Coaches can find all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to justify their starting selections. At the top of the Selection Tree is the Uber-Premium, the bright twinking stars, the players whose price is immaterial. In the past it was Ablett and Swan, more recently it’s the likes of Dangerfield – they’re a captaincy option every week, and therefore worth the hefty initial investment.
Then there is Mr Reliable – he may not reach the starry heights of the Uber-Premium, but he doesn’t seem to get injured and has metronomic scoring capabilities. Good examples are Pendlebury and Priddis. Another oft-quoted reason for Supercoach selection is the Breakout, where a player has shown promise in recent seasons, and looks primed to take the big walk up those grand stairs into the Palace of Premiums. (note: If you know who the Breakouts are going to be this year, can you please let me know. Just me, no-one else).
Further down the Selection Tree you can find the Value picks, where a player is perceived as underpriced due to injury (or suspension), the Role Changers (“more mid-time” is a favourite here), and your standard Rookies, which occupy a small but hugely important space in every genuine team.
Then the lights go out and you reach the bottom of the Tree, where the leaves that have browned and withered fall, rotting away into a festering, putrid wasteland. There are strange creatures in the undergrowth, and a sense of dread and foreboding settles within your spine. It’s damp, fetid and should be avoided at all costs. This is the land of the BURN-MEN.
The Burn-men are the players who have let you down so often, and at such inopportune moments, that you will never go near them again. It doesn’t matter how much he dominates the pre-season, no matter how many times you hear “He’s tearing up the training track!”, regardless of how far he wins his club’s time trial by, you will NEVER EVER have your team contaminated by him again.
But that is part of the allure of the Burn-men: they are the forbidden fruit of Supercoach. They get chosen because you’re not supposed to choose them. Also, Burn-men are vindictive. They know Murphy’s Law, and they will use it against you at every opportunity. If you successfully avoid the Burn-men in March, there is every chance that they will have a magnificent season, full of tons and free of injury. Then the Burn-men will turn around in September and mock you to your face for not selecting them.
In this two-part series, I will take a look at the Burn-men of seasons past; what made them Burn-men, what we can learn from them, and why you should think about giving them one more chance. No, I will not do that. Absolutely not. You should never give a Burn-man another chance. Should you? Maybe….
CHAPTER 1: THE ROOKIES
These are the most innocuous of Burn-men. They are no longer dangerous because they are no longer able to be selected – they burned so brightly, and quickly, that they have faded away and disappeared. Rookie Burn-men become the stories that Supercoaches tell their kids at bedtime; the cautionary tales.
The most famous (rather, infamous) of these is RELTON ROBERTS. Taken by the Tigers in the third round of the 2009 Rookie draft, Roberts was a naturally gifted forward pocket. Making his debut in Round 1, during the Great Rookie Shortage of 2010, many Supercoaches pinned their hopes on a quick price rise from the man from Ngukurr. A slow start against the Blues (7 possessions for 15 SC points) was met with some dismay, which soon turned to pandemonium when Relton was concussed in his second game against the Swans, and never heard from at AFL level again. Unfortunately, Roberts is more well-known for his pre-game diet, and left many Supercoaches with a burger-shaped scar that would never fully heal.
Sometimes Burn-men are a victim of circumstance. They really shouldn’t be selected, but due to the common needs of Supercoaches, the Burn-man is thrust into the spotlight before his time. Such is the case with JOSH GLENN, another rookie draft selection who went to the Suns in 2015. A sparkling 21-possession, 103 point debut as an inside mid presented Glenn as a premature downgrade life-raft, which many cash-strapped Supercoaches could not resist. However, he was relegated to the forward pocket for his second game, which was followed by an inexplicable 10 week hiatus in the NEAFL. Without the precious price rise that a third game brings, more than 40% of Supercoaches were left with a dead man walking on their mids bench and a large pile of…regret. Glenn played three more games later in the season and then voluntarily left the Suns, not being sighted at AFL level since.
What did these Burn-men teach us? Two basic but very important rules here, kids:
- Don’t pick rookies just because they are playing, and
- Don’t pick a rookie mid-season until he is selected for his third game.
CHAPTER 2: THE ROLLERCOASTER
“Form is temporary, class is permanent”.
Why is it that some players can churn out a high level of performance week after week, while others seemingly adopt a different persona, dependent on the prevailing winds, alignment of the stars, Gatorade temperature and how tightly their boots are laced up? Supercoaches use euphemisms like “ceiling” and “high risk, high reward” to describe these players; what we actually mean is “his scores are up and down like a flippin’ yo-yo”. Please note that I’m not referring to key position players here – we all know what you get when you select those, with very few exceptions. No, here we’re discussing those who spend one week in the clinches, fighting tooth-and-nail for the footy – and then the next week they’re running away from it as if it’s coated in gelignite.
BACHAR HOULI was a popular choice in many starting defences in 2016. As the go-to guy out of the D50 for the Tigers, many Supercoaches were hoping that Bachar could consolidate his spot in the top 6 in his position. After tonning up big-time in rounds 2 and 3, those coaches (including yours truly) were grinning like split watermelons, but we had forgotten the Rollercoaster – three sub-60 scores in the next month, followed by a long-term wrist injury. Broken, busted, burnt. Never again!
I was going to say something about STEVEN MOTLOP here, but then I broke out in hives and my ears started ringing.
Some players struggle more than others when tagged. In 2016, JACK STEVEN presented as a potentially league-winning point of difference when he turned in scores of 170, 89 and 150 on the eve of the Supercoach finals. He soon turned sour by failing to reach 80 in his next four games, mainly due to increased opposition defensive pressure. When he’s good he’s very, very good, but when he’s bad – well, you know the rest.
What did these Burn-men teach us?
- The word “enigmatic” gives me the heebie-jeebies. Yeah, he could win you a league game or two – but how many will he lose for you in the meantime?
- We really need more hard data on how players performed when tagged. It’s all fine and dandy to rack up the touches when you’re running around by yourself – but can you do it with an opponent hassling the living bejesus out of you too?
Next time, in Volume 2 of Fool Me Once:
Controversy! ensues, as I name some of Supercoach’s favourite sons as potential Burn-men. We’ll look at mid-priced rucks, and why they just might be the Supercoach equivalent of fool’s gold. And I’ll have a special profile on He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, the Grand High Prince of the Burn-men!
In the meantime, you’re welcome to comment on the players who have made your “never-again” list. As my uncle Wayne always used to say: Vent your spleen but keep it clean….
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