We continue to push for State of Origin to return to the AFL, with continued praise for the idea from many supporters. But how would the four sides line up based on performances of the 2019 season? And how would these teams go if they stacked up against each other? Today we look at South Australia, the king of the us vs them mentality and a state with plenty to prove.
Picking six high class defenders was easy here, with two of the league’s best and most consistent captains getting the nod across the full back line in Eagle’s Premiership skipper Shannon Hurn and Giants runner-up skipper Phil Davis, who both enjoyed excellent seasons. Now, both of these men have stepped down from their post as skipper and will turn to the tail end of their careers. Both Hurn and Davis have led their respective clubs gallantly and with genuine poise.
Joining these two icons is small in stature and large in heart Caleb Daniel, who has become a key cog in the Bulldog’s defence, despite his tiny frame. His excellent footy brain and enormous work ethic make him hard to leave out. After being drafted from South Adelaide, Daniel looked like he may not find his niche at AFL level, being trialled in numerous positions, before eventually being settled on as a small defender. He has made the backline his home, efficiently creating holes in opposition attacks.
2019 Port Adelaide co-captain Tom Jonas stands at centre half back, with the big man likely to pose a serious threat to anyone he matches up on. Jonas’s bullish nature and hardness at the football make him a serious opponent and a much-admired player.
The backline is completed with two of the competition’s best defenders, Crows duo Rory Laird and Brodie Smith. Smith and Laird both possess weapons for kicking legs and excellent on field intelligence and composure, with the ability to amass huge amounts of touches every game. Rory Laird has a quiet game if he pulls in anything less than 30 possessions and Brodie Smith is quiet if he isn’t having a crack at the goals with a raking long boot from 60 metres.
This defence is seriously talented and has enough skill and tricks up its sleeve to stop even the best of forward lines from scoring. With all these guys fit there’s plenty to be scared of in the South Australian defensive group.
The first player I picked for this team was Brodie Grundy and it was an easy selection. Grundy has staked himself as the best ruckman in the AFL and will look to continue that reputation. Speculation he will return home to South Australia is at an all-time high, but Grundy wants to focus on his footy first, and it’s this focus that has made him so incredibly successful over the years.
Lachie Neale has been probably the recruit of the 2019 season. He has revolutionised Brisbane’s midfield and made himself a leader both on and off the field. He has incredible presence and commands respect from his opponents, making him simultaneously loved and feared. Neale is an out and out star and seeing him line up with Brodie Grundy would be a dream.
Also roving would be North Melbourne’s prized pick up Jared Polec. Although not quite a ‘big fish’, Polec has played very well since entering the system at Arden Street, combining with the rest of the midfield group excellently. His tenacity and strength were on show in 2019 and he is a nice addition to the midfield here.
Across the midfield there are three quite different players all who bring something a little special to the side. Wayne Milera brings speed and foot skills that not many can match, as well as plenty of stamina for someone with jets like his. Jack Redden has the ability to rack up touches, whilst also shutting down his opponents and reducing their impact of the game. And finally, Hamish Hartlett can lead and can dominate when the game is on the line. He is a cool head and a clean pair of hands when the situation is tough. There’s plenty to like here not just with these three, but across the midfield as a whole.
Up front is where South Australia is likely to be outmatched by other sides. A defence to die for and a midfield full of stars couldn’t quite be matches by the forward line. Port Adelaide twin-towers Justin Westoff and Scott Lycett are the two key targets, with mainly small to medium sized forwards around them. Westhoff has been such an impressive player all year long and continues to push his reputation as highly underrated. Lycett had a relatively inconsistent 2019, but it is hard to leave him out of the side when the list of tall timber around SA is particularly short.
Shane Edwards is one of Richmond’s more unsung heroes, playing in both their Premierships in the modern era and continually delivering high class performances across the ground. Edwards has been vastly underrated for years and has only recently been picking up the notice he deserves.
Chad Wingard’s switch to Hawthorn initially looked very rocky before eventually he overcame the initial nerves and slotted into his new side. Wingard continued to aggravate opposition defenders and midfielders with his silky skills and sharpness with ball in hand. He is certain to be a key player at Hawthorn next season if he can start 2020 well.
Once rumoured to be heading home, Orazio Fantasia has once again locked himself in to stay a bomber for at least another year. Fantasia has a knack and has become one of a certain few players who are able to win entire games of football of their own boot. Fantasia has developed into a highly dangerous player who causes headaches all over the ground.
The final member of the forward line is Brad Ebert, a highly rated prospect with a famous name that has had at times a lacklustre career. 2019 however was different, with Ebert slotting in up forward and dominating with ball in hand.
On the bench in this team is Rising Star Runner Up Connor Rozee, who simply could not be overlooked after the stellar season he had. Rozee pushed Sam Walsh all the way for the award this year and looked for a while as if he might just take it off the young Carlton star too.
Adelaide’s Luke Brown also gets a nod due to his consistency in playing his role as a medium sized defender, and consistently being able to apply pressure to opposition forwards. Brown has been lovingly nicknamed ‘the Glove’ due to his ability to stick with opponents and provides a traditional tagging option to this team if they wanted to use one.
In a team of modern greats, it would be hard to leave out Shaun Burgoyne. Although 2019 has not been his best year, it has still been excellent to watch ‘Silk’ work his magic. Often we use the word classy to describe quality, but this man is the very definition of it. No South Australian State Team would be complete without him.
Finally, not that this side needs any more ruck support, but Rhys Stanley gets the last place on the team. Stanley’s big bodied versatility provide good support for the other big men in the team and Stanley could easily slot in anywhere along the spine.
B: Shannon Hurn (C), Phil Davis (VC), Caleb Daniel
HB: Brodie Smith, Tom Jonas, Rory Laird
C: Wayne Milera, Jack Redden, Hamish Hartlett
HF: Shane Edwards, Justin Westhoff, Chad Wingard
F: Orazio Fantasia, Scott Lycett, Brad Ebert
FOL: Brodie Grundy, Lachie Neale, Jared Polec
INT: Connor Rozee, Luke Brown, Shaun Burgoyne, Rhys Stanley
They are a good side this South Australian lot. There may be perhaps a little weakness up front, but through the rest of the ground there is legends who are all skilled and brilliant footballers in their own right.
This side I think would beat the Allies but might struggle against Western Australia and Victoria who seem to be the stronger sides at the moment. Nevertheless we’d love to see State of Origin Return, regardless of where we’re from.