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Greatest season of all: Top 50 countdown - 20-11

Nathan Schmook
December 19, 2016 9:27 PM

AFL 2016 Rd 09 - Hawthorn v Sydney

Lance Franklin celebrates his massive goal against the Hawks

IT WAS the season that Greater Western Sydney broke through on-field, but the Giants were also left to deal with an off-field drama involving one of their young stars. In the next installment of AFL.com.au's top 50 moments from 2016, we count down from 20-11 and look back at one of the Grand Final's defining moments.  

• Greatest season of all: Top 50 countdown - 50-41
• Greatest season of all: Top 50 countdown - 40-31
• Greatest season of all: Top 50 countdown - 30-21

20. 'The Bont' arrives as a superstar and a leader

Marcus Bontempelli's star rose rapidly in 2016, becoming the youngest player to captain an AFL win, the Bulldogs' youngest club champion since 1968, and a September game-turner. He joined the game's elite as a player, and it won't be long until he does so as a leader. All of his traits were on display in round 20 when he ran out against North Melbourne with a target on his back. Bontempelli had called out Lindsay Thomas for a crude coat-hanger tackle earlier in the year and the Kangaroos went out of their way to physically target the gun ball-winner. Unflappable, Bontempelli went on to inspire a backs-to-the-wall win. Coach Luke Beveridge summed it up when he said: "He is made of pretty special substances, Marcus".  

19. Buddy's back with a bang

Having missed the 2015 finals series because of a mental health issue, all eyes were on Lance Franklin at the start of 2016. Hopes were high that the superstar forward would return to his best and he didn't disappoint. In a strong start to the season it was the round nine arm-wrestle against Hawthorn at the MCG that stands out, with Franklin standing up in the fourth quarter to seal the match. First, he received the ball just in front of the centre circle and with no teammates ahead, he unloaded an incredible 75m goal. Minutes later he wheeled onto his left boot outside 50m and again converted to put the Swans 21 points up. Franklin finished the season with 81 goals, his highest tally for a season since joining the Swans.

18. Nic Nat's highs and lows

It was the last significant act of Nic Naitanui's season before a serious knee injury sidelined him and derailed the Eagles' campaign. Trailing GWS by five points and with eight seconds to play, Naitanui won the ball out of a forward pocket stoppage and snapped a miracle goal on his left boot. The finals implications at the time were massive, but a bigger curveball was to come six days later when Naitanui injured that same left leg when he landed awkwardly against Hawthorn, rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament. It was the high point and the low-point of his season in back-to-back matches, and the Eagles never recovered as their star ruckman underwent a traditional knee reconstruction.

17. Whitfield saga claims 'Gubby'

Despite the involvement of a No.1 pick and rising star of the game, the biggest headlines of the Lachie Whitfield saga involved long-time administrator Graeme 'Gubby' Allan. Allan, who was GWS football manager at the time, was charged with conduct unbecoming and suspended for 12 months after advising Whitfield to stay at the home of welfare manager Craig Lambert out of fear the player might fail a drugs test. Lambert, who had since joined the Brisbane Lions, was also banned for 12 months, while Whitfield accepted a six-month suspension. The midfielder will return in the first half of the 2017 season, but Allan's future in the game is less certain. The long-running scandal cost the 62-year-old his new job at Collingwood as football manager, which he had held for just two-and-a-half months. 

16. Tom Boyd seizes his Grand Final moment

In a match full of memorable moments, it is Tom Boyd's goal with five minutes to play that will live in Bulldog memories the longest. It was going to take something special to break Sydney's back and the Bulldogs knew it. When Dale Morris tackled Lance Franklin and the ball spilled, it was the Bulldogs' million-dollar man who stepped up. After a quick shuffle of steps the key forward launched from inside the centre square, with the ball bouncing through. From there, the Bulldogs looked home. Constantly scrutinised because of his high salary, it was Boyd's coming of age moment. He booted three goals and took six contested marks in a marvellous performance.

15. Eddie Betts outdoes himself 

It was the perfect way to finish Indigenous Round – the Goal of the Year from the game's craftiest small forward. Eddie Betts already owned the Goal of the Year mantle for 2006 and 2015, but this was his masterpiece. In the third quarter against GWS he slid in to win a ground ball on the boundary 50m out, shimmied around Nick Haynes and Adam Tomlinson and then snapped on his right boot from 40m. Betts knew what he'd done, turning to the crowd and thumping the indigenous jumper his aunty had designed. He eventually pipped North Melbourne's Shaun Atley and Sydney superstar Lance Franklin for the title.   

14. Fyfe's broken leg deepens Freo's woes  

Fremantle's season was on the line against Carlton in round five as the minor premiers of 2015 searched for their first win. But when Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe left the ground early in the third quarter and finished the match on crutches, winning and losing didn't seem to matter. Scans later confirmed Fyfe, who had briefly attempted to play on, had fractured the same leg he broke during the 2015 preliminary final. The Dockers lost by four points to the Blues, and with their best player sidelined they wouldn't win their first game until round 11. Ross Lyon called 2016 the club's "annus horribilus" and declared it was time to 're-stump, re-wire, re-plumb'.

13. Giants rise in brutal final  

The stars aligned in the opening week of the finals for the fourth-placed GWS, drawn to face crosstown rival and minor premier Sydney on the neutral ANZ Stadium. What followed was confirmation that the Giants are ready to win premierships, emerging victorious in a red-hot final. It was the club's first finals win, and they did it in style in front of a crowd of 60,222. Their combination of inside grunt, outside run and slick ball use saw them rocket into their first preliminary final, with the most unlikely of premierships becoming a possibility. Ultimately the Bulldogs had their measure, but the Giants are already the team to beat in 2017.   

12. Jordan Lewis joins Melbourne 

Just when we thought the NAB AFL Trade Period couldn't take another twist, murmurs started of another Hawthorn star joining Sam Mitchell at the exit. Trade Radio convened a special evening podcast and we learned that Jordan Lewis was on the verge of joining Melbourne. The story went that Lewis was approached by coach Alastair Clarkson and told to look around. The club couldn't guarantee his place in the team beyond 2017. Melbourne was happy to offer the four-time premiership player a three-year deal. It didn't take long before a bargain basement trade was completed and this brave new world of player movement took another leap.

Jordan Lewis has made a strong impression at his new club. Picture: AFL Photos
 11. Roughead's cancer battle
Jarryd Roughead was hit with devastating news in mid-May when scans revealed a melanoma had returned and spread internally. The popular forward was just weeks away from an AFL return at the time but the diagnosis put his career in jeopardy. A standing ovation for Roughead in round nine was a touching moment, and after a long course of treatment light emerged in December when he was declared cancer free. "Grant and the team at Peter Mac [cancer centre] gave me the news that I've had a complete response from the treatment so far", Roughead declared. That development stood alone as the most heart-warming 'good news story' of the season.  

Read more

2016's top 50 moments: 50-41 
2016's top 50 moments: 40-31 
• 2016's top 50 moments: 30-21