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Mark Duffield: Is Sydney superstar Lance Franklin actually underrated?

Here is a remarkable question I bet you never thought you would hear or read: is Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin actually underrated?
Not underpaid, because clearly Buddy is well paid. Not under-exposed because he sits comfortably alongside the likes of Dustin Martin, Patrick Dangerfield, Nat Fyfe, Nic Naitanui and co as one of the biggest names in the game. Maybe, at times, Buddy is the biggest name of all.
I’m talking about underrated. Not just by us in the media but by the players themselves.
The eight-goal show Buddy put on for us all at Optus Stadium on Sunday night was a timely reminder that, at his best, he is the most dominant player in the game - bar none.
But we Aussies love a good list and when I scanned the assortment of pre-season lists compiled on Top 50 AFL players I couldn’t find one with Franklin higher than four.
The Herald Sun’s Mark Robinson had him at five behind Dangerfield, Martin, Fyfe and Alex Rance. The AFL Players themselves had fourth him behind Martin, Dangerfield and Fyfe. AFL.com.au’s player ratings system for 2017 had Franklin sixth behind Dangerfield, Martin, Scott Pendlebury, Sydney’s Josh Kennedy and Rory Sloane.
We always sling off at the Brownlow Medal being a midfielders medal because, let’s face it, midfielders are the only ones that ever win it - but aren’t we all falling for the same thing? We all give midfielders a higher value.
Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute (I am sure Franklin won’t mind being the devil in this scenario). Midfielders build a mountain of statistical evidence of their worth but the value of almost all of those statistics can be debated. Disposals and contested possession? Great provided the possession isn’t wasted. Clearances? Great provided the opponent doesn’t get you on turnover and rebound. Tackles? Great provided it doesn’t mean that your opponent and not you had the ball all day.
One statistic cannot be disputed: the scoreboard. It decides games absolutely one hundred per cent of the time. Franklin is the greatest scoreboard contributor of his generation. The best player of his type of his generation. The best tall forward athlete of his generation.
Franklin announced himself as football’s next big thing in the 2007 elimination final against Adelaide with a seven goal haul including the bomb that iced the game from Etihad Stadium’s outer flank. He was 20.
He kicked 73 goals that year, 63 in the home and away season. Jonathan Brown won the Coleman Medal with 77.
Franklin kicked 113 the next season and became the pre-eminent power forward in the game aged 21, helping Hawthorn to a flag in the process. Luke Hodge may have been Hawthorn’s talisman and its Norm Smith medallist, but Franklin was the club’s star, becoming one of only a handful of players in football history to take 200 shots on goal in a season.
Ten years later, we still view him as the game’s best power forward. He won his fourth Coleman Medal last year at the age of 30 with 73 goals. How many AFL players can claim to have topped the pile in their position for 10 years?
Analysts often argue that midfielders are more consistent – the generators of play. Consider this for consistent, sustained performance: Franklin has been All-Australian in seven of 11 completed seasons since 2007. He has failed to kick 50 goals in a season only once since then – in 2015 when injury and mental health issues restricted him to 17 games and he kicked 47.
Franklin has kicked 868 goals and is the only player playing at the moment who we can possibly imagine reaching the 1000 goal mark. Richmond’s Jack Riewoldt leads the chasing pack well over 300 goals behind Buddy. Given the congestion in front of forwards these days, 1000 goals in this era would put Franklin in the conversation with Tony Lockett, Jason Dunstall, Gary Ablett senior and Gordon Coventry as the greatest forwards of all time.
He is the most athletically complete 199cm, 107kg player in the game, perhaps the most complete athlete in the history of the game. How many players of that size kick the ball as well as Franklin? How many players of that size scythe their way through traffic like he did for his first goal on Sunday, leaving two very good footballers - Brad Sheppard and Jeremy McGovern, wrong-footed and floundering.
Sunday night at Optus Stadium was one hell of a show. We saw a next generation stadium lit in all its glory in the evening. We saw the comeback of Nic Naitanui. But if you wanted to name the one thing that made the occasion worth the price of admission on its own it was Franklin – in all of his glory.
There were times when he looked like the big kid in the school playground against the little kids. He was majestic, magnificent and I would argue he is underrated, if only just a little bit.

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