Zero Hanger's next instalment of 'start, bench, cut' sees us examine three hard-nosed midfielders who've tended to fly under the radar through their careers to this point.

Tiger Tim Taranto, Lion Josh Dunkley, and Fremantle's Andrew Brayshaw represent a few of the most physically imposing engine-roomers in the competition.

While Taranto and Dunkley are symbolic of respective 2022 trade period successes for Richmond and Brisbane, Brayshaw's status as a Docker has been cemented since 2017, when he was chosen second overall by the Cockburn-based club.

Unrelenting hardness at the contest is what links this trio; Taranto, Dunkley, and Brayshaw each ranked among the AFL's top ten for pressure acts this season, while they also finished within 22 total tackles of each other at the cessation of this year's tally.

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

We reviewed the cases of Taranto, Dunkley, and Brayshaw before revealing our final start, bench, and cut verdicts.


1. Tim Taranto

Ex-Giant Tim Taranto, acquired by the Tigers last year, quickly established a prominent reputation at Tigerland for consistently winning the in-and-under ball.

The contested-possession beast sought physicality in 2023, leading by example for his Tigers midfield teammates, who were often the beneficiaries of Taranto's first use at the contest.

Taranto registered top-ten finishes in the disposals, clearances, and tackles categories in his maiden Punt Road campaign.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 24: Tim Taranto of the Tigers kicks the ball during the 2023 AFL Round 06 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Richmond Tigers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 24, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

However, while it's hard to dispute that his recruitment has been fruitful thus far, Taranto's key point of improvement going forward is his kicking.

The 25-year-old was a clanger merchant at times this year, spraying the ball by foot – sometimes under minimal opposition pressure.

Taranto topped the AFL charts in total clangers this season and ranked fourth in the competition in clangers per game. He also ranked eighth in turnovers per game in 2023, signifying the necessity of tidying up aspects of his game this pre-season.

Provided improving his foot skills is made a point of emphasis by newly-arrived senior coach Adem Yze, 'Tiger Tim' is a near-certainty to lift his game even further in 2024.