NO ROLE has changed more in a generation than that of a wingman.

Where once players like Doug Hawkins and Peter Matera were idolised, nowadays the game's best wingmen often go unnoticed. It is arguably football's most misunderstood and unsexy position. And yet, internally, it is still heralded as one of the most important.

These days, clubs believe the ideal afternoon for a wingman is to be the most disciplined player on the field. Key responsibilities include transitioning up and down the ground, helping your backline and covering outlets inside 50.

While some supporters may look at a 10-disposal game from a wingman and immediately think they have been ineffective and have struggled to find the ball, internally these games are often deemed worthy of recognition and best and fairest votes.

Peter Matera kicks the ball during West Coast's clash with Geelong in the 1992 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

Clubs believe that external assessments of their wingers are often impossible, such are the unforeseen roles they play away from the ball. They also often think that a successful wingman is defined by how stringently they play their role, rather than anything else.

Melbourne is regarded by rival clubs as the team that best exemplifies this discipline, with Ed Langdon – who has played nearly 100 per cent game time this season, all on a wing – seen as being the prime example of a modern wingman.

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His elite aerobic capacity allows him to transition strongly up and down the ground, completing all of his defensive duties, while simultaneously he has won his own footy this season and averages 24.8 disposals, 427m gained and nearly a goal per game.

Melbourne's half-forwards, though, also play a crucial role in assisting Langdon. A player like Charlie Spargo enables him to transition defensively by using his own tank to get high up the field and hold the width on one side of the ground.

Isaac Smith leads the way at Geelong with more than 67 per cent of his time spent on the wing. Picture: AFL Photos

Rival clubs believe this is why the Demons have rapidly become one of the game's best defensive teams, due to their effort and cohesion both individually and collectively, evidenced on the weekend when they held the Power to just one goal in three quarters.

"I think when we look at any role, whether it be Ed's role or not, we want them to master that role and become great players within that role," Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin said of Langdon's recent performances this week.

"I look at Ed Langdon and I see him being one of the best wingmen in the competition. His workrate, his ability to just execute well and his balance around contest areas and structurally is very sound.

"Some days he'll have possession based on the type of game it is, other days he won't, but he'll still just execute well to help us in our transition game. He's a fantastic asset and he's one of the best wingmen in the game."

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Melbourne targeted Langdon for a specific role when it brought him to the club from Fremantle at the end of 2019. While it wasn't a headline signing at the time, it can now be regarded as one of the shrewdest recent pieces of trade business.

It might also be the trade that leads the football public to rethink how it values a wingman.


Adelaide: Lachie Sholl (95.6%), Brayden Cook (58.0%)
Brisbane: Harry Sharp (100.0%), Mitch Robinson (94.0%)
Carlton: Will Setterfield (98.6%), Lochie O'Brien (87.6%)
Collingwood: Steele Sidebottom (95.5%), Josh Daicos (94.9%)
Essendon: Nik Cox (80.0%), Tom Cutler (73.7%)
Fremantle: Blake Acres (87.5%), Nathan O'Driscoll (69.1%)
Geelong: Isaac Smith (67.1%), Max Holmes (53.6%)
Gold Coast: Jeremy Sharp (96.7%), Rory Atkins (91.5%)
GWS Giants: Xavier O'Halloran (90.5%), Lachie Ash (38.5%)
Hawthorn: Tom Phillips (89.5%), Dan Howe (82.5%)
Melbourne: Ed Langdon (99.8%), James Jordon (92.4%)
North Melbourne: Jared Polec (93.5%), Tom Powell (56.1%)
Port Adelaide: Dan Houston (71.9%), Xavier Duursma (53.7%)
Richmond: Kamdyn McIntosh (97.8%), Marlion Pickett (96.8%)
St Kilda: Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera (97.2%), Dan McKenzie (74.3%)
Sydney: Dylan Stephens (98.0%), Justin McInerney (89.0%)
West Coast: Pat Naish (95.2%), Jackson Nelson (76.2%)
Western Bulldogs: Roarke Smith (88.3%), Lachie Hunter (78.1%)
* Minimum 2 games