Numbers throw Marcus Bontempelli into the company of the game’s greats

Marcus Bontempelli’s first 150 games rank with the game’s modern greats. Dane Swan and Chris Judd tell Mark Robinson what sets the Dog apart.

The greats are always nearly the first to recognise greatness in young players.

For Chris Judd and Dane Swan, they saw in Marcus Bontempelli a smoothness in approach and a maturity in attitude.

Bontempelli played his 150th game last weekend and although it’s fraught to compare players of different generations, it’s practical to compare Bontempelli to the best players of the past 15 years.

Not surprisingly, at the 150-game mark of his career, the Western Bulldogs skipper is riding shotgun alongside the game’s pre-eminent midfielders.

They include Ablett, Judd, Martin, Swan, Pendlebury, Selwood, Dangerfield, Fyfe and Parker at the same 150-game mark of their career.

Bontempelli, on disposals, slots in between Judd and Sydney’s Parker.

He is fifth on goals kicked behind Ablett, Dangerfield, Martin and Judd.

In contested and uncontested disposals, score involvements and clearances, Bontempelli sits comfortably with this group of future Hall of Famers.

Many of them have produced stellar second halves of their careers, but who’s to say Bontempelli won’t do the same.

At 25, and if he stays relatively injury-free, he is looking at a 350-game plus career.

Bulldogs great Brad Johnson can’t know if Bontempelli will be the best ever Bulldog — he’s contending with Ted Whitten, Chris Grant, Johnson, Doug Hawkins and Scott West — but he knows enough.

“But what a player to be even considered the best ever,’’ Johnson said.

“His calmness and presence reminds me of Chris Grant when he was at his best in the game. And his leadership.

“He has a flag and by the end of his career could have a couple of more, and a Brownlow Medal and maybe another five best and fairests.’’

Judd says Bontempelli is clearly “a star’’.

“He plays well at important stages of the game all the time,’’ the two-time Brownlow Medal winner said.

“He’s such a good player at such a young age, it sort of feels like he’s 30 already.

“His versatility stands out and I think his numbers would be better if he just got left as a midfielder for 80 per cent of the time.

“But he’s been much more valuable for the Bulldogs by the fact he’s been able to go forward and he’s happy and capable of taking that role.’’

Judd sees a rare humility in Bontempelli.

“A lot of guys who play well early in their career just work out simple things, like high-profile players are not movie starts or rock stars. They work out everyone is human earlier than other players.

“They don’t get stuck into hero-worship and self-told stories that some other players put up.

“By the time everyone is 25 or 26 in the competition, they have worked out that no one’s a superhero, they’re humans, and guys like Bontempelli … from the outside, it looks like he worked that out as an 18-year-old or 19-year-old and benefited from it accordingly.’’

Swan was a different player to Bontempelli. Bont is 193cm. Swan is 185cm. Bontempelli is glider, just like Pendlebury, while Swan “looked like I was busting my arse to get to every contest’’.

When he was nearing retirement, Swan was amazed by the size of Bontempelli and Patrick Cripps.

“I was thinking, ‘Thank God I’m on the back end of my career and I don’t have to run around and follow these boys’.’’

After retirement in 2017-18, he missed a lot of footy, but has returned the game and is enamoured with Bontempelli’s output.

“For Bont, it happens in big moments and that’s how you can categorise the greats,’’ he said.

“Clearly, Dusty does it on the big stage all the time and we’re now getting to the point where Bontempelli is kicking big goals.

“When something needs to be done for the side, he’s usually the one to do it.

“And as captain, he doesn’t feel like he has to go out and have 35 every week, whereas most of us midfielders did and do.

“He’s getting to the point now, along with Dustin, he can trust his teammates to get the ball for him and he can sit forward and do as much damage with four or five touches and a goal a quarter than having 10 in the midfield.

“He trusts the boys … he’s a great player.”