on his way to a second Malcolm Blight Medal.
Ben Keays and Taylor Walker would be pushing hard for spots to round out the top three. Following a breakout 2020 season at his second club, Keays has gone to another level this year and been a reliable midfield sidekick for Laird. And then there's Walker, perhaps one of the best stories of the entire season, kicking 37 goals to date to sit third in the Coleman Medal. Paul Seedsman is also having a consistent year.
How they vote
Matthew Nicks and his three line coaches collectively grade each player’s performance on a 0-10 scale following each round. - Michael Whiting
It'd be a tight vote at the Lions, but after a quiet opening fortnight, McCluggage has been sensational. The wingman, who has made the Therabody AFL All Australian squad of 40 the past two seasons, has been a major influence behind Brisbane's top-four push, not only with his exquisite ball use, but his ability to play more 'inside' in the five-game absence of Lachie Neale. McCluggage is averaging 25 disposals but it's his damage forward of centre that has set him apart.
Midfielder Jarryd Lyons would be neck-and-neck with McCluggage at the moment and could very well have his nose in front. Lyons seems to get better by the year, racking up disposals in tight, but most notably using the ball well in space. Rebounding defender Daniel Rich is having arguably the best season of his long career, while another elder statesman – captain Dayne Zorko – would also be pushing for a podium spot after exploding to life following a quiet beginning to his season.
How they vote
Chris Fagan and the five assistant coaches allocate a maximum of four votes to a player, to a maximum of 24, after each match. - Michael Whiting
The Carlton youngster has gone to another level this year, winning more than 24 disposals in every game he's played and stringing together four consecutive 30-touch matches. His ability to win the ball on the inside and use his speed and athleticism in space makes him a threat in all situations, while his clearance work has also improved significantly. After a second-place finish in last year's John Nicholls Medal, expect Walsh to be leading the count and on track for his maiden Blues best and fairest halfway through this season.
Key forward Harry McKay leads the Coleman Medal with 38 goals through the season's first 12 matches and would be among the top vote-winners, while reigning John Nicholls medallist Jacob Weitering has also been super-consistent down back. Liam Jones would be an outside chance, given he leads the League in intercept marks.
How they vote
Coach David Teague and three assistants give as many players as they like between 0-4 votes per match. It means the most votes any player can receive for one single game is 16. - Riley Beveridge
Has moved further up the ground this season and got better with every game, leading the Pies in disposals and inside 50s. Starting his career predominantly across half-back but is now having an impact on a wing and through centre bounces. Still has a way to go to be included in the conversation among the competition's best midfielders but has been the Pies' most consistent player this year.
Scott Pendlebury is one of eight players to have played every game and continues to perform at a high level – even mixing between half-back and forward when not in the midfield. The skipper has been on the podium in 12 of his last 15 seasons. Steele Sidebottom has been important, while Brody Mihocek has held up the fort in attack, John Noble and Isaac Quaynor have improved and Brayden Maynard is often around the mark. Jordan Roughead has taken some scalps and poses as a smokey. Darcy Moore could well be on the podium to this point of the season but is set to miss the rest of the campaign with a knee injury.
How they vote
The five members of the coaching panel each award up to 22 votes for each game (there is no minimum). The player then gets an average score for each game. - Mitch Cleary
A mammoth 10 weeks has seen Parish likely take the lead in Essendon's best and fairest voting as he proves his status as one of the emerging midfielders in the AFL. The 23-year-old has pushed himself to equal first in the AFL for centre clearances, second for total clearances and fifth in the League for disposals. He has enjoyed several best-on-ground showings, including against Collingwood, Fremantle, Richmond and North Melbourne, and has averaged 34.3 disposals and nine clearances since he was used in the midfield permanently from round three.
Zach Merrett will go close to claiming his third Crichton Medal if his form continues. The gun midfielder has put aside speculation on his future to have another very consistent season, averaging 31 disposals a game. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti has had an excellent season in attack while Jayden Laverde's resurgence as a marking defender should see him poll well.
How they vote
After each game every player is rated from zero to five by the coaching panel, resulting in a minimum of zero votes and maximum of 30 per game. - Callum Twomey
The veteran midfielder was among the best-performed players in the League across the opening two months of the season, leading the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year Award after round seven. His 99 score involvements (7.6 a game) ranks No.5 in the AFL, with his disposal inside 50 unrivalled at Fremantle. The 36-year-old is making those around him better players with his creativity and toughness at stoppages and his 25.7 disposals a game is bettered over his career only by his 2015 All-Australian season. Has turned the course of games with big quarters and was outstanding in wins against Greater Western Sydney (35 disposals, six clearances and six inside 50s), Adelaide (28, six and six) and North Melbourne (30, four and eight).
Ruckman Sean Darcy is one of the AFL's most improved players and has been critical in several wins for Freo. His ability to push forward has been impressive and, with 30.25 hitouts a game and a career-high 4.1 clearances, he is among the best four ruckmen this season. Nat Fyfe has been terrific, but the captain has been marked harshly for his wayward goalkicking, with young midfielder Andrew Brayshaw taking another step forward.
How they vote
Senior coach Justin Longmuir and four other members of the Fremantle coaching staff each allocate up to five votes per player for a maximum of 25 votes per game. - Nathan Schmook
Already a star defender, the 28-year-old has taken his offensive game to new heights this year – averaging more than 24 disposals per game in a career-high. Stewart has two Therabody AFL All Australian blazers and looks in line for a third as he continues to beat the opposition's best mid-sized forwards weekly. With the retirement of Harry Taylor and continuation of Mark Blicavs as a wing/ruck, Stewart has also grown his leadership in defence.
Tom Hawkins would sit on the podium – leading the Cats once again for goals and goal assists. Joel Selwood is having a super season leading the Cats in contested possessions, while Lachie Henderson and Isaac Smith loom as surprise packets. Cam Guthrie (two games), Mitch Duncan (three) have already missed games but will be in the conversation along with proven poller Mark Blicavs. Geelong's spread is highlighted by the fact no Cats sits inside the top 20 on the AFL Coaches' Association leaderboard.
How they vote
Coaches rate each player's performance out of 15 with the combined votes averaged to give a final score for that game. Last year the Cats calculated the best 20 of each players' possible 21 scoring games due the reduced COVID-19 season. In 2019, it was 23 of the best 25 games to allow for injuries or a player being rested. - Mitch Cleary
Despite missing one match through suspension, the prolific midfielder would be a runaway leader at this stage. Miller is having a fabulous season, becoming more damaging with the ball to complement a defensive workrate that would match any midfielder in the competition. He is averaging 30 disposals a game, and has topped 30 for six straight matches – something only Gary Ablett has done in Suns colours.
The main challengers to Miller would be unheralded young defender Wil Powell and ever-consistent midfielder Hugh Greenwood. Powell has blossomed this season, mixing an ability to lock down on an opponent, with an aerial bravery that allows him to intercept mark and springboard Gold Coast attacks. Greenwood just keeps on keeping on, ranked the No.1 tackler in the League, while also among the top-10 clearance players. Co-captain David Swallow has been consistent despite splitting time between midfield and half-forward.
How they vote
Gold Coast's five-man match committee awarded votes to an unlimited number of players each match, with players able to receive a maximum of 10 votes from each judge, meaning a maximum of 50 votes for any match. - Michael Whiting
The superstar forward has benefited from his first uninterrupted pre-season in years to kick 23 goals in 10 games. This includes two bags of five and a four-goal game. The Giants regularly look to Greene in the forward line but he continues to impact the game further up the ground too, averaging 18 disposals and five inside 50s per match. The 27-year-old has also impressed as stand-in skipper for seven matches, and is a strong chance to claim his second Kevin Sheedy Medal despite missing a couple of games with a fractured shoulder.
Josh Kelly looks back to his best, averaging 29 disposals and kicking eight goals in the past six matches. Jacob Hopper has become the inside bull many expected him to be, averaging 13 contested disposals a game and gathering at least 25 touches in nine of his 12 matches. Tim Taranto has arguably improved on his 2019 club champion award-winning season, and Callan Ward has turned back the clock since returning to the midfield.
How they vote: Leon Cameron and three assistant coaches award up to four votes to each player every round, meaning each player is able to receive a maximum of 16 votes per match. - Martin Pegan
In a tough opening half of the season for the Hawks, Mitchell has been a consistent performer, even in losses. The 2018 Brownlow medallist is nearly back to his very best after a broken leg wiped out his 2019 season, averaging 33.5 disposals, 3.9 inside 50s and 3.8 clearances from 12 matches. The coaches named him best afield for his 39-disposal effort against Essendon in round one, while he also recorded 44 touches against Carlton in round 10.
Jaeger O'Meara has been a driving force in the midfield throughout the year, stamping his authority on games and willing the ball forward through some strong contested work. Chad Wingard has had patches of some of his best form up forward this year, while Changkuoth Jiath was particularly strong across half-back at the start of the season. Hard nut Blake Hardwick has also had a very consistent 2021.
How they vote
The club's match committee votes after each match, with the maximum number of votes available being 16. - Sarah Black
A dual Keith 'Bluey' Truscott medallist already, the hard-nosed midfielder could be set for his third Melbourne best and fairest later this year. Oliver is averaging more than 30 disposals per game, while his ability to spread from stoppage and become more damaging with the footy has improved significantly. Averaging career-highs for disposals and clearances, Oliver is the game's best contested player this season and has become the standout midfielder in a Demons side that has gone 11-2 to start the year. The competition will be fierce, but expect Oliver to be leading the way at the halfway point.
Take your pick. Max Gawn has again led the way to continue holding the mantle as the competition's best ruckman, Jake Lever and Steven May have been exceptional down back and are undoubtedly two of the game's best intercept players, while last year's winner Christian Petracca is averaging 28 disposals and more than a goal per game. Then there's forward Tom McDonald and defender Christian Salem, who are enjoying standout years and would be an outside chance to be in the running.
How they vote
A total of 40 votes are on offer for each player per match and are awarded by coach Simon Goodwin and three assistant coaches. - Riley Beveridge
After a breakout season resulted in a second-place finish in the Syd Barker Medal last year, the exciting North Melbourne midfielder could be set to go one better in 2021. Simpkin's consistency has been his standout attribute this year, averaging 25.8 disposals per game and only dipping below 20 touches once for the year. He's also on track for career-highs in tackles and clearances, becoming arguably one of the most important cogs in the Kangaroos midfield group. His influence within the side was reflected in its only win for the year so far, when Simpkin racked up 38 disposals, 14 clearances and nine tackles in victory over Hawthorn. Displays like that could put him on track to claim his maiden North Melbourne best and fairest.
Dual winner Ben Cunnington would be among the frontrunners following another outstanding season, however he missed the first two games due to concussion issues which could put him behind the eight-ball. Jack Ziebell is averaging a career-high 27.1 disposals in his new role down back and would be racking up the votes, while young defender Ben McKay and experienced ruckman Todd Goldstein are outside chances.
How they vote
Coaches award players up to 20 votes in a game. - Riley Beveridge
Ken Hinkley warned pre-season that Wines was ready to explode and the midfield bull has delivered, averaging career-high disposals (31.1) and inside 50s (5.2), and maintaining an elite clearance (5.25) and contested ball (13.75) game. The vice-captain has been among the best midfielders this season and is benefiting from an uninterrupted summer, with All-Australian honours for the first time beckoning if his form holds in the second half of the season. Sits sixth in the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player Award, with his best games coming against Fremantle (35 disposals and eight clearances) and St Kilda (36 and eight).
Last year's runner-up Travis Boak is the main competition to Wines after another impressive season that has seen the midfielder average 28.3 disposals and 6.5 clearances, playing several big games and consistently delivering to a high standard. Captain Tom Jonas, who finished third last year, has been among the best key defenders in the competition, if just short of the main All-Australian contenders.
How they vote
After every game, coach Ken Hinkley, senior assistant Michael Voss, each player's line coach, and football manager Chris Davies each rate every player between 0-5, with a maximum of 20 and minimum of zero votes awarded per player. - Nathan Schmook
The two missed games with a fractured wrist may hurt him, but considering most of Richmond's top-flight players have missed some football at stages this year, it won't be too big a cost. The midfielder/forward has been in sparkling touch this year, arguably winning the Essendon game off his own boot. Bolton is averaging 21.9 disposals, 5.7 inside 50s, 4.3 clearances and has kicked 15 goals from his 11 matches.
Last year's winner Jayden Short is leading the club in total disposals, kicks and marks, while defender Nathan Broad is having his most consistent year to date. Injured ruckman Toby Nankervis would have been in the place-getters if the count only included the first 10 rounds of the season, while Jack Riewoldt and Liam Baker have been quietly consistent performers. And you can never discount Dustin Martin.
How they vote
Every player is awarded between zero and five votes after each match. - Sarah Black
One of few players who can hold their head high at Moorabbin this season. After a maiden best and fairest last season, Steele has continued his first-class standards in the midfield this year and has the most disposals (career-high 27.5), contested possessions, clearances and tackles at the club. His 33 disposals, one goal and 17 contested possessions in the round four win over West Coast was a clear highlight.
It's daylight to second. Jack Sinclair might just be next in line after an impressive move to half-back this season, while Tim Membrey always rocks up. Dougal Howard has been a rock in defence but is yet to poll a vote in the Coaches' Association award. Brad Crouch missed the first two games coming off his drug ban but has been a solid contributor since, while Jack Billings has been good without being outstanding. Two-time winner Seb Ross has been praised for his selflessness to play various roles when required.
How they vote
The coaches vote independently of each other after every match, giving between zero and four votes to every player. - Mitch Cleary
The Swans Academy graduate was made to wait for a regular midfield role but is now making the most of his opportunity as he averages 27 disposals a game with 11 of them contested and five clearances. As well as his impact inside the contests the 24-year-old offers outside polish with ball in hand, only turning it over three times a game. He’s consistent too, gathering at least 25 touches in 10 of his 13 matches, which could help Mills claim his first Bob Skilton Medal.
Reliable co-captain Luke Parker is averaging 27 disposals, hasn’t dropped below 21 touches in a game and has kicked seven goals. Tom Hickey is one of the recruits of the year across the League and could go close to winning a best and fairest in his first season with the Swans. The 2020 club champion Jake Lloyd is again offering plenty of run and clever kicking from defence. Isaac Heeney has kicked 19 goals in 11 matches, and starred at times, but has been impacted by injuries that might cost him votes.
How they vote: John Longmire and four assistant coaches award up to 10 votes to each player every round, meaning each player is able to receive a maximum of 50 votes per match. - Martin Pegan
The 2020 John Worsfold medallist and All-Australian ruckman has enjoyed another excellent season and played every game, averaging 29.8 hitouts and a career-high 6.85 clearances (ranked No.9 in the AFL and No.1 among ruckmen). His 14.5 disposals a game are also a career-high, with the majority of those won in the contest. There was criticism of Naitanui earlier in the season for not taking enough marks, but that is not his game and West Coast doesn’t need it to be. He is the best tap ruckman in the competition and has kept a severely depleted midfield competitive, allowing his ground-level midfielders to shine with the silver service only he can deliver.
Champion forward Josh Kennedy has booted 28 goals this season, including bags of four in significant wins against Richmond and Port Adelaide. Key defender Tom Barrass has missed two matches but has been the most important defender when playing, while midfielder Jack Redden has lifted in the absence of star teammates. Jack Darling is the team's leading goalkicker with 29 but has had a quiet month, with Oscar Allen emerging as a young star of the competition and playing at both ends of the ground.
How they vote
Five members of the match committee award each player up to three votes. Each player can get a maximum of 15 per game. - Nathan Schmook
It is just too hard to go past the 'Bont'. The superstar is on track to claim his fourth best and fairest and potentially his first Brownlow Medal as he pieces together a brilliant season that has seen him average 27 disposals and also push forward to boot 17 goals. Whenever the Dogs have needed a hero it has been Bontempelli who has stood up and he is central to their premiership push.
No player in the AFL has had more of the ball than Jack Macrae, while Tom Liberatore is first in the competition for clearances. They would be sitting on the podium. Bailey Dale has been a revelation down back, while Aaron Naughton's development continues in attack and he has been a mainstay. Josh Bruce, too, sits third in the Coleman Medal leaderboard.
How they vote
The Bulldogs' best and fairest is voted on by their match committee, with five members awarding a score from zero to five for each player after every game. - Callum Twomey