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Picking the winning 2019 22under22 side

Coinciding with this year’s 22Under22 concept, each fan who voted had the chance to win the ultimate players’ prize pack awarded to the side that best resembled the final 22.

In an open year, we’re happy to announce that two fans selected 15 of the final 22 of 2019’s 22Under22 side. 

One of the winners, Steven Azzopardi, told how he selected his team.

When voting opened for this year’s 22Under22 side, there was only one absolute lock in my side – Harris Andrews. After making the All Australian squad of 40 in 2018, Andrews has taken his game to another level, becoming a bogey match-up for most key forwards in the league, and earning his spot at full back in this year’s All Australian team. His experience as vice-captain of the Lions, while working closely with one of the all-time great leaders, Luke Hodge, made him an obvious choice as captain of this side.

The rest of the backline came together quite easily, with Jacob Weitering as a handy second tall defender and names like Sydney Stack, Callum Mills and Alex Witherden all able to provide slick and skilled attack from their defensive 50.

The forward line is also led by tall timber from the Lions and Blues, with Eric Hipwood and Harry McKay enjoying fine seasons as key cogs in their young sides. However, Aaron Naughton commanded the full forward spot, with his move from defence proving a masterstroke for Luke Beveridge and the Western Bulldogs. His 30 goals and 53 contested marks (No.1 in the AFL) helped the Dogs soar into the top eight and saw the ‘AstroNaught’ soar into my team.

Those players are joined by flying Liam Ryan, first-year goalkicking machine Connor Rozee and cult hero Jade Gresham. All three could list themselves as “entertainer” alongside “AFL footballer” on their CVs, yet they make this forward line as dangerous at ground level and in the air.

Competition for midfield spots was fierce, with many great players missing out (Jacob Hopper, Brayden Fiorini, Oliver Florent and Sam Petrevski-Seton, just to name a few). The seven in my side were too hard to ignore. Sam Walsh looked right at home in the AFL system, having a freshman year unlike many we’ve seen before. Josh Dunkley, in an already-stacked midfield, racked up heatwave-like numbers on a weekly basis. The 2016 Draft’s top trio of Andy McGrath, Tim Taranto and Hugh McCluggage are proving recruitment managers right with career-best seasons in 2019. James Worpel showed glimpses of talent in 2018, yet turned that into an uber-consistent second year, averaging more than 26 disposals and six clearances per game. In my opinion, Clayton Oliver will undoubtedly win a Brownlow Medal in the next decade.

I didn’t set out to pick a 22Under22 based on popularity or star power. I wanted a side that could win a game of footy, with a combination of poise, leadership and raw talent.

I think I’ve found the perfect balance.