A mate slipped me The Wombats’ most-recent release the other day, and while I’m enjoying the disc, I gotta say I was surprised to hear the proud Liverpudlians singing about AFL Dream Team, and in particular, downgrade trading. Lead singer Matthew Murphy’s line about jumping into the fog and hoping that you hit the ground upright is clearly a reference to the risks involved in picking up rookies at this time of the year. I mean, we can slobber at how often they made the “bests” in the VFL, SANFL, WAFL or wherever, drool over their pre-season form and salivate at their TAC Cup average as we try to determine their potential for points production, and we can analyse their club’s injury list and ladder position as well as the coach’s history of giving the kids a go in a bid to ascertain their job security, but – let’s be honest – there are no guarantees our picks will pay off. Like a contestant on a Japanese game show who knows there’re brick walls behind three of the four doors, the only choice is to take our rookies and run full steam ahead hoping – not knowing – that there’s a cash prize on the other side, and not the painful regret you get immediately after hurtling yourself full pace at a well-disguised but solidly-built slab or a few weeks after selecting Liam Patrick.
We get the picture, I hear you say, avoiding dud rookies at this stage of the year is tough. But, geez mate, we’ve heard that all before. You just wasted five minutes of my life with that shit.
Sorry, but I went there to emphasise just how sweet it is when a downgrade target comes along that has little or no risk attached. Let me introduce you to Tendai Mzungu. There’s no fog, hope or brick walls with this boy, just clear skies, certain results and, um, a lifetime supply of Master Kong or whatever it is they’re doling out as the major prize on Japanese game shows these days.
Maybe the imminent return of leg-break victim Michael Barlow to the Fremantle midfield and Mzungu’s own recent injury history create the slightest bit of murkiness, but by every other measure Mzungu is the clear choice for a downgrade trade this week. Can he score? 85 last week and 21 in about a quarter of footy the previous week says check. Plus he had mid-to-high 70s in his pre-season outings, as well as being a spectacular scorer for Perth last year. I’m not exaggerating with that superlative – Mzungu really was spectacular with an average of 116. How’s his job security? He was one of Fremantle’s best, if not best, in his first full match against St Kilda on the weekend and you know the coach loves him because he rushed him back into the side as soon as he was fit, bypassing the WAFL. You want steak knives? How does mature age, dual positioning as a mid-fwd, a sub-$100k price tag and a club that has shown faith in its talented newbies sound?
As to which under-priced premium you spend your downgrade money on – a back-in-form Luke Hodge, a bye-less Gary Ablett, the unfashionable-but-unquestionably-good Scott Thompson – well, I haven’t the foggiest.
In a way, I’m thankful that Daniel Harris stunk it up so bad against Geelong. I expected the Gold Coast midfielder to have a comparatively free run with all the attention on former Cat star and current Suns captain Gary Ablett. That didn’t happen, of course, and Harris was pulled from the action and red vested with just 25 points to his name after a paltry performance. Now the decision of who to chop in order to bring in Mzungu is easy: Harris, with a new breakeven of 78, is my man. A solid seventh midfielder will be a feature of all of the teams who do well this year, especially in the latter weeks, so many will hold Harris for that reason. It really depends on the current structure of your team. Playing Harris on the field hurt, but it’s the coaches who also had Tom Liberatore or Reece Conca deputising for an Essendon midfielder or an injured Tom Rockliff that I really feel sorry for. Libba and Conca had established themselves as two of the most trustworthy rookie scorers in recent weeks, but scores under 30 this week put both under the pump to hold their place in thousands of Dream Teams across the country. More importantly, Libba looks a strong chance to lose his place in his actual AFL team too, a probable victim of the Doggies’ poor recent form. Libba now has a BE of 109 and Conca needs 90 to hold his price after both dropped $4000 this week. Things weren’t much better in the backline, with popular picks Nick Duigan and Brodie Smith both bombing. As a Smith owner who kept the faith after a green vest limited him to 11 points a couple of weeks back, copping another low score this week – this time due to being given a negating role instead of the DT-happy one he’s had on a wing – was particularly frustrating. Stop messing with kid, Craigy, I’m begging you. Duigan’s on Carlton’s injury list this week, facing a fitness test before taking his place in the Blues’ line-up. With Deledio bye-ing and Goddard a chance to miss this week, fingers crossed Duigan gets up. While we’re on injuries, Gold Coast forward Brandon Matera looks set to miss a couple of weeks, putting him in the frame for a Mzungu downgrade, if you didn’t do the switch to Tom Lynch last week.
If you weren’t running Duigan or Smith in your seventh back spot, you probably had Paul Puopolo, Danny Stanley or Nick Lower doing the job and none of that trio disappointed. In fact, Puopolo and Stanley topped the round 10 rookie scoring with 99 and 98 respectively, reducing their BEs to -8 and 18. The third-highest rookie score of the round was 88, which belonged to Gold Coast ruckman Zac Smith, who would’ve been making his first on-field appearance for many DT coaches that have Aaron Sandilands recuperating on their benches.
Mzungu’s been covered, leaving another mid-fwd (St Kilda’s Nick Winmar), a couple of midfielders (Melbourne’s Michael Evans and Brisbane’s Josh Green), a couple of rucks (Geelong’s Nathan Vardy and Hawthorn’s Max Bailey) and a defender (North’s Luke Delaney) on the bubble this week. A pair of dirty knees (that’s bingo talk for 33, apparently) makes Winmar pretty unattractive, particularly given your other mid-fwd option this week. The midfield pair of Evans and Green both have potential, although we’re not likely to see it on a consistent basis with Evans a massive chance to make way for returning Demon midfielders Tom Scully and Jack Trengove on Friday night, and Josh Green at the bottom of the food chain in an improving Brisbane side. While Rockliff doesn’t look like getting up for this week’s game, there’s talk of Andrew Raines being brought in to do a tagging job, potentially squeezing Green out. Even if they do get another week or two, you’d think job security is a major concern and, ideally, you’d like to have the rookies you bring in at this stage hanging around for a while to provide cover in the latter rounds of the season. I’ve seen numerous coaches concerned about the number of games that Sandilands will miss contemplating a trade down to Vardy or Bailey. It does free up a helluva lot of cash if you’re happy with Zac Smith or Drew Petrie or whoever is filling the 211cm hole in your ruck division at the mo. I’d be heading in the Vardy direction, given that Hawthorn have got a couple of bigs back now. Delaney? Only if you’re really desperate for a defender.
Just the four debuts this week as the stream of rookies entering the league starts to slow to a trickle. Josh Cowan (mid) got a run for the table-topping Cats, scoring 53, while Christian Howard (back) turned out for the Bulldogs. He scored 49. Dan Nicholson (mid-def) scored 41 and faces the same selection issues at Melbourne as Evans, unless the coach decides the kids have a better chance of turning the Dees around than their experienced, er, cattle. After making the emergencies more than once, Lewis Johnston (fwd) got a game for Sydney, scoring 29. Despite being the lowest scoring debutant, Johnston will be the one I watch with the most interest this week. Too excited by this crop, I’m not.
Discuss you’re rookie-related moves in the comments below. And if you haven’t read tbetta’s Bullets yet, go and have a look. It’s probably the best bit of DT-related reading you’ll do this week.