Neil Bencraft Trophy: 2021 VFL Best & Fairest Preview
Ahead of the 2021 Neil Bencraft Best & Fairest winner being crowned, we’ve taken a look at some of the Zebras players expected to poll highly on the night.
Photo Gemma Sliz
The vote count is shaping up to be an intriguing one, with multiple players recording career- best seasons despite another interrupted year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Luke Dunstan flourished as a senior member of the Zebras midfield brigade and enters the count as a strong contender for this year’s award, even though he played just the four matches.
Dunstan averaged 37 possessions, 11 clearances and two goals a match and is well placed to poll maximum votes in most, if not all of his four games.
One of his finest performances came in Round 5 as he guided the Zebras to their first win of the season against the previously undefeated Williamstown, gathering 36 possessions and kicking two crucial first half goals.
Photo AFL Media
Another St Kilda-listed player expected to feature prominently in the votes is key defender Oscar Clavarino, who featured in all bar one match and held his nerve against some of the VFL’s best key forwards.
Clavarino was a reliable presence in the backline and averaged 15 disposals for the season, with his consistency at VFL level earning him an AFL debut.
His impact wasn’t limited to the backline either, as he added another string to his bow by pushing forward and kicking a few crucial goals.
Up forward, veteran utility Sam Dunell averaged a goal a match in his eight games and was ultra consistent all season.
Zebras fans may remember his brilliant four-goal, 17 possession effort in the Round 11 victory at home against Richmond, a performance which will surely see him in the votes.
One Zebras listed player who earned praise from coach Jake Batchelor was big man Cody Henness, who excelled after being thrown into an unfamiliar midfield role in the middle of the season.
His physicality and tackling pressure was ferocious at times and he looked particularly imposing in the 67-point Round 13 win against Essendon, kicking a goal and laying 5 tackles in a dominant team effort.
Don’t be surprised to see his counterpart Darby Hipwell in the votes either, as the former Sandringham Dragon settled in nicely to play eight games in a utility role alternating between the midfield and forward half.
Hipwell improved as the season wore on, averaging 14 touches for the year and kicking multiple goals in his last two games.
Another player who showed rapid improvement in his first year at VFL level was Tyson Milne, son of former Saints goal-sneak Stephen.
Milne showed promising signs as a medium defender playing off a half-back flank, averaging 17 touches and 5 rebound 50s in his seven games.
Milne is likely to earn votes for his late-season performances against Carlton and Essendon, where he gathered 25 and 23 disposals respectively.
Photo Gemma Sliz
In his first year at the Zebras, vice-captain Goy Lok impressed with his leadership and was one of just two players to play all nine games.
Lok was used as a big-bodied midfielder who could sneak forward and hit the scoreboard, averaging almost a goal a game and 17 disposals.
He led the way in Round 6 against Aspley, gathering 17 disposals and kicking three critical goals in the Zebras first ever interstate football trip in the expanded VFL competition.
Lok should also poll well in Round 1 where he was one of the Zebras best against Richmond, laying 9 tackles and winning 22 touches in a 30-point loss.
Other contenders include first-year leadership group member and defender Anthony Seaton, and ruckman Paul Hunter.
Seaton played eight games for the season and averaged 11 disposals, while Hunter played 7 games and averaged almost a goal a game.
Good luck to all the contenders!
The 2021 Neil Bencraft Best & Fairest will take place on Thursday 23 September from 7pm. You can follow the night via Facebook and Instagram.
Written by Jack Bennett - Sandringham Football Club Media