HOW DID THEY FARE IN 2018?
The end of the 2018 AFL season has well and truly passed, with all clubs already back on the track preparing for 2019.
From Bryce Gibbs to Dylan Shiel, let’s look back at the key players who were predicted to do big things in the 2018 home and away season and see how they really fared for their club.
What we said: 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 as a rebound off the half-back line.
Although the Crows had a downfall in 2018, new recruit Bryce Gibbs built on his consistent form and played all 22 matches, impressing his new Adelaide teammates, with an average of 25.9 disposals and 5.4 tackles. Reaching his 250thgame milestone, his experience and poise through the midfield assisted middle men Rory Laird and Matt Crouch and Adelaide to 12 gusty-wins. Gibbs also led the club’s clearance numbers, racking up 113. His best game saw him collect 35 disposals in Round 1 and from there, Gibbs made his slick presence known. Should be congratulated on fitting in and bringing a polished game style to the Crows engine room.
What we said: Ryan Bastinac has 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.
In what was a disaster of a season, the promise shown by Ryan Bastinac did not live up to the hype placed on him for 2018, only playing 2 games for the year. He was then delisted at the end of this season. Redrafted as a rookie in the Rookie Draft last month, Bastinac has now got another shot to rejuvenate and regroup to prove that he is worthy of a spot in the bustling young Lions side.
What we said: Ex Geelong young gun Darcy Langmoves on for a fresh start at Carlton, where he can make himself relevant against 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.
Despite a slow start and only playing 11 games for the season, Darcy Lang showed some skill and aggression, averaging 3.6 tackles and booting six goals. Although young, Lang’s previous finals experience at Geelong assisted him in leading the young Blue’s midfield. His debut after an injury-riddled pre-season in Round 8 saw him boot 2 important goals on the way to Carlton’s first victory in 2018. Lang will be looking to have a big pre-season where he can focus and improve his speed and agility for a fresh 2019.
What we said: It’s time for James Aishto step up to the plate entering his fifth AFL season. With the Magpies 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 for the team who are striving to create a midfield to be reckoned with.
James Aish averaged a near career best 17.1 disposals in 2018 and had a rocketing start to the year. Unfortunately, he ruptured his PCL in his knee in round 6, but made an amazingly swift return to football and finished off the year strongly, competing in the biggest game of the year – the Grand Final. His composure in the backline added to the Pies team with his trusted hands taking key defensive marks. They say that defences win premierships, so Aish needs to keep up his fitness while also improving his slick composure in the backline as the Pies look set to be a force to be reckoned with in 2019.
What we said: 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 in the meantime.
Parish had tough start to season 2018, struggling to find form and working on his game in the VFL, before breaking his thumb mid-year. After his mid-season wake-up call, Parish worked on his agility and endurance through the middle, with positive results. Came back into the side in Round 17 and was dominant, racking up 26 and 18 disposals over two weeks. Has been consistent over his three-year career but it’s time for him to take his gameto the next level as an elite midfielder.
What we said: 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.
Playing 18 matches in the purple and white, Brandon Matera booted goals in each of the opening six games of 2018, before being moved up the ground. Matera found his feet in the midfield, averaging 15.4 disposals and led to the best of his ability in a struggling Fremantle side. Kicked 13 goals for the year but his main take away is his new-found form through the midfield and on the wing. 2019 will be another year of growth if Matera sticks on the midfield path.
What we said: 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.
What looked to be a promising 2017 pre-season only lasted two games before Nakia Cockatoo’s hand and knee injuries ended his 2018 campaign.
Has struggled with consistent hamstring issues but will look to build up strength for a prolonged period of dominance in 2019.
What we said: Alex Sextonhad a slower 2017 season after a breakout 2016. Played 20 games by 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 2017, 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.
Season 2018 was all about awards for Alex Sexton. Sexton booted 16 more goals than his 2017 season, played all 22 matches and was versatile around the ground. Sexton’s flexibility was commended, moving into roles on the wing and as a tagger. He won Leading Goal Kicker for his 28 goals in 2018 as well as the ‘Most Improved’ Award.
This season was easily the breakout for Sexton, so he must stay on this upward trajectory, especially up forward in order to inspire the rest of the Suns side.
What we said: The key for All-Australian midfielder Dylan Shielis to build on his fantastic 2017 season and finals campaign. He averages 26 disposals weekly and is a key puzzle piece or 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.
Playing 23 games in 2018, Dylan Shiel was arguably one of the best for the Giants, growing a wise head and finishing his season in 6thplace in the Kevin Sheedy Medal. With an average of 25.9 disposals and 15 goals for the season, the tank-built Shiel was a worry to his opponents.
He’s off to Essendon now to continue his AFL journey and should fit right into the midfield and lead younger players like Darcy Parish to create a cohesive mix.
What we said: Ex-Geelong Falcons captain James Worpelwas 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.
Producing the best individual performances of any of the draft class of 2017, James Worpel entered the Hawks with a bang in 2018. Mixed with natural ability, Worpel’s hard work to build his tank paid off early in 2018, debuting in Round 6 against the Saints. Worpel played total of 11 matches, averaging 17.5 disposals. His best performance was against Carlton with 32 touches, five-key inside 50s and four tackles. The up-and-coming midfielder has worked closely and learned from 2018 Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell, cementing his spot for 2019 and beyond. His presence was evidently felt on field, earning him a Rising Star nomination.
What we said: Jake Leverhas 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 a handy addition to a side pushing for their first finals appearance in more than 10 years.
What was set up to be a big debut and year at the Demons turned sour for defender Jake Lever when he ruptured his left anterior cruciate ligament. The Demons hard work to recruit Lever had a sad end, but the 22-year old will be training to his best ability to get back into the best 22 in 2019.
What we said: Ben McKaytook 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. However, 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.
Did not pull on the AFL jumper this season, but became a vital defender in North’s VFL side. A young leader for the VFL team, will be looking to bulk up and earn a spot for 2019 in the backline.
What we said: Steven Motlopwas 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.
Bursting at the seams, Stevie Motlop fit right in to a bustling Port Adelaide side in 2018, acting as the catalyst who created play through the midfield and forward line. With 24 goals to his name, Motlop played his role perfectly as the mid-sized forward who supported key forward Charlie Dixon. Improved his presence on field and will be looking to become a vital veteran in 2019 and spark the new small forwards with his creativity.
What we said: 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 midfield 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.
Weaving his way into the prestigious Richmond midfield alongside Dustin Martin, Jack Graham cemented his spot in 2018. Playing 18 games, he averaged 13.9 disposals and utilised his big build to lay an average of 5.9 tackles weekly. His best tackling performance saw him lay 13 tackles against Carlton. Grew his confidence against the best in the middle and will build back his strength lost from his dislocated shoulder in Round 16. His highlight of his season was his three-goal first quarter in Round 23 against the Bulldogs, returning from shoulder surgery.
What we said: 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 steads. Known for his ability to apply pressure in the forward line.
Josh Battle managed only six games in 2018, but there was still promise for the bustling forward. His aerial ability is unbeatable against even the stronger defenders, proving in Round 12 that he is a viable forward source with two goals and 14 disposals.
He’ll use preseason to develop his elite running skills and make his name better known at the Saints. Will work well to guide new recruit Max King who mirrors the strength and height of Battle down forward.
What we said: 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.
With the big responsibility of filling the shoes of Sam Reid, tall forward Tom McCartin did just that in his 15 senior games for 2018. Debuting early in 2018, McCartin surprised his coaches with his strong marking ability and the way he held his own against the strongest defenders of the game. Alongside Buddy Franklin, McCartin managed eight goals and was continually a handy assistant to the small forwards in Tom Papley and co. in opening up the forward line. He has recently extended his contract by two years, tying him to the Swans until 2021, which is an exciting prospect for their future.
What we said: Energetic goal kicker Willie Rioliwas ready to play round one last season, but tore his hamstring off the bone and was left out of the Eagle’s side. 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.
Part of the surprise packet team all season, Willie Rioli became a vital puzzle piece in the variant Eagles forward line. Debuting in Round 2, he made a name for himself through his quick feet and miraculous goal-sneak abilities. Hard at the ball and a play-creator, Rioli booted 28 goals on the road to ultimate AFL glory. After continuing to build his fitness and engine, Rioli has become one of the faster players of the game and an inventive small forward, earning every bit of his premiership medallion.
What we said: Lin Jongmissed 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 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 also.
Lin Jong started his 2018 campaign strongly, but mid-year suffered a broken collarbone which saw him sit out the rest of the season. Managing only 10 games, he averaged a handy 13.5 disposals and kicked seven goals. His injuries over the past three seasons are the only thing holding him back, but if he works hard over pre-season, he’ll be able to build strength in his shoulders and recovering knee.Bulldogs fans can look forward to an additional two years on his contract, taking him to the end of 2020.