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ESPN's 2021 All-Australian team - Who makes the cut? Who misses out?

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It's that time of year when we perform just about the most difficult task in football - settling on 22 AFL players for our All-Australian team.

As with our previous All-Australian teams, we have selected a balanced side which we would want competing in a real game. This means, players have been selected in their correct positions, while we've also ensured the need for key position players, lock down defenders, ball-winning midfielders and genuine wingers have been met.

Every year there are a number of extremely stiff omissions, so shoutouts go to Darcy Parish, Charlie Cameron, Nic Naitanui, Zach Merrett (and countless others) who couldn't quite make the side.

So, without further ado, here's ESPN's 2021 All-Australian team:

FB: J. Lever (MEL), H. Andrews (BRIS), T. Stewart (GEEL)
HB: D. Rich (BRIS), J. Weitering (CARL), B. Dale (WB)
C: P. Seedsman (ADE), C. Oliver (MEL), S. Walsh (CARL)
HF: M. Bontempelli (WB), T. Hawkins (GEEL), J. Stringer (ESS)
FF: T. Greene (GWS), H. McKay (CARL), B. Fritsch (MEL)
R: M. Gawn (MEL), C. Petracca (MEL), O. Wines (PA)
I/C: J. Steele (STK), J. Macrae (WB), T. Miller (GC), S. May (MEL)


Back line:

Jake Lever (Melbourne): No. 1 in the league for intercept marks, with 94, Lever has been a colossus in defence for the Demons this season. The way he reads the ball, knows when to leave his man to assist, and his exceptional leadership and voice on the field means he's just about first picked in our All-Australian team.

Harris Andrews (Brisbane): Second in the competition for intercept marks, Andrews has almost flown under the radar at times this year, purely because we expect his benchmark to be so high. He ranks 'elite' for spoils, intercept marks, contested marks, one percenters, and AFL ratings points, Andrews has once again shown why he's crucial to Brisbane's success.

Tom Stewart (Geelong): Averaging 24 disposals, six rebound 50s, and a kicking efficiency of 84 percent, Stewart is an elite defender whose ability to rebound is just as good as his nitty-gritty defensive work. As a defender, he's also ranked elite for contested marks, intercept marks and score launches.

Half-back line:

Daniel Rich (Brisbane): No. 1 in the league for metres gained and rebound 50s, Rich is a weapon for the Lions when streaming out of defence. His raking left boot, combined with his incredible decision making, means it's almost impossible to zone when he has the ball in his hand. Rich is like a fine wine - improving with age.

Jacob Weitering (Carlton): For a key defender, Weitering is ranked 'elite' for effective kicks, metres gained, rebound 50s, marks, and spoils. He's also lost just 25 of his 120 one-on-one contests. He's a leader, crafty with his use of body and hands, and is an excellent field kick for a big man.

Bailey Dale (Western Bulldogs): Dale has had a remarkably impressive year for the Bulldogs, and is one of the competition's most reliable kicks coming out of defence. Averaging 25 disposals, three inside 50s, and five rebound 50s per game, Dale has also snuck forward to kick nine majors in 2021, while he's also the No. 1 defender in the league for score launches. A deserving All-Australian back flanker.

Centre:

Paul Seedsman (Adelaide): Is Paul Seedsman the the best attacking wingman in the game? On his 2021 form, he just about is. The 29-year-old put together a career-best season, which saw him rank 'elite' in categories such as effective kicks, inside 50s, rebound 50s and metres gained. He plays the role to perfection -- working hard both defensively and offensively -- and deserves All-Australian recognition.

Clayton Oliver (Melbourne): What a sensational year Oliver has had. He averaged 32 disposals, five tackles and eight clearances per game, while also rating 'elite' in inside 50s, contested possessions, pressure acts and score involvements. The hard nut racked up 62 contested possessions more than the next best player in the competition this season. Our Brownlow Medal predictor has him right in the running and for good reason!

Sam Walsh (Carlton): Has he overtaken Patrick Cripps as Carlton's best player? We'll let you be the judge, but you can't ignore the way Walsh was able to work both ways and command the middle for the Blues this season. He never dropped below 20 touches in 2021 - a reflection of his remarkable consistency, which puts him alongside Chris Judd as one of the best 21-year-olds we've seen. He might not be the most pure wingman going around, but he does spend time there, and the champion-in-waiting rightfully finds himself in our All-Australian side.

Half-forward line:

Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs): Relax! The Bont is perfectly capable of lining up at half-forward and pushing into the midfield, as needed. Bontempelli has been one of the standout players of the 2021 season, with many expecting him to have the Brownlow Medal draped around his neck in a few weeks time. His class on the outside and ability forward of centre make him a dangerous proposition for any side.

Tom Hawkins (Geelong): Another year, another strong season from the Tomahawk. The Cats spearhead finished runner-up in the Coleman Medal (54 goals) and had more score involvements across the season than any other key forward. Hawkins is also one of the most unselfish big men we've ever seen in the game, having dished off another 19 direct goal assists in 2021.

Jake Stringer (Essendon): The package absolutely delivered in 2021 and, with Dustin Martin injured, has staked his claim as the AFL's best centre-bounce to forward 50m player. Stringer kicked 39 goals in the home and away season, but it's his work up the ground, and at stoppages, which is the real asset. If the Bombers win a final, expect Stringer to be one of their standout players.

Forward line:

Toby Greene (GWS): Yes, he's missed five games this season, but we challenge you to name a more deserving All-Australian forward pocket than Greene. Anyone? Yep, that's what we thought. The GWS superstar can do things nobody else in the league even thinks to do and has won several games off his own boot this year. His 42 goals, and ability to push into the midfield, if needed, make him a great asset for this team.

Harry McKay (Carlton): The 2021 Coleman Medal winner was an easy choice for the full forward slot. You can honestly make the case McKay is the most improved player in the AFL, having slotted 58 goals from 19 games, 37 more majors than what he managed last season. If he can stay healthy, this could be the first of many All-Australian blazers for the Blues spearhead.

Bayley Fritsch (Melbourne): Yet another Demon makes this team. Fritsch's combination of forward line smarts and elite set shot goalkicking has seen him rise to one of the competition's premier small-to-mid-sized forwards. He's already slotted 47 goals in 2021 and looms as an X-factor for Melbourne in September.

Ruck:

Max Gawn (Melbourne): Big Max is still every bit the premier ruckman in the competition, once again topping his rivals for total hitouts (700) while also rating 'elite' for disposals (18 per game), hitouts won (58.5 percent), score involvements and marks. We can respect and acknowledge the seasons of Sean Darcy, Tom Hickey and Nic Naitanui, but they just weren't on the same level as Gawn, whose influence on games can't go understated. A true leader and possibly a future premiership skipper...

Christian Petracca (Melbourne): Averaging 28.7 touches (13.7 contested), 6.2 clearances and 526 metres gained, Petracca took his game to a new level in 2021. He also went at more than a goal a game, with his damaging influence around the stoppages and in the forward 50 matched only by a handful of players in the competition. Will be a key player to watch in September.

Ollie Wines (Port Adelaide): Like a rampaging bull seeing red, Wines looked nearly unstoppable in the clinches this season. He propelled himself into the category of best on-ballers in the competition, after a potentially Brownlow Medal-winning campaign that saw him rated 'elite' for contested possessions, inside 50s, effective disposals, ground ball gets and score launches.

Interchange

Jack Steele (St Kilda): It was another mammoth season from Steele, who came home like a steam train. Our Brownlow Medal predictor has him polling a staggering 24.5 votes from Round 11. Steele led the league in tackles and fantasy points, ranked fourth for contested possessions and was in the top 10 for clearances and disposals.

Touk Miller (Gold Coast): He's pretty unlucky to not be listed on the field. Miller has had an exceptional season, in which he tallied 30+ disposals in 16 consecutive games for a new AFL record. The Suns on-baller was second in the competition in tackles, fifth for disposals per game and third for total AFL fantasy points in 2021. Had it not been for an early suspension, he could have been a serious Brownlow Medal threat.

Jackson Macrae (Western Bulldogs): Macrae was the last man picked in this team, narrowly edging out Brisbane's Charlie Cameron for a spot on the bench. The Bulldogs ball-magnet finished the home and away season with 743 disposals (second in the AFL) and 143 clearances (fifth most). Macrae was also one of the competition's best inside 50 penetrators and score/goal assisters.

Steven May (Melbourne): Another who consider himself quite stiff to be on the bench, and had May played more games he'd have almost certainly been starting on the field. Not only does he average 18 disposals a game, 16 of those being effective, but he's also rated as 'elite' for rebound 50s and metres gained.

Coach

John Longmire (Sydney): Who really though the Swans would be finalists in 2021, let alone knocking on the door of the top four? Longmire deserves an enormous amount of credit for turning Sydney's fortunes around in such a short period of time. Special mentions must be given to Simon Goodwin and Ben Rutten, who we'll name as assistant coaches in this team!


ESPN vs. Champion Data - whose 22 is better? (VOTE BELOW)

ESPN:

FB: J. Lever (MEL), H. Andrews (BRIS), T. Stewart (GEEL)
HB: D. Rich (BRIS), J. Weitering (CARL), B. Dale (WB)
C: P. Seedsman (ADE), C. Oliver (MEL), S. Walsh (CARL)
HF: M. Bontempelli (WB), T. Hawkins (GEEL), J. Stringer (ESS)
FF: T. Greene (GWS), H. McKay (CARL), B. Fritsch (MEL)
R: M. Gawn (MEL), C. Petracca (MEL), O. Wines (PA)
I/C: J. Steele (STK), J. Macrae (WB), T. Miller (GC), S. May (MEL)

Champion Data:

FB: J. Lever (MEL), L. Jones (CARL), B. Dale (WB)
HB: J. Henry (GEEL), H. Andrews (BRIS), A. Hall (NM)
C: A. Gaff (WCE), T. Mitchell (HAW), P. Seedsman (ADE)
HF: D. Zorko (BRIS), L. Franklin (SYD), J. Stringer (ESS)
FF: A. McDonald-Tipungwuti (ESS), H. McKay (CARL), T. Greene (GWS)
R: N. Naitanui (WCE), C. Oliver (MELB), T. Liberatore (WB)
I/C: B. Hardwick (HAW), J. Steele (STK), J. Macrae (WB), D. Butler (STK)