Zero Hanger's first instalment of 'start, bench, cut' sees us examine three of the AFL's premier key defenders in Brisbane's Harris Andrews, Carlton's Jacob Weitering and Melbourne's Steven May.

As we dissect the careers and recent form of the trio of AFL stars, we hypothetically ponder who to 'start' (our number one choice), 'bench' (our runner-up) and 'cut' (our odd man out).

We make a case for each of the three to 'start', before revealing our final verdict.

Harris Andrews

Andrews, 25, has a lean frame for a key defender, but it doesn't at all prevent him from being one of the league's premier backmen (and Brisbane's best).

Over the course of his seven-year career to date, Andrews has only cracked a 15-disposal season average twice; in 2018 (15.6 per game) and this past season (15.3).

Despite his key position status, his teammates clearly trust him with the ball in his hands, with Andrews recording a disposal efficiency rating of 84.9%, ranking him 36th out of 672 eligible players last season.

However, where Andrews truly thrives is through the air. Last season, he ranked first in the entire competition in total marks, as well as ranking second in the AFL in total intercepts, showcasing his ability to disrupt opponent attacks and win the ball through the air.

Despite being one of a number of incredibly unfortunate players who were not selected to the final All-Australian team last season, Andrews donned the blazer in 2019 and 2020, already proving to the competition that he's a force to be reckoned with.

Jacob Weitering

It would be reasonable to suggest that Weitering, a former No.1 overall draft pick, had a slow-ish start to his professional career.

Trialled as a key position forward multiple times throughout the early stages of his AFL journey, questions were raised about where Weitering was most comfortable playing.

However, those who labelled the 24-year-old a 'bust' throughout his initial seasons were mistaken and made to look foolish. In 2021, Weitering achieved career-highs in disposals (16.4), marks (7.6), free kicks for (0.8) and rebound-50s (6.3) per game, despite (very unluckily and perhaps wrongly) missing out on All-Australian honours.

Weitering ranked second in the league in spoils last season, as well as polling fourth in total marks and total intercepts. In short, he was very an elite stopper.

To further explain how well Weitering led Carlton's defence, here's some perspective:

Weitering was involved in 120 contested defensive one-on-ones in 2021 (second only to Andrews), but his loss percentage sat at an incredibly low 20.8% (once again, second only to Andrews). However, when you compare Brisbane's top-four-calibre defence to Carlton's bottom-eight-calibre defence, Weitering's persistence and value to the Blues is arguably more impressive and eye-opening.

Steven May

After a fairly under-the-radar stint at the Gold Coast Suns to begin his career, May set sail for Melbourne at the conclusion of the 2018 season. And fair to say, it's proved to be a very fulfilling acquisition for the Demons.

At the end of Melbourne's drought-breaking premiership season last year, May earned maiden All-Australian honours (an aforementioned feat Andrews and Weitering unluckily failed to achieve) and, alongside fellow star Jake Lever, led the Demons' defence in admirable fashion.

The 30-year-old, who hails from Darwin, is the most experienced player of the trio, having played 171 career games entering the 2022 season (Andrews 136 games, and Weitering 115).

A skilled left-footer, May is also a very good user of the ball for his height and position, notching an impressive 84.5% disposal efficiency last season (good for 41st among AFL players) and ranking eighth in the league last season in rebound 50s.

Now a true veteran of the league, May is also an outstanding leader and mentor to his younger teammates (such as Jake Bowey and Trent Rivers), who've been able to thrive alongside him.


Start: Andrews
Bench: May
Cut: Weitering

Despite his riper age, the mere fact that May is the only defender of this threesome to have managed an All-Australian nod in 2021 makes it near impossible to cut him (and being part of a premiership-winning side doesn't hurt, either). Therefore, we've handed the seasoned Demon the 'bench' mantle.

Meanwhile, Andrews, who led these three (marginally) in just about every defensive statistic imaginable in 2021 arguably has the highest career ceiling of the trio. Earning our 'start'.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - MAY 26: Harris Andrews of the Lions kicks the ball during the 2019 AFL round 10 match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Brisbane Lions at Optus Stadium on May 26, 2019 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

And finally, unfortunately, Weitering comes in as our 'cut' option. The Dandenong Stingrays product had an outstanding 2021 campaign, but the "team success" and "personal accolades" factors are just too hard to ignore, especially when there is so little else to separate these three all-star defensive stoppers.