It's that time of year again where we assess form and select our halfway-point All-Australian team.
There are going to be some hard luck stories -- whether it's now, or for the end-of-year All-Australian given the injury to Jacob Weitering -- but a few fresh faces have put their hands up for a blazer come season's end.
There's controversy surrounding the ruck slot, and, of course, the full forward position, but with the sheer number of quality names on the shortlist, there was always going to be someone considered pretty stiff.
So without further ado, here's ESPN's mid-year All-Australian team:
(Full team below)
Tom Stewart (Geelong): Tom Stewart does it all for the Cats, whether it's flying across packs to intercept, provide run and penetration with his kicking, or show leadership in a backline group being left to him and Rising Star nominee Sam De Koning while Mark Blicavs pinch hits in the ruck, Stewart has been excellent again in defence. Rated elite for disposals, marks, and metres gained he's a dangerous attacking weapon who just so happens to be one of the league's better defenders.
Steven May (Melbourne): Commanding the league's best team from the backline, May is one of the most feared defenders in the league. Kick it towards him? The ball will either be intercepted or the contest killed. Averaging career-highs in contested marks, he's also rated elite for rebound 50s and disposals, meaning he's not your typical, one-dimensional key back.
Daniel Rich (Brisbane): Averaging 24.6 disposals at a whopping 83.1% (a career high), Rich is the man you want delivering the ball out of the back 50. Rated elite for metres gained, inside 50s and rebound 50s, he's the perfect link man out of defense, and he helps propel the Lions' fearsome attacking modus operandi. Like a fine wine, the 2009 Rising Star just keeps getting better.
James Sicily (Hawthorn): Coming back from an ACL injury is never easy, but James Sicily has slotted into Hawthorn's defence so well. Whether asked to play tall, as an interceptor, or a rebounder, Sicily excels in just about every facet, and is rated 'elite' by Champion Data for disposals for a key back, and above average for spoils, tackles, and intercept marks.
Jacob Weitering (Carlton): Weitering is probably going to be the unlucky player who dominaed every game he suits up for, but just won't have the body of work by the end of the year to justify a blazer. He was excellent for Carlton before injuring his AC joint and requiring surgery just before the bye; he's the league's best 'spoils to advantage' player (that is, whose spoils end up either in a stoppage or in the hands of a teammate) and averages nine one percenters per game.
Jack Sinclair (St Kilda): Rated elite for disposals and metres gained in 2022, Sinclair is having a career year as a rebounding defender who pushed up the ground. Driving the Saints forward week in, week out, Sinclair is avering career-highs in disposal efficiency, rebound 50s, and inside 50s as well. His kick-to-handball ratio is also at a career high of 2:1, meaning he's using his weapons (that is, his feet), much more often.
Bailey Smith (Western Bulldogs): Okay, so he's not a genuine winger, but Smith does do most of his damage on the outside, has an incredible engine and, quite frankly, deserves a place in this team. The young Bulldog is averaging 33 disposals, almost seven inside 50s and four clearances per game. He's also the league's second-ranked player for total metres gained, making him a great option to play on one of our wings.
Patrick Cripps (Carlton): Some said late in 2021 that Cripps was cooked... Just how wrong were they? The Carlton skipper has been superb through the first half of the year, at times literally dragging his side over the line. He's back to his dominant best around stoppages, averaging seven and a half clearances per game, to go along with his near 28 disposals. But the most impressive (and surprising) part of Cripps' game in 2022 has been his goalkicking - having slotted 15 goals in his 10 matches.
Ed Langdon (Melbourne): There isn't a player in the league who runs as much as Langdon. Period. Until being subbed out of the Round 10 clash against North Melbourne with concussion, the hard-working Demon had played a staggering 99% game time, sprinting back and forth on the wings. In fact, Langdon holds the record for the furthest distance covered in a game this year - 17.2km against Richmond in Round 6. Langdon has also been averaging 23 disposals per game.
Christian Petracca (Melbourne): We couldn't quite find him a place in the midfield, given the form of Cripps, Neale and Oliver, but Petracca deserves a place in the starting 18 and is more than capable of playing as a high half-forward. This year he's the No. 1 ranked score involvement player in the AFL, is averaging 28 disposals per outing and ranks seventh for total metres gained. And, if needed, we know what damage he can do when thrust into the middle.
Charlie Curnow (Carlton): Charlie Curnow's insane season after an injury-riddled couple of years more than warrants All-Australian selection. The Carlton superstar is averaging more goals than anyone else this year, booting 37 in 11 matches, and is right in the Coleman race. But it's not just the goals, Curnow's ability to mark the ball at his highest point and his midfielder-esque poise when working higher up the field makes him one of the most watchable, and damaging, players in the AFL.
Shai Bolton (Richmond): The continual rapid improvement from Shai Bolton has seen him become one of the game's, and arguably Richmond's, most influential players. The enigmatic youngster is having a career-best season, averaging 18 disposals, four clearances and 1.9 goals per game, and continues to cause headaches both in the midfield and forward 50. Wherever Bolton is deployed, his creativity, flare and match-winning capabilities will always come to the fore.
Jeremy Cameron (Geelong): It was a shame to see Jeremy Cameron playing underdone in 2021, but this year, we're well and truly seeing the best of him. The Cats spearhead has helped form one of the most lethal forward combinations in the league alongside Tom Hawkins, currently leads the Coleman Medal race with 38 majors and sits fifth overall in coaches' votes. Cameron has taken more shots on goal than any other player and ranks second among the game's 'key forwards' for both score assists and score involvements - highlighting his team-first approach despite innate goal sense.
Max King (St Kilda): Max King has had a mighty season to date and slots into our full-forward spot as one of three starting talls. Why? Because the 21-year-old continues to evolve week by week, kicking multiple goals in every game since Round 7 and proving too much for defences to handle. King is also averaging 4.1 marks (2.6 contested) which is up there with the best in his position, and despite his at-times goal-kicking yips, he's been too prolific to ignore and a major reason why the Saints are in the top four hunt.
Charlie Cameron (Brisbane): Let's put it simply: Charlie Cameron is still one of the most exciting goal kickers in the competition and one of the AFL's most difficult match ups. And to be honest, you'd be hard-pressed to find player with as much finesse in front of the big sticks. The electrifying small forward has slotted 30 majors for the Lions this season, including at least three in six of his past seven outings. You just can't ignore his impact.
Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast): This one may surprise you as we've given the nod to the Suns captain over the more highly fancied Max Gawn. Witts doesn't tally as many possessions as Gawn, but he's in this team as a ruckman, not a midfielder, and that's where he excels. Not only does Witts crush the competition in total hitouts (he has over 100 more than the next best), but he has the best hitout to advantage ratio of any ruck (37%). Right now he's probably the most underrated player in the league - and the most consistent ruck.
Clayton Oliver (Melbourne): Another year, another masterful display from 'Clarry'. Oliver's sensational form has played a significant role in the Demons sitting atop the ladder at the bye rounds. He ranks first in the competition for clearances, second for total disposals and second for contested possessions. So consistent has Oliver been this year, he's only once dipped below the 29 disposal mark. A lock for this team.
Lachie Neale (Brisbane): If the Brownlow Medal votes were tallied today, Neale would more than likely collect a second Charlie. The Lions midfielder has taken his game to yet another level in 2022, averaging 32 disposals, 17 contested possessions, eight clearances and five tackles per game, numbers which have helped him become the No. 1 fantasy player in the league. He's also added another impressive string to his bow, kicking nine goals to the halfway point of the year.
Andrew Brayshaw (Fremantle): What a season young Brayshaw is putting together. In the absence of Dockers skipper and dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe, Brayshaw has led this Dockers side into the top four and, of course, the monumental win over the Demons in Round 11. Brayshaw does everything well, winning 30 disposals per game, five clearances and five inside 50s, as well as laying six tackles per contest. Fantasy football players will know he's the equal-second best player to the halfway point of 2022.
Ben Keays (Adelaide): We still reckon Keays is criminally underrated and not getting anywhere near the credit he deserves. He is an elite rated midfielder in a host of categories, including disposals, clearances, kicks, inside 50s, effective disposals, uncontested possessions and ground ball gets. So far in 2022, Keays is averaging 30 disposals per game (half contested) and seven clearances. He's also one of the hardest workers in the league, always getting back to help his defence out.
Sam Taylor (GWS): Having an unheralded season, Taylor is a defensive weapon for the Giants, having lost just two of 39 one-on-ones this season (including two from 13 deemed 'contested' situations). He is rated elite for spoils and tackles, and averages three intercept marks a game as well.
Zac Bailey (Brisbane): Bailey trails just teammate Charlie Cameron and Melbourne sharpshooter Bayley Fritsch for goals scored (26) by 'general forwards' this season, but the speedy mid-forward is also averaging 21.3 pressure acts, 5.9 score involvements and 5.8 groundball gets from his 17.8 disposals per game, outlining his ability to impact contests in a host of ways. He's a huge part of the way Brisbane operate, and a genuine weapon in our mid-year All-Australian team.
Justin Longmuir (Fremantle): I mean, did you really predict -- despite improvement being unsurprising -- the Dockers to be 9-3 and one game off top spot after 12 games? Longmuir has this scary Dockers outfit absolutely humming at the moment and it's a testament to his ability to instil a stern defensive system that at the same time allows his weapons ahead of the ball to flourish. This side has a great balance to their game, and Longmuir deserves a huge amount of credit.
FB: Tom Stewart (GEEL), Steven May (MELB), Daniel Rich (BRIS)
HB: James Sicily (HAW), Jacob Weitering (CARL), Jack Sinclair (ST K)
C: Bailey Smith (WB), Patrick Cripps (CARL), Ed Langdon (MEL)
HF: Christian Petracca (MEL), Charlie Curnow (CARL), Shai Bolton (RICH)
FF: Jeremy Cameron (GEE), Max King (ST K), Charlie Cameron (BRIS)
R: Jarrod Witts (GC), Clayton Oliver (MEL), Lachie Neale (BRIS)
I/C: Andrew Brayshaw (FRE), Ben Keays (ADE), Sam Taylor (GWS), Zac Bailey (BRIS)