Jude Bolton's 2018 All-Australian team

We're nine games away from determining this year's AFL premier and what a mouth-watering finals series awaits us.

September is a month where star players find ways to raise their games even further, and it's perhaps unsurprising that 17 of my All-Australian team are finals-bound.

Trying to settle on my 'best 22' for the season was a supremely difficult task. As I wrestled on the make-up of my side, it soon became apparent that some absolute jets would be missing out. It's almost inconceivable that Ben Brown, Devon Smith, Shannon Hurn, Michael Hurley, Elliot Yeo and Harris Andrews aren't good enough to squeeze in, yet that speaks volumes of the quality that made the cut.

The choice of coach was more clear-cut for me, with Alastair Clarkson's masterful rebuild of his top-four Hawks another notch in his crown as one of the best of all-time.

Without further ado, here's my All Australian team of 2018.

Back line

Rory Laird: Last year's grand finalists Adelaide failed to make the finals but that didn't stop Laird maintaining his high standards. The running defender was incredibly consistent with his attacking rebound and notched the second most total intercepts in the league, as well as ranking second in total effective disposals.

Alex Rance: At times in 2018 there has looked to be daylight between Richmond and their nearest rivals, with Rance being a significant factor. He continues to organise their tight defensive unit and has an ability to support even when playing on high quality opponents. Ranked first in the AFL for total intercepts and third in one percenters per game, Rance continues to push his case as one of the game's greatest key defenders.

Jayden Short: Modern football demands that you execute as you exit your defensive 50. Ranked No. 1 in the competition for metres gained, Short has the sublime kicking skills required to pierce opposition structures and provide important overlap run for the reigning premiers.

Half-back line

Lachie Whitfield: The former No.1 draft pick has been tagged of late due to his influence on games but has still had an outstanding season. Leon Cameron was forced to deploy Whitfield as an attacking half-back and it has proven a coaching masterstroke. The silky defender is pivotal to the Giants' push for a maiden flag with their damaging ball movement. Ranked second in total uncontested possessions and fourth for metres gained.

Jeremy McGovern: The West Coast star has secured his future in the West much to the delight of Eagles fans. Ranked fourth in the competition for intercept possessions (8.4 per game), McGovern has taken the most intercept marks in an AFL season. Working brilliantly with Shannon Hurn, the key defender will be crucial to the outcome against Collingwood in their qualifying final.

Jake Lloyd: The Swans embark on another finals series and Lloyd had proven critical to their efforts. Lloyd takes a key role as the distributor in the backline for Sydney, averaging 28.3 disposals, and has amassed the most kicks across the league in 2018 as well as the second most rebound 50s. An unassuming competitor, Lloyd is never flustered with the footy in hand.

Centre

Jack Macrae: The Western Bulldogs accumulator has had a stellar year and should be rewarded with selection in the All-Australian side. Averaging 33 disposals -- second in the league -- and six clearances per match, Macrae provided enormous drive through the midfield for the Dogs.

Tom Mitchell: Tag or no tag, Mitchell has found the football at will and helped Hawthorn seal a top-four spot after missing the finals last season. Ranked No. 1 for total disposals and total clearances as well as seventh for total tackles, Mitchell has at times been unstoppable. Clean, fast hands at the coalface has been a feature for Mitchell, whose natural ball-winning has him a run-away favourite for the Brownlow Medal.

Stephen Coniglio: After managing only 10 games in 2017, the goal-kicking midfielder has returned to football in a big way. Averaging 28 disposals and seven score involvements per match (ninth in the league). Coniglio has also been able to hit the scoreboard kicking 21 goals.

Half-forward line

Josh Caddy: A staggering return of 44 goals this year has seen Caddy elevate himself in the game and worthy of selection. Strong overhead, deadly in front of goal, the powerful forward-mid has been a difficult match-up and will be pivotal to the Tigers push for back-to-back.

Lance Franklin: At his best, he is still the most exciting player in the game to watch. Franklin dragged the Swans over the line on multiple occasions this season. He had the highest average for goals amongst the top goalkickers in the game in booting 57 goals from just 18 matches.

Tom Hawkins: The key forward was instrumental in taking the Cats to the finals and ran into a rich vein of form in 2018. As well as ranking second in score involvements per game, Hawkins took 45 contested marks -- fourth best in the AFL -- and kicked 58 goals, capitalising on the delivery from Geelong's star-studded midfield.

Forward line

Luke Breust: Hawthorn's dangerous small forward turned defenders inside out on his way to another 50 goal season. Breust and a number of their other experienced campaigners have maintained an elite standard during Alastair Clarkson's masterful rebuild. Ranked fifth in total goals and sixth in score involvements, Breust always relishes the big stage and will be primed for the mouthwatering qualifying final against Richmond at the MCG.

Jack Riewoldt (captain): Riewoldt surpassed the 600 goal mark this season and secured his third Coleman Medal in the process. His all-round game is apparent in his rankings of total score involvements (second), total tackles inside 50 (fifth) and total marks inside 50 (first). Reiwoldt provides a fierce contest in the air and selflessly brings his teammates into the game which has lead me to name him captain in this line-up.

Robbie Gray: The Port Adelaide magician can light up a game with his vast array of talents. Gray has now kicked 25 goals or more in the past five seasons, highlighting his value as a dual-position threat. Whether Power coach Ken Hinkley leaves him one-out deep forward or uses his quality clearance work inside, Gray was a highlight in a failed Port campaign.

Followers

Max Gawn: Gawn finished the home and away season against GWS breaking the 1000 mark for hit-outs, by far the most out of any ruckman in the league. The cult hero from Melbourne has been a dominant figure at stoppages and is imposing in the air -- ranked second for total contested marks -- around the ground. A certainty for All-Australian selection, Gawn just edges out Collingwood's Brodie Grundy as my starting ruckman.

Clayton Oliver: The dashing Melbourne midfielder has a game style built for finals football. Combative and hard-nosed, Oliver has has forged a strong combination with Gawn in the clinches and has taken his game to another level in 2018. Ranked third in total disposals and tackles, and fifth in clearances, it's hard to believe Oliver has only just turned 21. The Demons thrive on contested football and clearance work and Oliver leads from the front.

Patrick Cripps: The Carlton young gun and reigning best and fairest has broken Patrick Dangerfield's contested possession season record this year with his unrelenting attack on the footy. At stoppages, Cripps is simply a beast, raking first in contested possessions per game, second for total clearances and seventh for total tackles. In a forgettable year for the Blues, Cripps was a beacon of hope for Carlton fans as they wait for their other young stars to develop.

Interchange

Andrew Gaff: Gaff has put in a sensational season for West Coast with his hard-running and clever ball use. Ranked first in uncontested possessions per game, Gaff positioned the Eagles with a double-chance but will rue the late season brain-fade against the Dockers which means he'll have to watch his team take on the finals from the sidelines.

Brodie Grundy: The form of Collingwood's athletic ruckman cannot be denied and Grundy should be rewarded as a result. Incredibly, the big Magpie ranks 10th in total contested possessions and total clearances - amazing figures for a ruckman. On the back of Grundy's control in the middle and consistent form throughout 2018, Collingwood now find themselves right in the mix. Grundy has single handedly taken over games and will be ready for a big September.

Dustin Martin: How do you back up the single greatest season anyone has put together? The reigning Brownlow and Norm Smith medallist was perhaps a little quiet early but has since built a strong body of work as Richmond charged on. Explosive and instinctive, Martin has an incredible knack of impacting a contest when his side demands it, as his No. 1 ranking for total score involvements and inside 50s per game show.

Shaun Higgins: A supremely talented midfielder, Higgins has averaged 27 disposals, seven score involvements and five clearances this season. A healthy body has allowed Higgins to apply his trade and he helped take this year's surprise packet North Melbourne to the cusp of the top eight.