Ask an AFL coach what is the most important statistic in a game, give him three choices, and the odds are he’ll include contested marking somewhere in his answer.
A key forward who can bust upon a pack and clunk a big contested mark is like gold. Especially in big games towards the end of the season.
This is why big Queenslander Charlie Dixon is rated Port Adelaide’s most important player heading into the finals by FoxFooty analyst David King.
Dixon was at his powerhouse best when AFL football visited Eureka Oval in Ballarat for the first time on Saturday as the Power put the Western Bulldogs’ premiership to within a breath of extinction.
He had an equal career-high six contested marks and now leads the competition in this critical statistic, level with Essendon’s Cale Hooker. They have 51 apiece to lead Carlton’s Levi Casboult (50) and West Coast’s Jeremy McGovern (48).
Making up the top 10 are Collingwood’s Jeremy Howe (41), GWS’s Jonathon Patton (40), North Melbourne’s Ben Brown (40), GWS’s Rory Lobb (39), Essendon’s Joe Daniher (39) and Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe (38).
Only one player has had more contested marks in a game this season than Dixon – Sydney’s Sam Reid. He had seven against the Bulldogs in Round 12.
Casboult, Patton, Lobb and Adelaide ruckman Sam Jacobs are the only other players to have pulled in six contested marks in a game this season.
How the Gold Coast Suns must wish they still had the 200cm former basketballer.
Dixon’s contested marking has been one of the big improvements in his game since he followed former Suns assistant coach Ken Hinkley to Port last year.
Averaging a career-high 2.42 contested marks per game this season, he has taken 79 contested marks in 38 games for the Power after 75 contested marks in 65 games for the Suns.
Dixon was among Port’s very best in their 17-point win over the Dogs, who, heading into Round 23 next week, need a miracle to scrape into the finals and avoid being the first defending premier since Hawthorn in 2009 to miss the finals.
The bearded No.22 had 18 disposals (13 contested), eight marks, three hit-outs, four tackles and kicked an equal game-high four goals.
Significantly, his six contested marks was three times as many as anyone else in the first AFL premiership match played in Ballarat. And his contested possession tally was topped only by midfield teammate Ollie Wines (15) and Dogs midfielders Jack Macrae (14) and Toby McLean (14).
Dixon now has 42 goals for the season – only three less than his previous best season haul of 38 for the Suns in 2015.
But coach Hinkley said on Saturday Dixon’s overall contribution extended far beyond his major scores. “Charlie has been amazing for us all year. It is not all about goals, it never has been. He has kicked 42 and what he creates for others is really important,” he said.
Dixon earned 116 Champion Data ranking points for his game-breaking performance against the Dogs – the highest by a key forward in Round 22.
It was his eighth ‘century’ of the season and put him among four Queenslanders to top 100 over the weekend.
Brisbane skipper Dayne Beams topped the count for the second week in a row with a massive 148 ranking points in his side’s brave 13-point loss to Melbourne at the MCG on Sunday.
Coming off the second 33 possessions and four goals against Gold Coast in Round 21, he amassed 33 possessions (16 contested), seven marks, five clearances, four tackles and three goals in another herculean performance.
It was the fifth-highest ranking points score of the season by a Queenslander, behind only Dayne Zorko’s 196 points for Brisbane in Round 16, Dixon’s 162 points in Round 11, Nick Riewoldt’s 161 points in Round 3 and Dixon’s 151 points in Round 6.
It was also the fourth-highest ranking score across the entire competition for Round 22, behind Hawthorn’s Tom Mitchell (161) and St.Kilda’s Jack Steven (153).
It was the sixth time in his career Beams has had a 30 possession / 3 goal game, in addition to his two games of 30 possessions and four goals.
Of 19 games by Queenslanders of 30 possessions and three or more goals Beams has eight to lead Jason Akermanis (3), Michael Voss (2), Riewoldt (2), Zorko (2), Scott McIvor (1) and David Armitage (1).
Zorko picked up 115 ranking points for the Lions against the Demons with 26 possessions, seven marks, five clearances and one goal. It was his 14th century.
Significantly, this gives Zorko exactly 500 possessions for the season. It’s the second time he has reached this milestone after he had 505 possessions in 2015.
Only two Queenslanders have had more 500-possession seasons – Michael Voss (5) and Beams (3). Zorko draws level with Marcus Ashcroft (2) and leads David Armitage (1), Sam Gilbert (1), Scott McIvor (1) and Jason Akermanis (1).
Completing the Round 22 Champion Data century club was Geelong ruckman Zac Smith, who earned 103 ranking points for 17 disposals (nine contested), 35 hit-outs, six clearances three tackles and six one-percenters against Collingwood on Saturday. It was his seventh ‘ton’.
Sydney’s Kurt Tippett was next best with 83 ranking points after a season-high 14 disposals (nine contested), 17 hit-outs, two clearances, three tackles, four one-percenters and a goal in the blockbuster Friday night win over the Adelaide Crows in Adelaide.
Wylie Buzza was also lively for Geelong, with a personal-best 14 disposals (11 contested), five marks, including a contender for mark of the week, five hit-outs, three clearances and a beautiful long goal.
Retiring Saints legend Riewoldt, playing his final home game at Etihad Stadium, contributed nicely to his team’s win over North Melbourne which leaves them at least a mathematical chance of sneaking into the finals.
Riewoldt had 15 disposals, eight marks and two goals.
In the same game, Gilbert had eight disposals before a third quarter abdominal injury ended his day, and Braydon Preuss picked up eight disposals, four marks and 13 hit-outs while spending a lot of time in the medical room with a shoulder problem.
Brisbane’s Jacob Allison, playing his fourth AFL game, kicked his first goal against Melbourne to go with 16 disposals and three tackles.
Teammate Eric Hipwood had 10 disposals, five marks, a goal and a career-best three goal assists, while Claye Beams picked up 14 disposals, three clearances and four tackles despite a heavy head knock early, and Harris Andrews worked tirelessly to pick up 11 disposals and seven marks despite his direct opponent Jesse Hogan having a day out in front of goal.
Jesse Joyce had 16 disposals, Jarrod Harbrow 12 disposals and Max Spencer 11 disposals for the Gold Coast in their Metricon loss to Essendon, while Josh Wagner had 14 disposals and six tackles for Melbourne against Brisbane.
Josh Smith and Josh Thomas had 15 disposals apiece for Collingwood against Geelong, and Lachie Weller 21 disposals for Fremantle as they suffered a second consecutive 104-point loss, this time at the hands of Richmond.
In the VFL, Lachie Keeffe lodged one last claim for an AFL game for Collingwood next week when he was named among the Pies’ best against Geelong. He 13 disposals, eight marks and two goals. Teammate Jesse White had 22 disposals, eight marks and one goal.
Brendan Whitecross was among Box Hill’s best against Port Melbourne, while Shaun Hampson continued his late season comeback with two goals for Richmond against Sandringham.
In the NEAFL, defender Matt Eagles, winner of the TV series “The Recruit” to earn a rookie spot with the Brisbane Lions this year, was named his team’s best player in a gripping five-point win over GWS Giants to grab second spot on the ladder.
The Lions were 14 points down at three-quarter time before rattling home.
Ben Keays and Reuben William also were listed among the Lions best.
Jack Bowes and Brad Scheer were among the best for the Gold Coast Suns’ Reserves in a big loss to the Sydney Swans, while Alex Sexton responded well to his omission from the senior side with 26 disposals and two goals.
Aliir Aliir had 20 disposals, 12 hit-outs and three goals to be fourth-best for the Swans as he continues to push for a senior recall.
And in the NEAFL awards presented on Sunday night, Lions forward Jono Freeman was named at centre half forward in the NEAFL Team of the Year.
Former Gold Coast Sun Clay Cameron was picked alongside Freeman at half forward in the Team of the Year and also clamed the award for Mark of the Year – a screamer against Aspley in Round 6.
Former Port Adelaide rookie Gavin Grose capped off a massive year when he was named captain of the Team of the Year after being picked at centre half back and Representative Player of the Year.
Grose, now playing at Aspley, was a standout for Queensland against Tasmania when he was the NEAFL representative captain.
By Peter Blucher
Quick take: The Dogs aren’t officially finished for 2017 but their premiership defence is on life support. First, they need to beat Hawthorn on Friday night in an emotionally-charged farewell game for Luke Hodge. Then they need Essendon to lose to Fremantle, St Kilda to lose to Richmond and West Coast to lose to Adelaide. They’re every chance of knocking over the Hawks, but the other outcomes seem less likely.
Predicted finish: 11th