Last April I remember watching Toby Greene transform from prolific ball winner to potent goal-kicking forward. The Giants were playing the Saints and for three quarters it was hard-at-it stuff. The Giants seemed to have the answers when it mattered most. In the final term the Giants slammed on 8.2 to 3.1. Greene featured in most of those goals; if he wasn’t sinking them, he had a hand in setting them up. That night he finished with seven scoring shots and 4.3, with 10 inside 50s. Greene also collected three Brownlow votes.
Up until then Greene was a one-dimensional ball magnet: someone who knew where to be to collect a lot of the football; someone with a sick sense of reading the play. But adding “goal-kicker” to his repertoire has expanded Greene’s stocks to another level. That Saints match from last year was the moment Greene landed, the moment where Greene became a viable match-winner. I learned from watching that game that he could still rack up possessions even as a forward. He gathered 31 touches against Riewoldt’s Saints. He did so by floating along the edge of packs and being at every contest he could so he could send the ball deep or receive the ball inside 50 for a shot a goal. This is how Toby Greene should be used. It’s the perfect role for a man his size, endurance capacity and goal-sneak nouse.
In 2016 Greene was consistent with weekly bags of three or four and finished with 44 goals – solid output for a small midfield-forward. It felt like Greene was the next Cousins in waiting or something like that. But the one thing that is stopping Greene from being the next AFL pin-up boy are his on-field and off-field brain fades: the fly-kick, suspensions and bar scuffles. He’s clearly stated that he won’t change his brash, in-your-face, thug mojo, but it does change the way we think about him just like Jason Ackermanis’ outspoken persona made it difficult at times to appreciate the good things he did on the field.
So, how should we feel about Toby Greene?
GOOD: This Toby Greene Youtube draft clip from 2011 is everything. It’s Toby in his most raw version of himself. I think it’s good to remind ourselves that this is a real version of Toby Greene and he wasn’t always cocky or lippy. In the clip Jay Clark reveals how Toby’s prowess revolves around stoppages and clearances. Toby says his inside game and reading the play are his best attributes and that Matthew Boyd was someone he modeled his game on. There’s something endearing about this clip. It makes it hard to have a beef against Greene knowing that this exists.
BAD: Have we latched on to him to early? I mean, are we really ready to call him superstar or elite after one All-Australian year in 2016? My question is: could he be as effective playing for the Blues? Players like Ablett Jnr., Dangerfield and Fyfe took years before they established themselves as superstars. And as we’ve seen with Ablett at the Suns, he’s carrying the team. Greene needs more time. He’s a talent, either way, but expectations of Greene are too unrealistic.
GOOD: Greene exploded in the first six rounds of 2017. He kicked 20 goals with bags of 5.2 against the Suns, 4.2 over Power and 4.1 when he took on the Swans. All of those games were wins. With these sorts of efforts the hype around Greene is real. He was as good as anybody in the AFL during this block of the season.
BAD: The season looked like it went downhill for Greene from week seven until Round 18. He managed 13 goals but also missed six weeks through suspensions. Just when you thought he was stringing together some excellent work, Greene did what Greene is sometimes known for: making bad snap decisions.
GOOD: The Round 10 Eagles match. The game where he turned in a stats card of 25 disposals, seven marks and five shots on goal for a return of 2.3 It was one of his better days at the office. What’s better he was instrumental in the win. One highlight: Greene took the ball out of mid air, handballed a no-look over his head to Llyod who kicked a goal that put them in front with eight minutes remaining. The game was miserable to watch but not because of Greene.
BAD: The fly kick. THE FLY KICK! Not as bad as everyone made out but why do these things tend to follow Greene around like a dark cloud? If Greene had a clean record the fly kick would have been seen as the accident that it was. But because of his rap sheet the question of intent will always be asked.
GOOD: His 45 goals this season is the most he’s kicked in his career. He’s the fifth best goal-kicker in the league. In 2015 he only managed 15.12 but his role was more inside-midfield focused. That makes his 89 goals in the past two seasons impressive. The only two small forwards doing it better are Eddie Betts and Robbie Gray. And that’s pretty slick company to be in.
Greene has the ability to bewilder us. In the Qualifying Final loss against the Crows, Greene was held to 1.0 and 16 meaningless disposals. The 2016 All-Australian was impotent. Then in the Semi Final win against the Eagles the Greene came to the party — 17 touches, 8 marks and 3.1. It’s the stat line we’ve come to expect of a player that will be an elite player of the future.
As much as you want to, you can’t ignore that fact that Greene is on a path to become of the great small forward-midfielders. Think Ackermanis or Alan Didak. Greene is proving to be that guy opposition teams can’t handle. Some have argued we’re debating the “is Greene elite” too early in his career. But when you think of how he’s carried the Giants’ forward line this year – along with main target Jeremy Cameron – with 45 goals and how he leads his club with 18 assists. He’s also had 140 score involvements. The numbers speak for themselves. His forward-mid duality allure means he will always impact games with either goals or assists and greatness is something in his control.
If Greene gets to the pinnacle of the AFL, perhaps winning a Brownlow, he would need to cut the stormy persona that means he misses weeks for striking or rough conduct. But we could be looking at how Greene’s reality right now. The guy that can win games off his own boot is the same guy that doesn’t know when to pull his head him when things get tense. He’s a weird paradox to unravel. He could carry the Giants but also frustrate their fans with his inept attitude. And then just when you think you’ve worked Greene out he goes and does something completely freakish and impossible.
There’s a chance too that Greene will get even better in the coming years. The key for Greene is to eliminate the lulls, the periods where he looks switched off and the suspensions. At 23 he’s got time to fix parts of his game that need tweaking. He needs to look at what the good AFL do. The good players don’t have these complexities. They’re leaders. There’s no real gap between their highs and lows; their lows aren’t thunderous but their highs have overwhelming layers — especially come cut-throat finals. The Giants looked good against the Eagles. And if they beat the Tigers and look good then the answer might be Greene.