A FIRST time Sandover Medal winner looks set to be crowned at the Crown Perth Ballroom tonight with West Australian football's most prestigious medal to be awarded.
Claremont's Kane Mitchell, East Perth's Paul Johnson and West Perth's Mark Hutchings all loom as the favourites to take out the award as the WAFL's fairest and best player for the 2012 season.
However, there's a host of others in with a chance after strong seasons including Claremont's Tom Lee, Swan Districts' trio Shaun Hildebrandt, Marlon Motlop and Ash Hansen, East Perth's Freddie Clutterbuck, West Perth youngster Shane Nelson and East Fremantle's Rory O'Brien.
There are only three Sandover Medal winners still playing with Claremont's Luke Blackwell and South Fremantle's Toby McGrath both ineligible after being suspended during the season. Perth's Ross Young is the other and he might vote well again, but is unlikely to top the leaderboard.
There is the chance that some ineligible players will be right up there including Blackwell, East Perth duo Nick Kommer and Craig Wulff and East Fremantle captain Mark McGough.
Here's a look at the top 10 contenders:
KANE MITCHELL (CLAREMONT)
20 games, 507 possessions (25.4 per game), 27 goals
Has had two terrific seasons the last two years already to be a key part of Claremont's success, but has taken his game to even another level in 2012 to be the favourite for this year's Sandover Medal.
Made his debut late in 2008 before cementing his spot in 2009, and then becoming a star in 2010 as Claremont moved up the ladder and made the first of what is now three straight grand final appearances.
Throughout 2012, he averaged 25.4 possessions a game including five matches where he had 30 or more disposals. Also became quite the goal kicker in 2012 booting 27 majors for the season including five in Round 16 against Swan Districts and then another three on three separate occasions.
With his eye-catching long hair and dashing style, he is sure to attract the attention of the umpires and already is a proven vote getting polling 20 last year when Luke Blackwell took out the Sandover Medal and also 20 in 2010 when Andrew Krakouer won.
PAUL JOHNSON (EAST PERTH)
20 games, 366 possessions (18.3 per game), 7 goals, 551 hit outs (27.6 per game)
Returned to the WAFL to play with East Perth after his AFL career that saw him play with West Coast, Melbourne and Hawthorn ended, and cemented himself as the best ruckman in the competition throughout the year.
That also saw him claim the Simpson Medal in the state game against South Australia. He was tremendous for the Royals all season long virtually playing as another midfielder with his agility around the ground and good skills on his left boot.
Averaged 18.3 possessions a game including seven over 20 and a high of 28 in Round 12 against Claremont. Also led the league in hit outs with 551 for the season at an average of 27.6 a game.
Ruckmen have generally struggled to be among the leaders of the Sandover Medal in recent years with South Fremantle's Jaymie Graham's 26 votes and sixth placing in 2009 the best of late, however Johnson should be right up there as the count draws to a close.
MARK HUTCHINGS (WEST PERTH)
20 games, 498 possessions (24.9 per game), 9 goals
Led West Perth from the front all season long in the midfield showing maturity beyond his 21 years of age and 57 games of experience.
Had the type of season that could very well see him return to an AFL list next year as he averaged 24.9 possessions per game including four over 30 but it was his consistency that was his strongest suit as he had no game where he picked up fewer than 16 touches.
Only three of his games saw him gather less than 20 disposals so being so consistent and his team's best performer all year should see him gather plenty of votes.
A West Perth player hasn’t won a Sandover Medal since Neil Mildenhall in 1993, but he looks to be a real chance and is a proven vote winner having picked up 21 behind Luke Blackwell last year.
MARLON MOTLOP (SWAN DISTRICTS)
20 games, 453 possessions (22.7 per game), 12 goals
Had an outstanding first season with Swan Districts after his time in the AFL with Port Adelaide with his outstanding skills, evasive ability and pace a highlight of his play.
Averaged 22.7 disposals a game and had over 30 disposals on four occasions including a high of 35 in Round 11 against Perth.
Will battle with teammates Shaun Hildebrandt, Tom Roach, Matt Riggio and even Ash Hansen for votes, but has the eye catching style of play that could very well see him poll strongly.
RORY O'BRIEN (EAST FREMANTLE)
20 games, 522 possessions (26.1 per game), 11 goals
His second season with East Fremantle has been an outstanding one with the prolific ball-winning midfielder a big reason why the Sharks have made it all the way to the grand final.
After he gathered 32 votes in last year's Sandover Medal to finish third, he has had an even better season in 2012 and has also played in a better team so could find himself with more votes than that and that would make him a real contender to win.
Averaged 26.1 possessions a game this season including five matches where he had it 30 or more times with a high of 43 disposals in Round 7 against South Fremantle. Also did well sneaking forward to kick 11 goals to make sure he hurt the opposition.
Will battle with teammates like captain Mark McGough, young wingman Sean Henson and West Coast midfielder Koby Stevens for votes, but is a proven good poller and is a real chance to become East Fremantle's first Sandover Medallist since Adrian Bromage in 1998.
SHAUN HILDEBRANDT (SWAN DISTRICTS)
20 games, 521 possessions (26.1 per game), 5 goals
Is a traditional strong vote getter in the Sandover Medal and his first season at Swan Districts this year was as good and as consistent of any of his tremendous years he played with Subiaco.
The hard-running wingman averaged a team-high 26.1 possessions a game this season and never gathered fewer than 17 disposals in any game highlighting his consistent output.
Had 30 possessions or more on five occasions including in a tremendously strong finish to the season with games of 30, 30, 38 and 31 in four of the last six games of the year.
While the last two years he hasn’t been a high vote getter at Subiaco, back in 2009 he polled 23 votes to finish ninth behind Ross Young, in 2008 he finished fifth with 25 votes behind Hayden Ballantyne and he polled 19 votes behind Anthony Jones in 2007 also.
FREDDIE CLUTTERBUCK (EAST PERTH)
20 games, 473 possessions (23.7 per game), 7 goals
It might have only been his second full season of league football with East Perth, but the 21-year-old has cemented himself as one of the leaders of the future at the Royals who can both play on the wing and in stints on the ball.
Led East Perth for possessions for the season with 23.7 per game including a high of 34 in Round 19 against Perth. Was tremendously consistent gathering 20 or more disposals in all but two games for the year so could very well end up polling well by the en d of the night.
ASHLEY HANSEN (SWAN DISTRICTS)
12 games, 167 possessions (13.9 per game), 63 goals
History says that full forwards don’t usually poll well in individual awards, but given he proved to be a match-winner in the majority of the 12 games he played in 2012 he could very well be right up there come the end of the night.
You have to go back to 2007 for when a full forward was a chance of winning the Sandover Medal when Subiaco's Brad Smith finished one vote behind Claremont's Anthony Jones.
Hansen had an outstanding year when on the field though. He kicked 63 goals in his 12 games including a haul of 11 against Peel in Round 13 to go with two bags of seven, three hauls of six and three of five.
That gives him a real chance of polling well in nine of the games he played and that could very well have him very near the top of the leaderboard come the end of the night.
TOM LEE (CLAREMONT)
19 games, 271 possessions (14.3 per game), 53 goals
Started the season at centre half-back for Claremont and did well there until coach Marc Webb moved him to centre half-forward in Round 8 and he took the competition by storm from there.
The premiership player of 2011 ended up kicking 53 goals after moving forward almost halfway through the season and put in a host of match-winning performances that could very well see him pick up plenty of votes.
He kicked six goals in back-to-back weeks in Round 9 and 10 before a bag of seven in Round 16 against Swan Districts then four in Round 18, five in Round 19, four in Round 21, six in Round 22 and four more in Round 24 to go with 27 possessions and 14 marks on that day against Subiaco.
He might be a long way back at the halfway mark of the season, but expect him to finish strongly.
SHANE NELSON (WEST PERTH)
14 games, 351 possessions (25.1 per game), 11 goals
The 19-year-old stormed onto the scene in the midfield with West Perth this season and was outstanding making him one of the best ball winners in the competition and a likely draftee into the AFL.
He only broke into the league team in Round 7, but by two weeks later he found his feet at senior level and was outstanding. He had a breakout 29-possession game against East Fremantle in Round 9 and backed it up with 30 touches the next week against Subiaco.
He had four more 30 or more disposal games to finish the season, plus games of 28 and 29 touches in Rounds 22 and 23 respectively. He was in and under the umpire's noses winning the ball, and won plenty of it, so could very well poll a lot of votes as the count unfolds.