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Greatest season of all: Top 50 countdown - 30-21

Nathan Schmook
December 18, 2016 10:25 AM

AFL 2016 Rd 23 - Fremantle v Western Bulldogs

Matthew Pavlich bids farewell after his final game

THERE is no escaping drama for the Match Review Panel, with two of the season's biggest cases featuring in the next installment of AFL.com.au's top 50 moments from 2016. A win for an underdog team like no other is also among the list from 30-21, while injury strikes at The Kennel.

• Greatest season of all: Top 50 countdown - 50-41
• Greatest season of all: Top 50 countdown - 40-31

30. Mason Wood's countdown to infamy

The AFL's 30-second countdown clock was introduced in 2016 to involve supporters more and bring consistency to the time players had to prepare for a set shot. In round seven it changed from being a fan 'gimmick' to a tool for players. With his team ahead by one point against St Kilda and the ball in his hands, North Melbourne forward Mason Wood refused to start his set shot routine as the clock counted down the final 20 seconds, effectively icing the match. "I'm just playing within the rules and until they (the AFL) change the rules, players will keep doing it," Wood said. The League did change the rules, taking the clock off the scoreboard in the final two minutes of quarters and instructing umpires to call play-on if they believed players were time wasting.

29. Travis Cloke's woes

For the first time since his teenage years, Travis Cloke found himself in the VFL this year, fighting for form while Collingwood started to rebuild without him. One of the game's most powerful forwards when at his peak, Cloke started the season out of sorts and Nathan Buckley resorted to playing him in the ruck for long periods. He was dropped for the Anzac Day blockbuster in round five and didn't return until round 11, playing one senior game before being relegated again. The Magpies were publicly committed to Cloke but looking to the future at selection. After 246 games in black and white, he eventually joined the Western Bulldogs during the NAB AFL Trade Period.   

28. Mason Cox stars on Anzac Day

Forget the 400-club, Collingwood big man Mason Cox is a member of the AFL's most exclusive group. On Anzac Day in 2016 he made his debut, kicking his first goal with his first kick. He stands alone as the only American to do that. Cox replaced Travis Cloke for the blockbuster match and was swamped by teammates after kicking the opening goal of the game. His lumbering effort against Geelong in round nine, which started in the centre square and saw him run inside 50 with a bounce, will also be remembered fondly by Magpie fans at the MCG for that upset win. 

27. Essendon 'top-ups' make a stand against the Dees  

It shaped as the most challenging season in their long history, and a 10-goal loss to Gold Coast in round one had critics tipping a winless Essendon campaign. It took the Bombers just one more week, however, to get on the board, notching a famous win against Melbourne on a day the club wanted to 'Make A Stand' for its future with a pre-game march and a home crowd of 50,424. With the club's stars sidelined, it was young forward Joe Daniher who inspired the win with 15 marks and 21 possessions. "I'm just rapt for the club, rapt for the supporters who came out today and the players," new coach John Worsfold said.  

26. Matthew Pavlich waves goodbye

Fremantle champion Matthew Pavlich considered retirement at the end of 2015, and again when the Dockers' season was shot after five rounds this year. Both times he was talked into playing on and in round 19 he played his 350th game. Pavlich has been a defining figure as the Dockers have grown up, and he retired as undoubtedly the club's greatest player. In round 23 he entered and left the ground through a guard of honour and waved an emotional farewell to his admiring fans after a 20-point win over the Western Bulldogs. He'll be remembered as one of the most versatile and professional stars to play the game.  

25. Sickening hit goes viral

It was a brutal bump that caused a big enough stir in the AFL, but Steven May's hit on Stefan Martin became a worldwide fascination. May was sent straight to the Tribunal and handed a five-game suspension for the head-high hit, which was viewed more than seven million times on the official AFL Facebook page – the most of any AFL video in 2016. It was picked up by international media, which declared it a "vicious blindside hit". After landing the bump, May told his opponents to "do what they need to do because I have no case here, I stuffed up". He apologised at the Tribunal and pleaded guilty to making severe impact. 

24. O'Meara trade goes through at the death

It was billed as the deal that would hold up all others during the NAB AFL Trade Period, but that's not how the cards fell. Jaeger O'Meara eventually found himself caught in the middle of a battle of wills between Gold Coast chairman Tony Cochrane and Hawthorn's list management team. High-profile player manager Colin Young was left to broker the deal, which was completed just nine minutes before the 2pm deadline after the Hawks negotiated a separate swap of picks with Carlton. O'Meara eventually made his way to the Hawks in exchange for pick No.10 and a 2017 second-round pick. 

23. Bulldog tears for Mitch Wallis

The most severe and graphic injury of the season took place in round 18. Bulldogs midfielder Mitch Wallis was preparing to kick when he was tackled by St Kilda's Shane Savage, causing him to strike the back of his own left leg with his right boot. The damage was obvious immediately, with Wallis' leg going floppy on impact. Post-match the Bulldogs tried to shield Wallis from his teammates, but his screams were heard through the rooms. ABC Radio boundary rider Tim Hodges described the scenes as "heartbreaking" in a memorable radio cross. Hodges told listeners: "Every player is crying, Bob Murphy is down here and he is weeping uncontrollably … I feel terrible to say this but he (Wallis) was screaming uncontrollably."

22. Stevie J bumped out of finals 

The Match Review Panel case with the highest stakes inevitably involved GWS star Steve Johnson. The mercurial forward was cited by the MRP for a high bump on Sydney's Josh Kennedy in the qualifying final, leaving his place in the preliminary final at risk and even the Grand Final if the Giants were to win their way through. Ultimately he was handed a one-game ban and didn't challenge. The Giants lost their preliminary final by six points to the Western Bulldogs, leaving Johnson to ponder what might have been without another clumsy head-high bump. Johnson's premiership dream with his second club isn't over after he decided to play on for one more season. 

21. The rise and fall of North Melbourne

What a wild ride 2016 was for Kangaroos supporters. The club kicked things off with its first opening round win in seven seasons under Brad Scott and didn't slow down for more than two months, winning nine straight games. Despite the club's best start to a season in its 92 years sceptics remained, with just two of their nine wins coming against eventual 2016 finalists. Their first loss came against the Swans in round 10, but the slide really started in round 12 against Geelong. From there North won just two of its last 12 games, bowing out with a 62-point elimination final loss against Adelaide. Injuries played a big role in the club's downward turn, but ultimately the doubters were proved right.

Read more

2016's top 50 moments: 50-41 
2016's top 50 moments: 40-31 
• 2016's top 50 moments: 20-11