As the 2018 season draws closer, let’s take a look at your club’s rising stars, new recruits and some lesser names who might just make an impact. From the Crows to the Dogs, find out who could shine this year in more ways than one.
Former Carlton star Bryce Gibbs played all 22 games in 2017 and averaged 26 disposals. Now a Crow, Gibbs can use his brute strength and agility to his and his teams’ advantage. With an average of 6 tackles per game, Gibbs will fit into Adelaide’s midfield nicely, alongside Rory Sloane and the Crouch brothers. Can also cause damage rebounding off the half-back line.
Ryan Bastinac had a slow start to his 2017 campaign, being dropped to the NEAFL for the most part of the first 10 rounds. However, came back and kicked 20 goals for the young Lions side when they needed him most as a leader. In 2018, the former North Melbourne player must recapture and retain his best form in the forward and aim to kick 40 goals.
Ex Geelong young gun Darcy Lang moves on for a fresh start at Carlton, where he can make himself relevant again and become a vital part of Carlton’s young midfield. Used as a small forward at Geelong, Lang proved that he was also handy in front of goals and can kick 20 + if given the opportunity.
It’s time for James Aish to step up to the plate entering his fifth AFL season. The Magpies are in need of a capable midfielder to guide the young team. Aish still managed to average 15 disposals in his eight matches, however did not have much of an impact. If he can get himself fit over the break, he will be a sure-fire round 1 selection for the team who are striving to create a midfield to be reckoned with.
Darcy Parish took his game to the next level in 2017, averaging 21 disposals in his half-forward role. This season, Parish should aim to reinvent himself in the Bomber’s midfield, where he dominated two seasons ago. In his third year, Parish should be more than comfortable to lead his team into finals contention, but must improve his below-average kicking rate.
Brandon Matera traded back to his home town after seven years with the Gold Coast Suns. The small forward will be a handy addition alongside other smalls Michael Walters and the Hill brothers. Can use his creativity to make the play and kick 20 or more goals for the Dockers. Will flourish in a Fremantle team who are in need of guidance to get back on track.
Young midfielder and forward Nakia Cockatoo has struggled for a few seasons with hamstring injuries holding him back. With the Cats focussing on building Cockatoo’s strength, 2018 can prove to be his breakout year where he explodes in the Cats experienced midfield. His blinding pace, vision and trusty kicking skills give the fast-mover another crack at becoming a vital part of the Dangerfield-Selwood-Ablett-Duncan group.
Alex Sexton had a slower 2017 season after a breakout 2016. Played 20 games but only managed 12 goals. The Suns tried him in a variety of positions, but he played most of his season on the wing, averaging a fair 16 disposals. In 2018, it’s vital for Sexton to cement his position and lead his lost Suns into the finals for the first time in their short history.
The key for All-Australian midfielder Dylan Shiel is to build on his fantastic 2017 season and finals campaign. He averages 26 disposals weekly and is a key puzzle piece for the Giants side. Shiel must guide his younger and more inexperienced teammates to another finals series in 2018. If he can put on a show like last year, there is no doubt that he will help to keep his team in contention for a grand final appearance in 2018.
Ex-Geelong Falcons captain James Worpel was drafted at pick 45 to the Hawks in the 2017. The TAC All-Australian is able to fit right in with the Hawks side, due to his body’s strength built up at junior level. With the loss of star Luke Hodge, Worpel will be needed greatly to extend the Hawks depth in the midfield. Further, he can become the assistant that Tom Mitchell is in need of.
Jake Lever has come home from Adelaide and is ready to slip into Melbourne’s backline. Noted as one of the best intercept defenders of the game in 2017, he is versatile and capable enough to move off his player, make a spoil and then proceed to defend his man. The Demons are in need of a leader in the backline, so Lever’s vision of the game in front of him will be more than handy for a side pushing for their first finals appearance in more than 10 years.
Ben McKay took on a more defensive role last season and was selected to debut in the final round of 2017. However, he was knocked out and stretchered off in a horrid end to a fair start. McKay’s height allows him to be vital at both ends of the ground. As the Kangaroos’ team grows older, it will be up to McKay to be fully fit and firing to take over in his key role, possibly in front of goal.
Steven Motlop was given opportunity after opportunity at his former cub Geelong, but only played in explosive bursts in the midfield and on the wing. However, averaged 19 disposals and managed to kick 22 goals last season, which will be a handy addition to a new Power side. Can be used as a utility around the ground and at his best, will burn his opponent and kick the match winner. The only question that looms is his inconsistency.
The youngest player of last years’ Grand Final (19), Jack Graham, who kicked three goals, must prepare and prime his body to play as a big-bodied midfielder in 2018. A ferocious tackler and a ball magnet, Graham is fearless in every contest. With the Tigers team full of capable middle men, it’s time to see how this young star fairs around greatness.
Josh Battle has the opportunity to fill they key forward position due to the retirement of star Nick Riewoldt. While the second-year young gun has to compete against Josh Bruce and Tim Membrey, his ability to take big pack marks and read the play puts him in good stead. Known for his ability to apply pressure in the forward line.
Tom McCartin, brother of St Kilda’s Paddy, was picked up in the draft last year. Has fantastic endurance and is expected to be ready to fit into the Swan’s side early this season. McCartin has a great vertical leap and can be used all around the ground, but will work best alongside Lance Franklin in the forward line. Should, if permitted, play some games this season, be able to take big pack marks and kick some spectacular goals.
Energetic goal kicker Willie Rioli was ready to play round one last season, but tore his hamstring off the bone and his 2017 season was effectively over. Needed as a forward pocket rocket to assist goal-kicking king Josh Kennedy when he needs it most. A smooth kick and a knowledgeable grip on the game, at full strength, Rioli will fit in nicely to West Coast’s side if he stays injury free in 2018.
Lin Jong missed the Bulldog’s 2016 Grand Final and struggled to get back into the side in 2017 after he did his ACL in round 13. His pace around the ground and ability to make quick decisions is highly regarded and will help make or break Jong’s season. With the loss of Jake Stringer and Stewart Crameri, expect Jong to fill the key role in the Dog’s forward line in 2018.