The midfield is arguably the most important position group in footy as they're tasked with being present at most contests and all stoppages while serving as the link between their defence and offence.
Without a strong ensemble of on-ballers, teams are destined to fall apart as middling play in this area results in catastrophic consequences to the outcome of a contest on a given day.
Not all midfields are alike as some prioritise a physical ball-winning style, while others emphasise a run-and-gun outside game and then there are sides that prefer a healthy balance of the two.
Each club has its own formula for constructing the ideal midfield but not all team's engine room can perform at the highest level.
With this in mind, let's have a look at the league's best midfield groups heading into 2022, starting from sixth down to first.
The aforementioned Wines isn't prone to playing second fiddle to Power stalwart Travis Boak, who himself is a beast in congestion, while the emergence of winger Karl Amon rounds out the club's top tier midfielders.
Ports trio of highly touted youngsters Xavier Duursma, Zak Butters and Connor Rozee all spend portions of games playing through the middle but haven't been able to successfully cement a spot in the guts. They all possess high footy IQs and silky ball skills but are disadvantaged when competing with the bigger bodies most other clubs play in the centre.
The Powers midfield is then completed by ruckman Scott Lycett and defensive-minded onballer Willem Drew, while others, like their dashing half-back Dan Houston and tough nut Sam Powell-Pepper, get runs when needed.
Lycett is very average in the hit out game and struggles to position the ball effectively for his teammates, hence Port Adelaide ranking ninth in total clearances per game. Drew is an excellent tagger but lacks an element of polish that his contemporaries display with ease.
However, the amalgamation of Port Adelaide’s entire midfield group results in an imposing style of play where they tackle hard to win back possession if they fail to outright win the contest, which is evident by them ranking fourth in tackles per game.
Once in control of the ball, the Power’s aggressive nature translates into a barrage of forward entries which sees them ranked fourth for shots on goal per game and fifth for inside 50’s per game.
For Port to take the proverbial ‘next step’ their less established onballers must rely less on their natural talents and figure out how to mimic the aggressive nature of their current leaders in Wines and Boak.
Geelong may appear to be getting over the hill with their assortment of maturing stars but experience can be everything in footy’s big moments.
The likes of living legends Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield provide the perfect combination of leadership and x-factor qualities. The pair attack the ball with reckless abandonment but also make the smart (and often unselfish) play, which permeates throughout the side as the Cats typically move the ball with conviction, especially when entering forward 50.
Geelong’s quality of possession is clean and high percentage given that they ranked second for disposals per game, disposal efficiency and third in uncontested possessions. While this style is predictable, it’s extremely effective given that their patience frustrates the opposition and causes them to tire and make mistakes.
Guthrie’s ability to win the footy and distribute outward is very underrated as he often acts as the link player between plays. Combine this with Menegola’s aggressive attacking efforts and the relentless running of Isaac Smith and the diversity in Geelong’s midfield is quite impressive (regardless of age).
However, the Cats are lacking when it comes to their ruckman and their ability to win a hit-out. Rhys Stanley isn't the answer, neither is Esava Ratugolea and the addition of Jonathon Ceglar adds to an already compounding issue at the Cattery (by the way also not the answer).
While Geelong currently have a top tier midfield, they will struggle to head into 2023 and beyond if they fail to inject youth and recruit a competent tap ruckman this season.