2015 SuperCoach Average: 62.8
2016 SuperCoach Average: 70.2
Whilst the Western Bulldogs remarkable 2016 finals campaign was as unlikely as it was historic, perhaps one of the most emotional sub-plots along the journey was the untimely and unfortunate injury to Lin Jong.
Despite the controversy surrounding him touring the facilities down at Collingwood as his contract at the Bulldogs came ever closer to its expiration date, the glut of injuries that the Bulldogs suffered during the season meant that Jong retained his place in the side even after the story first emerged, and played every game up until the start of the finals. But Jong’s dream run to the Premiership would grind to a halt during the club’s first Finals win against the Eagles, after suffering a broken collarbone in the second quarter. Famously, Jong would go on to win the Norm Goss medal as best afield in the VFL Grand Final for Footscray, just 17 days after suffering the injury, and the day after the Bulldogs Preliminary Final win over the Giants. But his powers of recovery would eventually end in vain, unable to break back into the Bulldogs senior side for the Grand Final.
But, with the ultimate Bulldog fairytale still a dream in the distance following their triumph over the Eagles in the first week of the finals, a decision had to be made at the selection table regarding Jong’s replacement. Enter Toby McLean, a man who had also endured his own untimely injury problems during the season. After playing the first 11 games of the year, McLean suffered a serious foot injury (ironically against West Coast), which kept him out of the side for three months. He returned for one more game in Round 22, but it was his only appearance up until he replaced Jong in the Bulldogs semi-final clash against the Hawks. In a hostile and high-intensity environment, McLean thrived, accumulating 21 disposals and 78 SuperCoach points and played a pivotal role in the Bulldogs victory.
Proving it wasn’t a fluke, McLean again impressed in the Preliminary Final, in what was arguably an even more competitive match than the previous game. This time he managed one disposal fewer, but his impact on the game was such that he finished the night with 87 SuperCoach points, reaffirming his ability to play well in big matches. His output in the Grand Final wasn’t quite at the same standard of his previous two games (scoring just 65 points), but overall, it was a very successful finals series on a personal level for McLean, and it demonstrated to us that he is a player who is capable of becoming a strong SuperCoach selection for many years to come. All in all, he averaged over 76 SuperCoach points during his finals series; a fairly handy return from a second-year player.
In terms of ability, McLean is arguably one of the most naturally gifted players at the Western Bulldogs. He is capable of finding the footy on a regular basis across the half-forward/midfield area where he predominantly operates, and rarely wastes possession of the footy when he has it. He is an elite aerialist (which has often seen him compared to the likes of Jamie Elliott) and has terrific goal sense as well. Last year, he averaged 17 disposals at 74% efficiency, four marks, registered 14 goals from 15 games and finished the year with an average of 70.2 SuperCoach points. Granted, his number aren’t in the elite category just yet, but for a man who’s played just 19 career games to this point, it’s a very positive start, and if he can continue to build on that foundation, we’re more than likely to see those numbers rise considerably higher over the next couple of years. But McLean’s scoring rate may shoot up even further this year. He’s clearly in the Bulldogs best 22, (with only a prolonged injury keeping him out of the side last year), so job security shouldn’t be a concern, and in the Bulldogs only pre-season game so far, McLean emerged to finish up as one of their better players, finishing with 86 SuperCoach points. This is despite the fact that he finished with a disposal efficiency of just 56% – well below his average last season – which paints a very conclusive picture as to what this guy is capable of this year.
The only factor that counts against him this year though is changes to the rule interpretations regarding high-contact free kick. Over the last couple of seasons, McLean has developed a reputation for drawing free kicks for high contact on a consistent basis (something which inevitably has become a very reliable source that contributes to his SuperCoach scoring). However, now that the interpretation of the rule has changed, it may result in McLean not receiving the free kicks (and points) that he may otherwise normally get or, even worse, be penalised for persisting with his infamous tactics. It may seem like only a small issue, but considering a free kick is worth four points in SuperCoach, and considering McLean averaged over two free kicks for last season, that’s an extra 8-10 points that you could be missing out on. Again, it might not seem like much, but when it eventually becomes the only thing standing between a player averaging 90 points a player averaging 100 points, suddenly the significance in a few extra points becomes a lot more noticeable, and if he starts to lose points for being penalized due to implementing ducking techniques as well, then he’ll also lose an extra four points per free kick against. So suddenly an 8-10 point swing can become a 16-20 point differential, and that is a significant gap. If McLean can shrug this tactic (if you’ll excuse the pun), and find other ways to accumulate points instead, it won’t be an issue, but it’s certainly something to consider.
Overall, the rule changes were implemented a while ago now, giving McLean plenty of time to adjust his game to shake the habit, so it shouldn’t evolve into a major issue. As a result, he should be a player to seriously consider if you’re looking to take a punt on a potential breakout contender. He won’t be owned by many SuperCoaches, so he also looms as a unique option, but definitely check in on his progress for the JLT Community Series, just to get a better understanding of what he is capable of in Season 2017.
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