Swans Pyke proves to be best marksman in the game
QUESTION: What is the most difficult stat to accumulate in the AFL?
If you said contested marks, I, for one, believe you're right.
Okay, now for double points, next question: Who has taken the most contested marks this season?
If you said Collingwood's Travis Cloke, you would be wrong.
In fact, you wouldn't even have the right nationality.
The answer is actually Sydney's Mike Pyke.
That's right, a Canadian is leading all-comers in the total contested marks category with 26, well clear of Cloke and St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt on 22.
Melbourne high-flyer Jeremy Howe and North spearhead Drew Petrie are next on 19.
Pyke's rise to prominence has been well documented.
At 28, and in his fourth season since Sydney decided to take a punt on him after he had turned his back on an international rugby union career, was awarded something even some of the greats of the game fail get their hands on - a premiership medal.
But, the player who was famously regarded by commentator Brian Taylor as "the worst" in the competition in 2009, has taken his game to even greater heights in 2013.
After keeping Mark Seaby and Jesse White out of the Swans side in recent years, Pyke can now stake a claim to be their No.1 big man, ahead of Shane Mumford.
With Kurt Tippett's inclusion imminent, if the Swans feel they are too top heavy with the ex-Crow, Pyke and Mumford in the line-up, it could be the latter that gets the chop.
Pyke also sits fourth for total hitouts, taking his average from 21 to 26 a game, behind only Will Minson, Todd Goldstein and Dean Cox, who have all had to do the bulk of their team's rucking this season.
But, even more significantly, Pyke has shored up his position by being able to go forward and kick goals - something ruckmen are being asked to do more and more with coaches reluctant to have them taking up space on the bench.
He's booted 11. Only his opponent at the SCG tomorrow night, Essendon's Tom Bellchambers (13), has more.
Pyke is such a competitive beast. Even after he played a major role in Sydney's grand final win over Hawthorn, he wasn't content.
"Since my arrival at the club, my number one priority for every session has been to improve," he said when signing a contract extension.
"I still feel like I have plenty of development left in me and hopefully I can add a few more strings to my bow next year."
BIG IMPROVERS in 2013
Dylan Roberton (StK)
The 21-year-old former Docker had a big summer, moving back to Melbourne with his partner for the birth of their first child, and then joining the Saints as a free agent.
He has since been one of his new club's few shining lights across half back, taking his disposal average from 10.6 in 2012 to 19.1 in 2013 and is ranked seventh for total rebounds.
Michael Hibberd (Ess)
The Bomber was stood down from playing duties in 2011 after breaking team rules ie. punching on while out late one night.
But the 23-year-old half-back has hit back on the field this season, to be ranked fifth for kicks and fourth for marks across the entire competition.
His disposal average has soared from 17.8 in 2012 to 23.8 in 2013.
Tom Liberatore (WB)
Little Libba received a strike under the AFL's illicit drugs policy last year and was ultimately struck out by the Dogs for the remainder of 2012.
But the 21-year-old has bounced back well, so well he ranks third for total clearances (64), behind only Matt Priddis (67) and fellow son of a gun Josh Kennedy (66).
Matthew Stokes (GEEL)
With coach Brad Scott admitting he was going to play the younger pair of Allen Christensen and Steven Motlop in the forward line at the expense of the two-time premiership star, Stokes has made the most of a chance to play more in the midfield.
The one-time goalsneak is averaging 27 touches a game, well above his career rate of 17.
Lindsay Thomas (NM)
At 25 and in his seventh year, the Kangaroos forward pocket is finally fulfilling his potential after discussing his inner demons with the club psychologist during the off-season.
While the most goals he's ever kicked in a season is 38, Thomas is already up to 30, behind only competition leader, Eagle Josh Kennedy (31).
Tom Lynch (Adel)
The ginger-top is one of the many who have stepped up in the absence of Taylor Walker in the Crows' attack.
He almost doubled his career goal tally of 11 from his first three seasons in one afternoon against GWS when he booted 10.
He has also hauled in 54 marks in six games in 2013 to sit seventh overall, after taking 50 in his previous 12 games.