We have gone through midfield and forward line units and now it is time to break down your team’s most important defenders.
Picking each team’s best six defenders is revealing as it shows which sides have settled units, which teams are loaded with talent and which sides are still building.
See all 18 team’s most important defenders below:
The Crows have a reliable core in defence, led by veteran big-man Daniel Talia, while the return of Tom Doedee from a torn ACL will give them a different dynamic in 2020. Brodie Smith and Rory Laird provide the run off half-back and would be up there with the best rebounding duos in the league. Jake Kelly and Kyle Hartigan quietly get the job done without a great deal of fuss. This Adelaide backline has plenty of flash across half-back, but are known for having dour defenders who fly under the radar and simply take care of business.
The Lions were one of the best offensive teams in the AFL last year, but also possess a lot of talent in defence. Harris Andrews was the All-Australian full-back, with Darcy Gardiner, Daniel Rich and Alex Witherden all having impressive seasons as well. The question will be how they replace Luke Hodge following his retirement. Another veteran Hawk in Grant Birchall steps in, but question marks over his durability remain a concern. Noah Answerth is another who stepped up last season and became a regular contributor.
Carlton plugs its best defender back into the line-up in 2020 with Sam Docherty’s return. The All-Australian is not only an excellent decision maker coming out of defence, but his ability to organise the backline will also be incredibly important. Liam Jones, Jacob Weitering, Caleb Marchbank, Kade Simpson and Lachie Plowman provide one of the more settled defensive units in the competition, with the Blues rolling with that group consistently for the last few seasons. Marchbank and Weitering continue to grow as young key defenders, while the Blues will also roll Nic Newman and Sam Petrevski-Seton across half-back throughout games.
Collingwood’s defence has been hit hard by injury in recent times, with dynamic intercept defender Darcy Moore, fellow marking backman Tom Langdon and Jeremy Howe all missing games last year. Thankfully ex-Bulldog Jordan Roughead was extremely reliable down back, as was young gun Brayden Maynard, and Jack Crisp has not missed a game in years. If the Magpies’ best six defenders can all stay on the park it could be the stingiest and best-rebounding backline in the competition. But it’s a big “if”.
At its best, Essendon’s back six functions with its keys in Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker intercepting at will with both Adam Saad and Conor McKenna breaking the lines off half-back and setting up play further afield. The key for the Bombers’ defence in 2020 is the continual improvement of Mason Redman, the 22-year-old South Australian defender who was arguably the club’s shining light in 2019. There’s also question marks around where Hooker will play this season, considering Essendon's lack of genuine forward targets. Patrick Ambrose can play as a small or medium and can be relied upon to do a job. It’ll be interesting to see how Ben Rutten looks to change the shape of their defence, allowing the flash of Saad and McKenna to flourish while keeping things tight when the ball is turned over.
Injuries haven’t allowed the Dockers to play their ideal backline as a unit, but at full strength they have a lot to work with. Joel Hamling and Alex Pearce are consistency performers as key defenders, while Luke Ryan is underrated as an intercept marker. Nathan Wilson provides plenty of rebound of half-back and has been solid since making the move from GWS. The Dockers will be hoping former first-round pick Griffin Logue can play some consistent footy after showing promising signs in 2019.
Geelong’s back six was a key reason they won the minor premiership in 2019. Tom Stewart and Mark Blicavs are among the best one-on-one defenders in the competition and Harry Taylor’s return to form gave them a unit that was tough to crack. Zach Tuohy is one of the game’s best small defenders who can also hurt teams with his ball use and goal kicking ability. The Cats have a lot of depth and a great system that maximises their talent down back.
The Suns have quite a few experienced heads down back, with Jarrod Harbrow, Pearce Hanley and Jack Hombsch leading the way. All are veterans at this point and keep a cool head in defence. Rory Thompson will return after his torn ACL and slot straight back in, as will Sam Collins following an impressive start to his stint with the Suns. Charlie Ballard played 21 games for the Suns in 2019, while Jack Lukosius also spent a lot of the season playing in defence, but will likely be developed as a key forward.
Another team with an incredibly settled backline, the Giants have a clear best six who are as good as any other unit. Phil Davis and Nick Haynes are as established as any key defensive duo, with Haynes an elite interceptor, and Sam Taylor has emerged as a key defender that will carry the team for the next generation. Heath Shaw will go around again in 2020 and provides rebound off half-back, while Zac Williams was unlucky not to make the All-Australian team last year in the same role. Adam Kennedy has quietly gone about locking himself into this backline and performs on a consistent basis.
James Sicily carries with him an innate ability to read the play and intercept with prowess while being the architect with his elite ball use out of defence. Allowing him to play such a role is James Frawley who locks down on the key opposition forward while the inclusion of Sam Frost will only free up Sicily further. Ben Stratton can operate in a central, organising role and alongside Blake Hardwick, who takes care of any dangerous smalls, provides toughness and aggression. Veteran Shaun Burgoyne can roll back through a half-back flank where Jarman Impey excelled last season before his knee injury. Only two sides (Geelong and Collingwood) had less points against in 2019, highlighting Hawthorn’s reliance on their defensive structure.
Much of Melbourne’s hopes in 2020 will depend on their defence tightening up. The Demons shipped the second most points against last year - only the Suns had a worse defence - and things must improve if they are to bounce back this year. Much of that hope relies on the fitness and form of Steven May and Jake Lever. Both recruits have battled injuries, particularly the former whose struggles were well-documented last season. If May and Lever can return to the quality they freely showed at Gold Coast and Adelaide respectively, it will go a long way to shutting down opposing forward forays. The Dees would also love the underrated Neville Jetta back doing his thing as a small defender after he played just seven times in 2019. This is the type of trio you can use to mend and rejuvenate an entire defence. Christian Salem’s run, carry and delivery is also paramount, as is that of Michael Hibberd, while Oscar McDonald would be majorly benefited if he gets a chop-out given Sam Frost has left his side. It’s a big year for the Demons and their back six.
The importance of Robbie Tarrant will only be further magnified now that Scott Thompson has retired. And so will the return of Majak Daw. The Kangaroos will be hoping he can get back to his 2018 best following his lengthy absence because without him, they appear devoid of ready-made key defensive options away from Tarrant. Jasper Pittard enjoyed a solid debut season in the royal blue and white stripes with his dash and long kicking. A return performance like that will be welcomed. Jamie MacMillan goes about his medium-sized stopping role with minimal fuss while Shaun Atley and Marley Williams provide rebound. Sam Durdin showed some signs in 10 games last year and may warrant further opportunities while trade period acquisition Josh Walker will be called upon given his experience and versatility.
Tom Jonas will lead the Power from his key defensive post having taken over as sole captain this year. He and Tom Clurey will work together in taking on the opposition’s most dangerous tall forward each and every week while mixing their rebound and intercept abilities with a defensive mindset. Hamish Hartlett has been restricted to just 16 games in two seasons. The Power will be banking on the return of his his poise, quality and hardness. Darcy Byrne-Jones took his game to another level in 2019 as the club’s prime interceptor and highlighted his importance by finishing runner-up in the best and fairest. Dan Houston’s role as a medium half-back with elite ball use who can move into the midfield will again be important. Port will be hoping Ryan Burton can shake off his hamstring issues and provide continuous drive and polish after showing plenty of positive signs in his first year with the club while Riley Bonner can also roll through defence, adding depth.
Richmond’s recent success has been built off a disciplined team defence and the cornerstone of that is a settled back six. In Alex Rance’s absence, Dylan Grimes took yet another stride into the elite category which saw him rewarded with his first All-Australian blazer, just like Bachar Houli, who is one of the competition’s best running defenders. But as Rance couldn’t operate without Grimes, Grimes would not be as important to the side without Nick Vlastuin who could be the club’s captain-in-waiting. His ball-reading and intercept ability are peerless and his toughness is criminally underrated. Binding all the elements together is David Astbury. He expertly holds down the major key defensive position and is ably supported by Nathan Broad, who may not get much of the ball, but is extremely useful as a shut-down option. Add Jayden Short’s drive to that which Houli provides and you have rebounding quality alongside the defensive strength and intercepting expertise of Grimes, Vlaustin, Astbury and Broad. Liam Baker also performed an important role as a small defender after beginning the season in the forward line.
St Kilda leaked the third most points in 2019 and hope the return of key reinforcements will tighten their defence. Skipper Jarryn Geary is a heart and soul player who was sorely missed last season. As were Jake Carlisle and Dylan Roberton, with the latter missing the entire year due to an ongoing heart condition. The emergence of youngster Josh Battle and mature-age rookie Callum Wilkie were major finds but the recruit of Port Adelaide key position player Dougal Howard could be a game-changer. Having played predominantly as a forward, Howard is expected to lock down a key defensive post for the Saints in 2020.
Co-captain Dane Rampe is the gem of Sydney’s defence. Their reigning best and fairest is quite the marvel at 189cm given he can operate as a tall, medium or small while providing rebound and intercepting at will. Jake Lloyd is the attacking proposition with his ability to abundantly rack up possessions and frequently use the ball cleverly. Aliir Aliir is now undoubtedly a first choice and with Heath Grundy no longer available, he will be relied upon to hold down the key post. His footy smarts and intercept traits are of the highest quality. Lewis Melican has had three seasons to develop and must step up in Grundy’s absence. Former Rising Star Callum Mills has held down his position in the Swans’ back six due to his toughness and reliability. Jordan Dawson has midfield quality but will drop back through defence. With Jarrad McVeigh retired, there is a rebounding spot up for grabs. Could it be Irishman Colin O’Riordan who fills the void?
The Eagles boast one of the competition’s sturdiest defensive groups, inspired by the adventurous Jeremy McGovern and galvanised by steady skipper Shannon Hurn. The All-Australian duo are two of the best intercept players in the league and also provide a lot of their side’s rebound from defence. Brad Sheppard has been a remarkably consistent player over the past five years and is recognised internally as a vital player but finally proved his worth to the wider football community in 2019. He was sublime off half-back by mixing his customary lockdown dependability with a new-found attacking influence. The dash and dare Lewis Jetta produces is integral to the way the Eagles play. They also have a flexibility in that they can rotate the likes of Tom Barrass, Will Schofield and Tom Cole while youngster Jackson Nelson is developing nicely.
Easton Wood has toiled away in defence and been admirable in his efforts but will now receive the support he so richly deserves. The Bulldogs identified key defence as one of their major weaknesses and went about acquiring Alex Keath from Adelaide. The new recruit will be expected to hold down a vital role from the very beginning. Not to say Zaine Cordy did not play his role but it will be a luxury seeing him drop back to a ‘third’ opposition forward. The diminutive Caleb Daniel impressed greatly in a ‘quarterback’ style role. The Dogs clearly want the ball in his hands. Jason Johannisen remains the side’s premier line breaker and Hayden Crozier’s athleticism allows him to adapt to varying roles. Matt Suckling and Taylor Duryea are also candidates for the Bulldogs’ best back six given their rebounding ability and quality ball use.